Story and pictures by Allan Seiden
The mana of a powerful past and a swim in clear waters make the Kona Coast a uniquely rewarding getaway…
They could call the Big island’s Kona and Kohala districts Hawaii’s ‘cultural history coast.’ Even outposts of old Hawai`i like Hana can’t offer the lifestyle perspective found here.It’s an impressive reminder of the past that includes three National Park sites (Pu`uhonua o’Honaunau, Kaloko/Honokahau, Pu`ukohola) , a State Park (Lapakahi) and other places of historic and cultural significance. From great temple complexes to missionary churches to the days when ranch and plantation defined the content and pace of life. It’s all to be found here, along with a sense of nature as defined by rolling hillside pastures and sensual cindercones, great swaths of lava-scared grasslands, lushmountainside forests, and spring-fed, crystal clear waters that are a refreshing respite from the midday heat.
Small towns like Kainaliu and Kealakekua add at-home conveniences (Bank of Hawaii, First Hawaiian), with shops where it’s fun to browse and local color from an eclectic community of coffee growers, artists, elder hippies and other escapists, plus local folk with ancient links to this beautiful part of Hawaii and its culture.
This was the Hawaiian heartland, home to powerful chiefs whose support of Kamehameha in his pursuit of a single Hawaiian kingdom played a key role in his ultimate success. It was here, in the village of Kailua, that Kamehameha came to spend the last years of his life, training his eldest son Liholiho in the prerogatives and responsibilities of kingship from his royal compoound which he’d named Kamakahonu…the Turtle’s Eye. A restored portion of his personal heiau, Ahuena, can be visited from the beach at the King Kamehameha hotel. It was also in Kona, following Kamehameha’s death in 1819, that the old order under chief and priest would be overthrown when the sacred `ai kapu (eating prohibition) that forbid men and women eating together was broken at
a public feast by the young Kamehameha II. Soon after, the high priest Hewahewa headed to the Hale o’Keawe at the pu’uhonua (place of ritual cleansing) at Honaunau, proclaiming the end of the reign of the gods of old. Through such places, Kona and Kohala preserve unique links to times when different realities prevailed.
Contrary to reputation, there are many places to enjoy the coast from an oceanside perspective, with suggestions for a beachwalk or swim in the Seidbar that follows. We start at the south end of South Kona, at Honaunau, continuing north to Napo`opo`o, historic Keauhou and Kailua, ending 12 miles beyond, where North Kona’s lava rock grasslands border South Kohala.
Pu’uhonua o’Honaunau National Historic Monument
It’s an hour before sunset. Sunlight br
eaking beneath the clouds, bathes this very special, calming place in a warm golden glow. It may have been nearly two centuries since this place of refuge and ritual cleansing ceased functioning, but the energy of that time long ago still permeates the setting, particularly at sunset when the echoes of the past are at their most insistent, the setting sun silhouetting palms and the Hale o’Keawe and it’s fierce ki`i in timeless simplicity. Keawe was the Arthurian king whose bones and those of other ruling chiefs, wrapped in kapa, confirmed the sanctity to the site. It was here that Hewahewa defied the gods, declaring their reign over. A National Historic Monument operated by the National Park Service, the visitor center offers film, lectures and cultural demonstrations. Informative brochures and audio tours provide a sense of place to the impressive rock walls and temple platforms. Had your life been at risk, if you made it inside the walls of the pu’uhonua, a ritual cleansing would free you of an enemy’s retribution. Visit www.nps.gov/puho/
Hikiau Heiau/Cook Monument
Completed centuries ago, it was here that Captain James Cook would be hosted at a luau held in his honor soon after his makahiki season arrival, which led some to believe that Cookwas the returning god Lono, who reigned supreme during the autumn months of makahiki.
The land that once fronted the heiau has eroded, providng the temple with a magificent coastal view of cliffs and sea, Across the bay a white monument marks the spot where Captain
James Cook was killed in February, 1779, The monument is accessible on a strenuous trail or by boat.
Kuamoo Battlefield / Lekeleke Burial Grounds
It was here in 1819 that a battle was fought between Liholiho, newly crowned as Kamehameha II, and Kekuaokalani, his first cousin. The battle pitted the forces of change, championed by Liholiho when he broke the eating kapu, with Kekuaokalani representing the chiefs committed to preserving the established order. Liholiho ‘s victory settled the issue, securing broad powers to the royal government. The battlefield burial mounds are a grim reminder of the estimated 300 warriors killed during the battle. is at the south end of Ali`i Dr. just past Keauhou Resort.
