Big Island Vacation, Part 1 | Pu’uhonua O Honaunau National Historic Park | South Point
We woke up at 3 am on Friday morning with bags packed and excitement high. We said goodbye to dear Charlotte (who was going to be looked after by our neighbors) and summoned our first Uber to the airport with plenty of time to spare. We’ve enjoyed this process for island hopping: taking the first flight off Oahu and the last flight back. Not only are the flights always at the base rate, but you get two ‘extra’ days on the island without having to pay/find lodging, and the flights are rather empty.
Unlike our flight to Kauai, the flight was too early to see the sunrise and the flight slightly longer. But we soon landed at the Airport of Kona, got our rental car for the week, and immediately proceeded South.
Our visit to the Big Island was not without aim. We had 4 primary goals for our visit. In order of precedence:
- Reach the Highest Point of Hawai’i – Mauna Kea
- Visit all National Park Administered Sites
- Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park
- Kaloko-Honokohau National Historic Park
- Pu’uhonua O Honaunau National Historic Park
- Pu’ukohola Heiau National Historic Site
- Reach the Peak of Mauna Loa
- Visit the Southernmost Point in the 50 States
We had other subsidiary goals as well such as finding letterboxes, hiking a lava tube, seeing wildlife, etc. But our primary list was ambitious enough. As the name implies, it really is a big island and there are plenty of scenic areas and hikes that we were aware of, but our priorities were about our long term goals and things that were nothing like what we could do on Oahu.
Our trip began with a stop at Walmart to pick up food for the first few days, and then we began our adventure. We drove south down HI 11 along the leeward coast passing countless Coffee plantations and farms. As the sky began to lighten we began to see the flanks of Mauna Loa. The Big island is comprised of 5 volcanoes. On the far north is the very old and eroded Kahala Range, then to the south is Mauna Kea, the highest at 13796 feet. To the Southwest of Mauna Kea near Kailua-Kona is the not-insignificant Hualalai (At 8271 feet , taller than all the other islands except Maui but dwarfed by Mauana Loa and Mauna Kea). Then comes Mauna Loa, slightly shorter than Mauna Kea, but making up most of the land mass of the island. And finally Kilauea, the active volcano that makes up the Eastern Point of the island.
There were a few things we noticed right away that stood out to us our entire trip: The road was wider than Oahu highways, and there were big open spaces with no development. I knew we would see lava rock in the national park; I was blown away with how much we were seeing all around the island. There were occasional signs telling what year that specific part of lava had erupted. We were also surprised at how quickly the road went up in elevation. It wasn’t long before we were seeing “Elevation 1000 feet” signs, and when we had views to the West we were able to see how high we were above the ocean.
After about a half hour of driving, we arrived at our first National Historic Park: Pu’uhonua O Honaunau. We had arrived just before the visitor’s center opened, so we picked up a brochure and began a short loop walk around, stopping at the numbered signs and reading about the history that took place here.
HISTORY BY CURTIS
For hundreds of years, the Hawaiian islands were divided and ruled by local chiefs. The islands were divided into Ahupua’a; land divisions that extended from the mountains to the sea. The people were ruled by their chiefs and the chiefs were ruled by higher chiefs all the way up to a ruler of the island (during times of peace that is). All the people were bound by a complex system of religious laws that revolved around the idea of Kapu or ‘Forbidden’. Certain acts such as eating with women, touching a chief, or eating the wrong type of food during the wrong season were all forbidden and punishable; often by death. That is, unless you could escape to a pu’uhonua: a city of refuge. Surrounded by the sea on one side and a wall on the other, the pu’uhonua was the place where ‘criminals’ fleeing the law could find sanctuary if only they could reach it by the treacherous sea. During times of war it was also a safe haven for women and children. There, the people would be tended to by priests until their ‘sins’ were absolved and an appropriate amount of time had passed. Such was the way of life when Captain Cook discovered Hawaii and was killed in nearby Kealakekua and such was the way when King Kamehameha united the islands. But after the death of Kamehameha in 1819, when the Kapu system was temporarily lifted while a new chief was chosen, the late king’s son, Kamehameha II did the unthinkable and did not reinstate the kapu instead breaking the kapu personally and eating with his mother and aunt. (Actually, his mother and aunt were the ones who wanted to end the kapu). With the kapu, collapsed the entirety of the Hawai’ian religion just as Christian missionaries began arriving on the island. Religious temples (heiau) were ordered to be torn down, leaving only the stone platforms behind. The kingdom of Hawai’i entered the 19th century vying for a position among its Pacific neighbors as a ‘civilized’ contemporary. The Cities of Refuge and other religious sites across the islands ceased to have purpose and decayed away, existing only as curiosities for visiting American and European anthropologists.
Fortunately, these same anthropologists, along with a resurgence of Hawaiian culture during the late 19th century helped preserve sites across the archipelago. Today Pu’uhonua o Honaunau is one of the few surviving examples of a city of refuge. Replicas of wooden and thatch structures had to be rebuilt, but most of the stone structures are original.
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We didn’t see any sea turtles here, but there was a rainbow out over the water that made a beautiful setting. The whole park was empty, giving us a quiet walk around the grounds. When the visitor’s center opened, we got our stamps and took off for our next destination.
We continued down the highway, heading for South Point. The point is located 12 miles down a narrow road right off the highway and, as you might guess, is the Southern most point in all 50 states (American Samoa is further south still if you’re going off of all US territory, these are important distinctions). We ended up at a gravel parking lot filled with fishermen. The point is surrounded by tall cliffs, with spectacular views of both the leeward coast and Mauna Loa. The wind was strong, blowing us around, but that didn’t stop us from walking as far South as we felt comfortable (and the furthest South we’ve ever been at 18.9 Degrees N). We took some pictures and reminisced over the day we visited the Easternmost point of the US and the Center of the US. Call us weird, but geographic extremes are just as cool as county counting, and we all know how cool county counting is.
From here, we could have also hiked East along the coast to find the green sand beach, but time was ticking and we needed to secure a place to stay that night and continue pursuing our goals. In my opinion, the sand at South Point looked rather greenish, so that was good enough for us. We took off for our next stop — Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. Come back soon to read about that!