Scout Out an 18th-Century War Temple
Two centuries ago, Hawaiian rulers worshipped a powerful war god called Ku. King Kamehameha I, who fought numerous battles to unify all the Hawaiian Islands, sought Ku’s support by building a massive stone temple 400 feet above Kawaihae Harbor in North Kohala.
Construction of the 20-foot-high lava rock temple, or heiau, began in 1790 and was completed a year later. By 1810, Kamehameha had conquered the Islands and established a monarchy. He died in 1819, after which his son abandoned the religious practices that had ruled Hawai‘i and ordered destruction of the heiau.
Pu‘ukohola, the last religious heiau built in Hawai‘i, is now a 77-acre National Historic Site operated by the National Park Service. One of the most imposing and dramatic Hawaiian temples in the island chain, the temple has been largely restored.
Pu‘ukohola heiau, which means Temple on the Hill of the Whale, is open daily from 7:45 a.m. to 5 p.m. Admission is free.
Stroll Through a Botanical Garden
The park is located 1 mile south of the harbor at Kawaihae on Highway 270.
Not far from Hilo, two public gardens are laid out in exquisite natural environments: the Hawai‘i Tropical Botanical Garden and the World Botanical Gardens & Waterfalls.
Hawai‘i Tropical Botanical Garden, opened in 1984, is nestled in a 40-acre valley edged by the Pacific Ocean. Here you’ll find more than 2,000 species that include orchids, palms, heliconias, gingers, bromeliads and other exotic plants. Located on Highway 19, it is open daily from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
World Botanical Gardens offers great fun for everyone. Fly through the rain forest on Zip Isle’s seven-stage Zip Line Eco Tour. Glide past beautiful gardens and magnificent waterfalls on Hawai‘i’s only botanical Segway tour. Get up close to amazing Hawaiian beauty, immersing yourself in lush gardens with hundreds of orchids and exotic plants on the guided tour (reservations required). Don’t miss the impressive Kamae‘e Falls and other waterfalls. Open daily, 9 a.m. -5:30 p.m.
On the other side of the island, Pua Mau Place is a botanical garden and arboretum laid out on the west slope of the Kohala Mountains near Kawaihae. The gardens feature a maze planted with 250 species of hibiscus, an aviary populated by about 150 exotic birds and a collection of original sculptures. Open daily from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Finally, take a journey back to a time before Captain Cook landed at Kealakekua Bay, to visit (what is now referred to as) the Kona Field System—a rich, agricultural complex teeming with gardens and groves. The Amy Greenwell Ethnobotanical Garden is a 12-acre garden built to reflect the plant life before foreign contact in Hawai‘i. Here you can learn about how
Hawaiians cultivated various species, and what uses they served, from materials for tools, clothes, fishing, cooking and building.
The Garden offers guided Plant Walks at 1 p.m. daily. Located in Captain Cook, 12 miles south of Kailua-Kona on Highway 11 at the 110 mile marker.
• Hawaii Tropical Botanical Garden (808) 964-5233 • World Botanical Gardens (808) 963-5427
or (888) 947-4753 • Amy B.H. Greenwell Ethnobotanical Garden
Find Eden in Waipi‘o Valley
Located north of Honoka‘a on the Hamakua Coast, Waipi‘o valley is the largest and southernmost of the seven valleys on the windward side of the Kohala Mountains. Measuring 1 mile wide at the coast and almost 6 miles deep, the Eden-like valley is sheltered by cliffs reaching almost 2,000 feet. Waterfalls and flowers cascade from the walls of the cliffs, and a stunning black-sand beach defines the coastal area.
Waipi‘o is known as the “Valley of the Kings” because it was once home to many ancient Hawaiian rulers and is said to be the place where King Kamehameha the Great received his training. Ancient burial caves are located within the walls of the cliffs, and the valley inspired many myths, chants and songs.
