Big Island Sacred Sights

Kohala Sights

As you approach the junction of Highway 19 and 270 heading north, look makai and you should see a majestic stone structure atop a hill. This is Pu'ukohola heiau.

When you reach the junction with 270 you will go left. This heiau, a sacred place of worship, has a particularly interesting history. Built between 1790-91, Pu'ukohola was the project of the great King Kamehameha.

Legend says that King Kamehameha was unable to fully complete his mission to conquer and unite all the islands. In search of an answer, he sent his mother to speak with the prophet Kapoukahi who told her that Kamehameha would rule the islands if he built a large heiau in honor of his family god, Ku, on Pu'ukohola (Whale Hill). Taking these words to heart, Kamehameha enlisted the help of many "volunteer" workers to complete the 224 by 100-foot structure that reaches 16-20 feet into the sky.

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Now, looking around this area one would assume there was no shortage of rocks to build such a temple. However, it is thought that the workers formed a 20-mile human chain stretching from Pololu Valley in the north to harvest water worn lava rock. Once the temple was complete there was one task remaining. Kamehameha's cousin, Keoua Kuahu'ula, was the last ruler preventing the king's complete domination of the island. Keoua's control of the Big Island was especially insulting since it was Kamehameha's birthplace. To celebrate the temple's completion, Kamehameha invited his cousin to visit Pu'ukohola. You can imagine what happened next. A battle broke out among the rivaling parties and Keoua and most of his men were killed.

Today the heiau and neighboring structures are part of a national historic site. The entrance to the park is after the 2 mile marker makai on Highway 270. The visitor's center is open at 7:30 a.m., and the gate to the road closes at 4 p.m.

In the visitor's center you can view a short video explaining the origins of the temple and a little background on King Kamehameha. As you walk down the steep incline from the visitor's center you can come within 100 yards of the heiau, but due to rapid deterioration of the stairs, visitors are no longer allowed to explore the upper perimeter.

One other point of interest in the park is the Hale o Kapuni Heiau. Built as a tribute to the shark god, this temple is now completely covered by the ocean. Visitors can just faintly make out its form below the water.

If you should arrive at the park after 4 p.m. there is another way to view the grounds. Instead of bearing right at the beginning of the road, continue straight and go to Samuel M. Spencer Park where there is a parking lot. From here you will have an easier coastal walk to view the sites.

Puukohola Heiau Reviews

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Geographic Coordinates

Latitude: 20.02771253
Longitude: -155.8217026

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