On the coast of the Big Island, on the sheltered curve of Hōnaunau Bay, lies the remains of one of the best preserved Hawaiian settlements. Protected on two sides by the ocean and bounded on the others by a massive “Great Wall” built over 400 years ago, this was no ordinary fishing village: It was a place of last resort for Hawaiians in trouble. Now a National Historic Park, the “City of Refuge” of Pu`uhonua o Hōnaunau brings that society to life with daily cultural demonstrations, guided tours, and historical exhibits. Learn more about the Pu’uhonua o Honaunau Park below:
The Last Resort
In ancient Hawai‘i daily life was regulated by a code of laws (kānāwai) that defined the social hierarchy and order. Depending on your position in society, certain activities, places, and actions were forbidden (kapu), and any violation was met with severe punishment, sometimes death. Instead of a trial, your only salvation was to escape to a Pu`uhonua (“city of refuge”) where you would be granted clemency inside its walls. Families caught in the middle of conflicts and wars could also seek refuge here, and safety was assured regardless of which side your family was on. The site at Hōnaunau today is one of the largest and best preserved. Just a short drive south from Kona (and ~2 hours, 110 miles from Hilo), it welcomes visitors every day, from 7am until sunset.
A City of Peace
Pu`uhonua o Hōnaunau is more than just a place of refuge. Outside the sanctuary walls are the Royal Grounds, where the ali`i would come to relax and enjoy themselves by the sea. Here you can see the remains of the Hale o Keawe, a royal mausoleum that contained the remains of 23 chiefs. To the south of the main site are the ruins of a Chief’s House, and a 2-mile hike will take you along the shore and then across jagged lava rock to a Hawaiian temple and the old fishing village of Ki`ilae.
The sights and sounds of this unique place in Hawaiian history are alive and well today. Daily talks in the amphitheater give guests a sense of what it was like to seek shelter and make a life here in this sanctuary by the sea. Interactive cultural demonstrations of traditional games, basket weaving, fishing, and carving are offered daily.
Pu’uhonua o Honaunau Park
Pu`uhonua o Hōnaunau is no longer a safe haven for Hawaiians, but it continues to be one for wildlife. Green sea turtles (honu) are a common sight here, feeding on algae-covered rocks in the shallow waters of the bay and basking in the sun on the beach. Native plants – many of which were used by the inhabitants here in their daily lives – flourish, and the tide pools offer excellent exploration opportunities as well as fabulous birdwatching.
Wherever you are staying with us on the Big Island, a visit to Pu`uhonua o Hōnaunau Park is a truly unique and immersive cultural experience. We hope you enjoy your visit!