The cove at the north end of Kailua town was once the royal kauhale (residetial compound) of Kamehameha, who lived the last years of his life here, The heiau was the family temple of the king. Today’s temple, complete with fierce ki’i, oracle tower and thatched hale follows the plan of the original, a portion of which was destroyed when Kailua harbor was expanded. Despite a hotel-side setting, it’s worth a visit, with a swim in adjacent waters an easy possibility.
Built by the High Chief Kuakini, sister of Ka`ahumanu and Governor of Hawaii Island, this seaside residence was completed in 1838 and welcomed Hawaii’s royals throughout the 19th century. Inherited by Bernice Pauahi, it was bought by King Kalakaua and Queen Kapi`olani who left it to her nephews, Jonah Kuhio Kalaniana`ole and David Kawananakoa. Since 1927 it has been maintained and operated by the Daughters of Hawaii and is on the National Register of Historic Places. Fully restored in 2009, it suffered damage from the Fukushima-initiated tsunami.
Completed in 1837 by Native Hawaiian workers and missionary Asa Thurston, who had settled in Kona in 1820, it was built on land donated
by Governor Kuakini, whose residence was across the road. This coral rock landmark, with its bell tower and koa wood interior is an architectural gem, listed on the National Register of Historic Places. It is open daily, with Sunday and holiday services, with the Christmas Eve service particularly colorful.
Kaloko/Honokohau National Historical Park
This was once the Hawaiian heartland, with a large population and powerful chiefs. It was the allegiance of the Kona chiefs that allowed Kamehameha to claim first the Big Island and then a multi-island kingdom. There a beautiful
section of level walkway built in the 1830s following a more ancient coastal trail. The 1160-acre park, stretches along 2.5 miles of coast includes a small heaiu, house sites, large holua (slide; not open to the public), petroglyphs, and a grand-scale fishpond with a massive 750-foot long, 10-foot wide, eight-foot-high seawall
that is being rebuilt with the wave-shattered rocks of the 16th century original, under the auspices of the National Park Service. Its importance is emphasized by the name Kaloko, which translates as ‘the pond.’ This coastal wetland, with its anchialine ponds, is home to native plants; sea life and birds, There are three access roads and trails that tie it all together. The northernmost section of the park is about a mile south of the airport, with a turnoff that leads to the walled fishpond. The main entrance and visitor center are accessed on a road about 1 mile further south. With a third access road that leads to a small heiau and swimming beach, with nearby Airport Beach a popular place to take a swim after hiking the park’s trails. www.nps.gov/kaho/
GETTING THERE & GETTING AROUND
Hawaiian Airlines offers frequent non-stop flights between Honolulu and Kona’s Keahole Airport. Fares can vary considerably flight-to-flight, so check out the best options before booking. www.hawaiianairlines.com. I found the best rental car rates with Avis. www.avis.com.
WHERE TO STAY
The Keauhou Beach Resort and Sheraton Keauhou Bay offer resort-style accommodations and well-priced kamaaina room-and-car packages. There are also many well-priced bed and breakfast options in upcountry towns like Captain Cook, and Napo`opo`o, with multi-night stays even cheaper than the typical $100 per night cost. Check out the rustic tree house bed-and-breakfast called Dragonfly Ranch Healing Arts Center in Honaunau (www.dragonflyranch.com).
Pukalani is a spacious, quiet haven on a small working organic farm with fruit trees and flowers in abundance, upcountry of Kealekekua Bay. Visit www.vrbo.com/306573
A LITTLE EXTRA
Try to make time for a peaceful stroll around the Paleaku Gardens Peace Sanctuary and visit St. Benedict’s Painted Church in Captain Cook, the nicest of several in Hawaii, was built and decorated with charming intensity in 1899.
Both are in Captain Cook, en route to Napo`opo`o and the Hikiau heiau. Enjoyable antiquing at Discovery Antiques in Kealakekua, with tasty pizza just across the road. Good breakfasts and lunches with local ingredients at the Aloha Theater Cafe in Kainaliu, which offers dinners on evenings when theater events (films, plays, performing arts, concerts) are scheduled. Reservations: 808-322-3383. Plenty of places to enjoy Kona Coffee, with Greenwell Farms, the recent winner of kudos for its Kona brews, offering retail sales and farm tours. www.greenwellfarms.com/
Next: North and South Kohala