- Historic Sites
The Big Island On Foot
The Hawaii of centuries long past emerges from the landscapes crossed by its ancient trails
April/May 2002 | Volume 53, Issue 2
AT PUUHONUA O HONAUNAU I TOOK WHAT TURNED OUT TO BE ONE OF THE MOST PLEASURABLE WALKS OF THE TRIP.
A fat red sun was fast falling into the sea by the time I arrived at the Kaupulena Cultural Resource office at Hualalai Four Seasons Resort, where I was late for a meeting with the manager, Cynthia Torres. She had offered to walk with me over a section of the ancient trail on the property, but now she said, amiably, “Too late. I don’t go there at sunset, too many spirits out then.”
I arrived early the next morning at Kaloko-Honokohau, a brand-new National Historical Park located a couple of miles south of the airport and north of the town of Kailua-Kona, on a corridor, one of the busiest on the island today, that was popular with Hawaii’s early kings and chiefs and is virtually littered with ancient artifacts, many of them within the 1,160-acre park. Park Ranger Dominic Cardea bumped his jeep down the slope toward the ocean, stopping along the way to show me a recently restored one-mile section of the Old Government Road built in the 1800s. After that we drove past some ancient stone platforms on which thatched huts once stood and at the shore came upon stone fish traps, shrines, canoe landings, petroglyphs, and the remains of two temples. More than 200 remnants of antiquity have already been recorded in the park, and still others are being added, some dating from the island’s earliest habitation. Eventually the park will provide an example of an ahupuaa, that sensible land division that reached from sea to mountains. Tourists have yet to discover this park, but it has become a favorite spot for local families, its calm, protected beach perfect for children.
On the road south again, I stopped at another national historical park called Puuhonua o Honaunau and took what turned out to be one of the most pleasurable walks of the trip, pleasurable perhaps because of the cool morning temperatures, or because the trail was wide and nicely marked, or maybe because I had with me a copy of Roughing It , which Mark Twain published after an 1866 trip. About this trail he wrote, “We walked a mile over a raised macadamized road of uniform width; a road paved with flat stones and exhibiting in its every detail a considerable degree of engineering skill. Some say that that wise old pagan, Kamehameha I, planned and built it, but others say it was built so long before his time that the knowledge of who constructed it has passed out of the traditions. In either case, however, as the handiwork of an untaught and degraded race it is a thing of pleasing interest. The stones are worn and smooth, and pushed apart in places, so that the road has the exact appearance of those ancient paved highways leading out of Rome which one sees in pictures.” At the sweaty end of my walk, I put on a bathing suit and snorkel gear and slipped into the quiet cove to check out the fishes in all their glorious color.
Before the park service took notice of the cultural revival and began to use Hawaiian place-names, they called this compound at the edge of the sea the City of Refuge. For all the savagery of the native ethos, with death penalties handed down for breaking a kapu as minor as looking at a chief, violators could be absolved if they made it to the nearest puuhonua , the Hawaiian word for “sanctuary.”