About the Park

Pu'uhonua o Honaunau National Historical Park is located on the island of Hawaii about 22 miles south of Kailua Kona on the Kona coast. The park is located in the district of Honaunau. Pu'uhonua o Honaunau was established as a National Historical Park in 1961. The park encompasses 182 acres of land including the place of refuge (the pu'uhonua), Hale o Keawe temple, ancient temple platforms, royal fishponds, holua sledding tracks, and some coastal village sites. Several thatched structures and the Hale o Keawe temple have been carefully reconstructed for the purpose of conveying the ancient Hawaiian ways of life. The park offers some guided tours and interpretive talks, and there are trail guide booklets and brochures available so visitors can take self-guided tours of the royal grounds, the pu'uhonua and the 1871 Traill to Kiiilae Village.

Through this virtual tour of Pu'uhonua o Honaunau National Historical Park, you can learn about the natural resources that the Hawaiian people relied on and the cultural resources of the park that we remember them by.

 

Hawaiian Culture

The concepts of refuge and asylum in the early centuries were fairly unique to Polynesian civilizations, and these were refined by the Polynesians who settled the island of Hawaii. There are several aspects of Hawaiian culture that enhance the understanding of the importance of the pu'uhonua.

Chiefs and Mana

It was believed that all people were descendants of great spirits, benevolent ancestors of the past. The ruling class, the chiefs who were called ali'i, could trace their ancestry back to the great spirits. Because of their relation to the spirits, the chiefs were believed to have spiritual powers, mana, from the great spirits flowing through them. Ali'i were ranked by the purity of their mana and the length of the lineage they could trace to the spirits. The mana was manifested in just governance, security, and prosperity of the community.

To protect the mana of the ali'i, marriages were arranged. Also, strict sacred laws called kapu were established to separate the ali'i from the common people, because it was believed that the commoners drained the mana from them. For this reason, it was kapu for a commoner even to step on the shadow of the ali'i.

Kahuna

Kahuna is a word that is derived from a word that means "caretaker." The kahunas were the experts in trades and professions. The kahuna of a specific trade would act as the mediator between the craftsmen and the great spirit of that trade. Kahunas prayed to the patron spirits at the temple, the heiau, to gain aid and mana for the craftsmen. It was typical for a single family to dominate a trade, passing knowledge and experience through generations. The kahuna were the caretakers of the knowledge of each guild.

There were kahuna for professions including: advisors to the ali'i, priests for ceremonies, experts on weather, seasons, astronomy, navigation, agriculture, carving, building, medicine, omens, and prophecy.

Pu’uhonua

The pu'uhonua at Honaunau has stood at the southern end of Honaunau Bay since the 15th century. In ancient Hawaii, kapu, sacred laws, were established to protect the society from the anger of the great spirits. If kapu was broken, the law demanded the death of the person who violated it. Otherwise, it was believed that the spirits would rain destruction on the whole village in the form of volcanic eruptions, tidal waves, famines, or earthquakes. However, if the lawbreaker could reach the pu'uhonua, the place of refuge, he could be pursued no further. There he would pray to the spirits thanking them for allowing him to reach the pu'uhonua. The priest, the kahuna, would deem him free of his guilt and allow him to return safely home with the protection of the gods. The only time that there was a large number of people inside the pu'uhonua was during wars. Then the pu'uhonua was a refuge for women, children, elderly, and all others, including defeated warriors, who were not fighting.

 

Natural Resources

Investigate how natural resources have played a vital role in the history of Honaunau. Geology has shaped the land of the Kona Coast. Eruptions from Mauna Loa produced the lava that became the foundation for the Royal Grounds, Puuhonua, Ki'ilae and many other villages. The rich volcanic soils were used to grow both food crops and medicinal plants. Diverse plant and animal life thrives in the tropical climate. Streams and underground sources supply the water that is the lifeblood of the island. Not only have these various resources contributed to history, but they are also keys to the future.

Geology of the Honaunau Coast

Pu'uhonua o Honaunau National Historical Park sits on the Honaunau coastal plain. Ancient basaltic lava flows from the Mauna Loa volcano created the land on which the park is located. Some of the lava flows in the park have been dated to be thousands of years old. Mauna Loa is still an active volcano. An eruption in 1950 sent three lava flows down the western slope of the volcano and into the ocean. The northernmost of these flows reached within seven miles of Honaunau Bay. Another eruption occurred on Mauna Loa in 1975, but no lava was sent toward the Kona coast.

There are several geologic features at the park. The cliffs at the head of Ki'ilae Bay were formed when a shelf of solid lava broke free from the rest of the land and slipped into the ocean. The resulting steep cliffs are still present. The Keanae'e Cliffs and the lava tube Waiu-o-Hina are also old volcanic features created by lava flows from Mauna Loa. The park also has tree molds and pressure ridges in various places.