Reaching Waipi‘o is difficult. Access is limited to fourwheel-drive vehicles—most car rental companies prohibit use of their vehicles on the steep road. You can get there in a mule-drawn wagon with a company called Waipi‘o Valley Wagon Tour. This narrated tour wanders past waterfalls, taro patches and herds of wild horses. It departs from the Neptune Gardens/Last Chance store off Highway 240.
The most convenient and accessible view of the valley is from the scenic point at the end of Route 40, about 10 miles outside of Honoka‘a. Take an ATV tour with a company called Ride the Rim, hike the rim with Hawai‘i Forest & Trail, or see it from horseback.
• Na‘alapa Stables Waipi‘o (808) 775-0419 • Waipi‘o Ridge Stables (808) 775-1007 • Waipi‘o Valley Shuttle (808) 775-7121 • Waipi‘o Ride the Rim (808) 775-1450
or (877) 775-1450 • Hawai‘i Forest & Trail (808) 331-8505
Discover the Elegant Mac Nut
More than a century ago, a Big Island sugar plantation manager introduced macadamia nuts to the island. Although native to Australian rainforests, mac nuts thrived in Hawai‘i, and the state became the site of the world’s first commercial plantations. Today, these delicious, hard-shelled nuts are one of the Big Island’s largest crops.
Macadamia nuts aren’t picked from the tree; instead, they fall to the ground fully ripened. However, don’t pick one up expecting to shell it and pop it in your mouth—it requires 300 pounds of pressure per square inch to crack a mac nut shell.
Mauna Loa Macadamia Nut Corp., 6 miles south of Hilo on Macadamia Road, welcomes visitors. Here, you’ll find a 2,500acre orchard, processing plant and a chocolate factory.
For more information, look up the Great Hawaiian Mac Nut Trail, a self-guided tour of Hawaii’s macadamia nut industry. You’ll find everything from processing plants to small familyowned farms and bed-and-breakfast stops where visitors can pick macadamia nuts.
Travel a Scenic Byway
Hawai‘i has only two official “scenic byways” (designated as part of the National Scenic Byways Program) and the Big Island is home to both of them: The Mamalahoa Kona Heritage Corridor and Royal Footsteps Along the Kona Coast.
The Mamalahoa Kona Heritage Corridor takes you through an area of historic importance, telling the story of the area’s evolution from a pathway for ancient Hawaiians to its most recent development.
The Royal Footsteps Along the Kona Coast uncovers the history of the area that’s hidden in plain sight. Travel along Ali‘i Drive, and you’re no doubt taken in by beautiful vistas on one side and bustling energy on the other. However, Iook a little closer and you’ll see that this seven-mile stretch is also home to many
important sites of historical significance, like Hulihe‘e Palace, Pa o Umi (the residence of the ruler Umi-a-lilioa [ca. AD 1490-1525]), breathtaking bays and beaches, churches the Holualoa Royal Center and more.
For more information on the Hawaii Scenic Byways, log on to www.hawaiiscenicbyways.org.
Where the Ocean Melds with Science
Located at Keahole Point, one mile south of the Kona International Airport, the Natural Energy Laboratory of Hawai‘i Authority is a sprawling, 800-acre complex populated by entrepreneurs engaged in innovative technology and product development.
Here, the State of Hawai‘i is developing an array of renewable energy sources. Scientists explore geothermal energy (stored at the Earth’s core), wind power, hydrogen energy (pollutionfree energy carriers) and various biomass energy (a renewable resource drawn from plant matter).
NEHLA is also the only place in the world where the vast natural resources of sunlight and seawater are harnessed to support exciting new aquaculture technologies. Huge intake pipelines are used to deliver cold, deep-sea water from 3,000 feet below and tropical-warm, surface seawater. “Techno-magicians” use the cold seawater to cool buildings as well as grow creatures like cold-water abalone, lobster, Japanese flounder and more— all creatures that couldn’t exist in Hawai‘i’s warm waters. The abalone farm conducts regular tours in conjunction with a general presentation and offers a taste of the fresh delicacy.
