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 called Hale of Keawe. The original temple, built around 1650, housed the bones of at least 23 chiefs, and fierce wood-carved statues known as ki‘i guard this oft-photographed temple today.
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 Kailua-Kona on Highway 11. Turn toward the ocean on Route 160 at the Honaunau Post Office and watch for the historic park sign.