Soils of the Kona Coast

The soils along the Kona coast, including Pu'uhonua o Honaunau National Historical Park, have been derived from the basaltic lava flows from Mauna Loa. The soil characteristics vary depending on rainfall, temperature, drainage patterns, vegetation, and age.

In the Honaunau area, the soil is classified as rockland. This type of soil consists of a very thin layer of volcanic ash over young and relatively unbroken pahoehoe lava. This soil layer can be on average between four to six inches deep. The soils inside the park consist of accumulated weathered lava, material from the sea, and debris from vegetation collected in pockets in the lava flows.

Most of the land inside the park is bare pahoehoe lava. This terrain is rough with billows, cracks, and loose rocks. There are some grassy areas in the north end of the park, and the two coves are sandy. The sand near the Hale o Keawe temple is a mixture of coarse and fine black, white, brown, and grey particles.

Climate at the Park

The climate in Kona provides typically cool and clear mornings. Breezes begin to blow on-shore by mid-morning and early afternoon clouds form at 2000 feet. Precipitation at high elevations is not uncommon in afternoons. The winds calm down and clouds dissipate in the evenings.

There is little seasonal variation in temperature. The average high temperature is 88 degrees Fahrenheit, and the average low is 65 degrees. Day and night temperatures typically vary 20 degrees. Humidity is high, and the air can feel quite warm when there is no movement from wind. Precipitation is low near the coast, but is generally uniform at 20 inches per year.

Storms are more frequent in the winter months, between December and February. These bring high winds and severe rains from the south and west. These are called Kona storms. These storms bring strong winds and create high seas, sometimes requiring the park to close its shoreline to visitors.

Water Resources of Honaunau

Water quality and quantity are very important along the Kona coast. No perennial streams flow in the park, but there is one stream that flows intermittently from drainage at the southern portion of the park. The availability of groundwater is a concern in the Hawaiian islands because of unpredictable geohydrologic conditions. The islands are volcanic, and therefore subject to intense fracturing of the rock layers. These fractures can result in groundwater drainage, which leaves the area with a low fresh water supply.

Water quality in the park is an important resource management objective. Good water quality in bays and coves throughout the park ensures the survival of marine plants and animals that depend on these areas. Also, the aesthetic value of clear tropical water should be preserved.

Plants

In ancient times, the area above Honaunau Bay was largely barren lava. Pili grass grew in pockets of soil in the pahoehoe lava. People of that time used pili grass to thatch their homes. Nearer to the shore, shady groves of coconut trees, hala trees, and kou trees were common. The ti plant also grew here. It's leaves had a variety of uses, for fishing, canoe making, and thatching the roofs of temples and homes of royalty. Noni, a plant used for medicine, still grows in the park. Most of these plants were brought to Hawaii by the Polynesians.

Invasive exotic species are a problem for the park. Invasive species compete for light, water, space, and nutrients that native plants need to survive. In some cases, invasions of these plants can cause native plants to go extinct. Management of invasive species is an important issue at Pu'uhonua o Honaunau National Historical Park.

Animals

The Hawaiian Islands are home to many birds and other small animals. In Honaunau, frequently seen shore birds are the kolea (Pacific golden plover), akekeke (rudy turnstone. The ulili (wandering tattler), Hawaiian owl, and Hawaiian duck are seen less often. There are many more common birds which were introduced to the island. These include the turtle dove, barred dove, red cardinal, house finch, and white eye. There are several birds whose populations have declined to endangered status.

The Hawaiian hoary bat is the only mammal native to the area. Other mammals, like goats, pigs, horses, rats, and the mongoose are introduced species. Some of these, particularly goats, pigs and the mongoose are creating severe problems for native plants. The mongoose for example is endangering native ground-nesting birds, such as the nene or Hawaiian goose.

Over 150 species of insects are found in the park, and near half of these are considered to be native. Reptiles found here include geckos and skinks.

Marine Life

The bays, inlets, and coves in the park harbor a colorful range of Hawaiian marine plant and animal life. Red algaes are common in Honaunau Bay and Keone-ele Cove. The coral population is unique to the area. The coves and bays support castle coral, and finger coral. Cowries, cones, clams, and oysters exist in Honaunau Bay and Kealakekua Bay. Cleaning shrimp and spiney lobsters are present in low numbers, probably due to harvesting by humans. Kona crabs can be trapped in the sand off of Alahaka Bay.

In Honaunau and Kealakekua bays, over 120 species of fish have been documented. The most common are yellow tang and kole. Many of these fish have been harvested by the tropical fish and aquarium industries, sometimes endangering populations. Sharks also visit Kealakekua Bay occasionally, as does a school of spinner porpoises. A small school of pilot whales was once spotted north of Honaunau Bay.

 

Links

Index

Resources (Current location)

Royal Grounds

Pu'uhonua

1871 Trail

 

Views of the National Parks