For more information about NELHA or tour reservations, call (808) 327-9586 or visit www.nelha.org.
Escape to an Ancient Refuge
Pu‘uhonua o Honaunau was, in ancient times, the destination for people seeking asylum from severe penalties imposed on all who broke kapu (taboo) laws.
Once inside the compound’s 10-foot walls, sanctuary was guaranteed. The resident kahuna, or priests, were obligated to offer absolution to all fugitives no matter how great or small the infraction.
Refuges like Pu‘uhonua o Honaunau ceased functioning in the early 19th century, when the kapu system was abolished. But this site remains intact to provide a glimpse into a time when people could be sentenced to death merely for eating with their husband or walking in the shadow of a chief.
Now a national historical park, Pu‘uhonua was reconstructed by local artisans using traditional tools. One of the major features of the complex is a reconstructed temple. Fierce, wood-carved statues known as ki‘i guard this oft-photographed temple, called Hale o Keawe. The original temple, built around 1650, housed the bones of at least 23 chiefs.
Pu‘uhonua o Honaunau is open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. daily; the visitor center is open from 8 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. daily. There is an entrance fee of $5 per car. To get there, drive south from KailuaKona on Highway 11. Turn towards the ocean on Route 160 at the Honaunau Post Office and watch for the historic park sign.
Explore an Ahupua‘a
Early Hawaiians used a system of land management that was defined by wedge-shaped division that stretched from the uplands to the ocean. Called ahupua‘a, these land divisions were environmentally sound and fostered good stewardship practices among the occupants of each division. One of the best ways to grasp ahupua‘a land management is to visit Lapakahi State Historical Park, which is located about 14 miles north of Kawaihae on Route 270.
Here you’ll find the reconstructed village of Koai‘e. Hawaiians first settled in the Lapakahi area during the 1300s, and the fishing village of Koai‘e served as the center of activity in the Lapakahi ahupua‘a until the late 1800s. The 265-acre park encompasses a variety of partially restored sites, numbered to coincide with information in a free brochure available in the park’s visitor center.
Moving through the village, it’s not hard to imagine life in this ahupua‘a with farmers growing crops in the mountains and trading and other goods for fish caught by families living closer to the sea. There are examples of games like konane (sometimes called Hawaiian checkers) and ‘ulu maika (a form of bowling using stones) that children are encouraged to try. Throughout the area, flowers, shrubs, and trees are identified. Park guides are in attendance daily between 8 a.m. and 4 p.m.
The Eyes of Mauna Kea
The largest astronomical observatory in the world is located at the 13,796-foot summit of Mauna Kea. Here, international scientists work with a sophisticated array of telescopes to gather data about the vast celestial universe.
The mountain currently houses 13 working telescopes and plans have been announced to build another—slated to be the largest on Earth. The new $1.2-billion telescope will be built by a consortium of California and Canadian universities and will be capable of tracking stars and galaxies some 13 billion light years away.
Mauna Kea means “white mountain,” named for the snow that covers its slopes. It is the highest island-mountain on Earth, rising 32,000 feet from its base on the ocean floor. The view from the summit is like stepping out of an airplane just above a bank of clouds.
The last stop before the summit is the Onizuka Center for International Astronomy. Located at the 9,300-foot level, this is a good place to stop for a while to acclimatize for the rest of the trip. From there, it’s a 30-minute trip to the summit navigating a mostly unpaved road.
A guided tour of the summit is the safest and most educational way to go. Several companies conduct tours, which can last 7 or 8 hours. Because of the very thin air at the summit, children under 16 years of age and people with respiratory, heart and severe overweight conditions are not advised to go beyond the Visitor Center.
• Hawai‘i Forest & Trail (808) 331-8505 • Mauna Kea Summit Adventures (808) 322-2366
Take a Road Trip to Hip Hawi
The hip little enclave of Hawi is only about an hour drive north of Kailua-Kona, but this upcountry hamlet (population 938) is worlds apart from its neighboring city.
