Along the west shore of Hawaii Island rests the Kona District, which enjoys a warm coastal climate all year round. It’s no surprise this magical place was a favorite relaxation spot for Hawaiian royalty for centuries. Notably, the most powerful presence in Kailua-Kona was King Kamehameha I, who took up residence in 1812 following the successful unification of the Hawaiian Islands under his rule. This incredible feat protected the Hawaiian Islands from the possible division from western influence and ushered in a time of peace and prosperity for the Hawaiian people.
The historic significance of this region can be seen and felt spiritually through its sacred temples, known as Heiau. These sacred structures are found in various forms large and small, from secluded lush foothills to open-air beaches. Heiau, constructed from stone and wood, range from small houses to large lava rock platforms. Created in ancient times to honor the gods, each Heiau carries its own devotional purpose of great importance to the community by invoking peace, war, health, or abundance. Take a glimpse at some of Kona District’s most revered Heiau.
Dedicated to Lono the god of fertility, harvest, and peace, Ahuena Heiau is located north of the Kailua Pier in Kailua-Kona. Now fully restored, it is considered one of the most significant historic sites in Hawaiian culture. The reign of King Kamehameha I centered around Ahuena Heiau, making it his personal temple of worship and place of refuge. Here the King met with high chiefs and performed rituals to communicate with the gods. Ahuena Heiau is adorned by several carved statues, known as kiii akua. The tallest of them depicts the golden plover, or Kolea, believed to have brought the ancient Polynesians to the Hawaiian Islands. King Kamehameha I ruled from Kailua-Kona until his death in 1819.
Five miles south of Kailua-Kona Village is Kuemanu Heiau, dedicated to surfing. The stone platform is 50 feet wide and 100 feet in length and holds an upper stone terrace and water pool, possibly used for rinsing off salt water from the ocean. It stands across from a renowned surfing break, Kuemanu Heiau was used to worship the gods and ask for good surfing conditions and surfers’ safety.
As one of the largest built Heiau in Hawaii, the Puukohola Heiau is believed to have been constructed with lava rock manually passed through human hands from Pololu Valley, as far as 25 miles away. The massive structure is surrounded by high walls and is believed to be one of the last sacred structures built in the Hawaiian Islands before western influence. The Heiau received its name, which means “hill of the whale” in Hawaiian, because of its scenic vantage point from where humpback whales can be seen off the Kohala Coast during the winter and spring months.
Remaining structures of Heiau stand as powerful reminders of early Hawaiian religious practices that continue to be greatly honored and respected in Hawaiian culture today. The Hawaiian people remain strong through their rich history, carrying with them the spirit of their ancestors and deep respect for tradition. The spiritual strength of these sites create an unforgettable experience, and visitors should be mindful and practice respect at all times while visiting them.
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