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Puukohola Heiau National Historic Site


Histor­y and legend come together at Puukohola Heiau National Historic Site, which preserves the last major religious structure of the ancient Hawaiian culture built in t­he islands. According to legend, before Kamehameha was born, it was said that a "killer of chiefs" would appear one day. Hawaiian chiefs, fearing that the baby Kamehameha might be the prophesied one, tried to kill him, but his mother sent him away to safety. He grew up to be a feared warrior.

Puukohola Heiau National Historic Site
©Todd Hoare
Pu‘ukohola Heiau is one of the most famous heiau (temple) in the Hawaiian Islands

In 1782, he became ruler of the northwest half of the island of Hawaii and warred with other chiefs for control of all the islands. Eventually he had only one rival left, his cousin Keoua Ku'ahu'ula. A famous prophet told Kamehameha's aunt that he could conquer the whole island if he built a large temple to his family war god atop Puukohola, "the hill of the whale."

In 1790, Hawaiians began to build the massive temple platform without the use of mortar by setting lava rocks and boulders together. One year later, the temple was complete, and Kamehameha dedicated the temple by sacrificing his rival cousin to his war god. The prophecy was fulfilled in 1810, after years of war, when Kamehameha became ruler of all the Hawaiian Islands. After Kamehameha's death in 1819, his son abandoned the past religious ways and had the temple destroyed.

Visitors can reach the remains of Kamehameha's temple, as well as all other historical sites in the 83-acre park, on foot. The foundation of Puukohola measures 224 feet by 100 feet and has long narrow terrace steps across the side facing the sea so that people in canoes floating offshore could see the interior of the temple. The platform has survived major earthquakes over the years, but the walls are beginning to crumble, so visitors are no longer allowed to climb onto it.

On the hillside between Puukohola Heiau and the sea is the foundation of Mailekini Heiau -- all that remains of the temple used by Kamehameha's ancestors. The Hale-o-ka-puni Heiau, a temple to the shark god, is believed to be submerged just offshore of Puukohola. Nearby is the stone leaning post, where the high priest watched sharks circle about the temple before devouring his latest offering to them. Along the coast is Pelekane, the royal residence. It was here that Kamehameha's son, King Kamehameha II, prepared to rule all of the Hawaiian Islands.

In 1790, a British sailor named John Young was stranded on the island of Hawaii. In time, he became Kamehameha's trusted adviser. Kamehameha named him Olohana and eventually made him a chief. Olohana was governor of Hawaii from 1802 to 1812, at the same time serving as the king's business agent. His former home is just north of Puukohola Heiau. Little is left of the dwelling, but historians believe it was built of stone and mortar and was probably the first European-style house on the islands.

Puukohola Heiau National Historic Site Information

Address: 62-3601 Kawaihae Rd., Kawaihae, HI
Telephone: 808/882-7218
Hours of Operation: 7:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily

Admission: Tours $2; visitor center free

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To learn more about national monuments, memorials, and historic sites, and other travel destinations in North America, visit:

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Eric Peterson is a Denver-based author who has contributed to numerous guidebooks about the Western United States.