A major piece of Hawai‘i’s history is tied to this tiny village. Hawi is the birthplace of King Kamehameha I, the great warrior king who united the Islands and laid the foundation for today’s state. A plaque designating the king’s birthplace is located on the grounds of an ancient sacrificial temple near a small coastal airfield.
Beyond its historic significance, Hawi demonstrates a proclivity for a self-sufficient lifestyle spiced with a sense of humor. Find a treasure created by local artisans at Elements Jewelry and Fine Crafts. The store features jewelry created by owner John Flynn, as well as pottery, paintings, prints photography by other artists.
Lighthouse Delicatessen is a buzzy NY-style deli that can cure hunger pangs both small and large with choices from a house-made soft baked pretzel or a salad to a meatball parmesan hero. The Kohala Coffee Mill churns out 100-percent Kona coffee, gourmet ice cream and an array of sandwiches, pastries and Hawaiian gifts.
The Bamboo Restaurant is a Hawi institution. The popular restaurant and gallery is a taste of vintage Hawai‘i that never grows old.
•Elements Jewelry & Fine Crafts (808) 889-0760
Visit a Vintage Palace
The vintage palace at the heart of Kailua-Kona has undergone a $1.5 million renovation and is receiving guests again. Damaged in a 2006 earthquake, Hulihe‘e Palace has resumed its full schedule with public self-guided tours.
Gov. John Adams Kuakini built the palace, located on Ali’i Drive, in 1838 for his daughter-in-law, Princess Ruth. The princess used the palace primarily for entertaining visitors. When she wasn’t entertaining, the princess preferred sleeping outside in a large grass house she had constructed on the grounds.
In 1884, King Kalakaua bought the stately oceanside mansion. It was then remodeled to include a kitchen and furnished with distinctive koa wood and commissioned Victorian pieces. The palace was used as a vacation spot for Hawaiian royalty until 1916, when it was sold and all its contents were auctioned off. In 1925, it was purchased by the Territory of Hawai‘i and leased to the Daughters of Hawai‘i, who tracked down many of the original pieces of furniture and convinced the owners to return the items for display.
Today, there are more than 1,000 artifacts on display, including javelins, spears and a 180-pound lava rock, used by King Kamehameha the Great as an exercise ball.
The palace is open from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., Wednesday through Saturday.
Bikers: Saddle Up, Ride ’Em Out
Just because you’re on the seat of a Harley doesn’t mean you’re ready to go everywhere. Even the most seasoned bikers need to plan their Big Island trips carefully.
Think of the island as circular in shape with a few zigzagging connector roads. There are two key highways (11 and 19), while Saddle Road (Highway 200) provides the shortest route from Kailua-Kona to Hilo.
Hawai‘i Island offers great day trips. You’ll find the roadways well-marked and signage easy to follow.
Kilauea Volcano is a must-see and a unique drive. You can see snow on Mauna Kea and experience 90-degree temperatures on the Chain of Craters road all on the same day! Parker Ranch is a great step back in time and a nice cruise up the coast. Ali‘i Drive in Kailua-Kona is the best place to cruise at night.
• Island RV (808) 334-0959
Ka‘u: South by South
The sparsely populated Ka‘u District, at the southern tip of the island, is known for its rich environmental diversity. A large chunk of Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park is located in this district, as are wind farms, highland forests, the parched Ka‘u Desert and enticing black, white and green sand beaches.
But the area is largely distinguished by its geographic location. South Point, at the bottom of the district, is considered the southernmost tip of the United States, and the village of Na‘alehu, the southernmost town. South Point, more properly called Ka La‘e, is located at a latitude that’s 500 miles farther south than Miami. Its roots go back to 150 A.D., when it is believed the first Polynesian explorers set foot on the island.
Na‘alehu, population 900, is located 19 degrees north of the equator on Route 11. It’s a good place to take a break on the drive to Volcanoes National Park. Check out Punalu‘u Bake Shop, which is, of course, the southernmost bakery in the United States.
• Punalu‘u Bake Shop (808) 929-7343