Puʻuhonua o Hōnaunau National Historical Park on the Big Island of Hawaii

Puʻuhonua o Hōnaunau National Historical Park, Big Island, Hawaii: Complete 2024 Guide!

If you enjoy local history and culture, you must include Puʻuhonua o Hōnaunau National Historical Park in your itinerary for the Big Island of Hawaii.

Managed by the National Park Service, this historic site sits by the coast and offers a peek back into the past as well as the opportunity to experience tradition Hawaiian culture.

Visiting Puʻuhonua o Hōnaunau National Historical Park, one of the Big Island’s four national parks, is one of the best things to do in Kona.

Puʻuhonua o Hōnaunau National Historical Park in Hononaunau on the Big Island of Hawaii
Puʻuhonua o Hōnaunau National Historical Park lies a little south of Kona

Pu’uhona means “a place of refuge” in Hawaiian. In days past, if you had broken the kapu, the sacred laws, you would be punished with death, unless you were able to escape to the puʻuhonua.

Said to be protected by Lono, the Hawaiian god of life, Puʻuhonua o Hōnaunau is today a national park that protects the best preserved sanctuary from times past.

In this article, we describe what you can see and do at Puʻuhonua o Hōnaunau National Historical Park, along with information on how to visit.

Ready? Let’s get started discovering this must-visit national historic park on the Big Island!

Planning a visit to the Big Island? Snorkeling Captain Cook at Kealakekua Bay should definitely be on your itinerary: check out our guide to the best Captain Cook snorkel tours!

Reconstructed canoe house at Puʻuhonua o Hōnaunau National Historical Park, Big island, Hawaii
A reconstructed canoe house at the park

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Things to Do at Puʻuhonua o Hōnaunau National Historical Park

Start at the park visitor center

Upon arrival, stop by the visitor center at Puʻuhonua o Hōnaunau National Historical Park for information about the park and any special programs happening during your visit.

You can also pick up a brochure about the park and a map to help you explore. Browse the bookstore if you want to pick up a book or two on Hawaiian culture, local legends and more.

There are restrooms and drinking water fountains here.

The visitor center is open daily from 8.30 a.m. to 4.30 p.m.

Walking path in  Puʻuhonua o Hōnaunau National Historical Park on the Big Island of Hawaii
Exploring  Puʻuhonua o Hōnaunau National Historical Park

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Walk the Royal Grounds and the Puʻuhonua

Walking the Royal Grounds and the Puʻuhonua, you get a good sense for the Hawaii of old. Tall coconut palms have been planted, making it a pleasant wander on a nice weather day.

The Royal Grounds contain reconstructed halau wa’a (traditional canoe houses), fish ponds, and the stone “board” for kōnane, a traditional Hawaiian game. Keoneʻele Cove used to be the traditional entrance to the grounds for the ali’i.

Reconstructed canoe houses at Puʻuhonua o Hōnaunau National Historical Park

Separating the Royal Grounds and the Puʻuhonua is the Great Wall, an L-shaped wall originally built several centuries ago of lava rock.

A large part of the wall was still standing when it was restored in the 1960s.

The Great Wall at the Puʻuhonua o Hōnaunau National Historical Park, Big Island, Hawaii
The original Great Wall was built of lava rocks with no mortar

Admire the Hale o Keawe

By the ocean stands the Hale o Keawe, a reconstruction of a very sacred temple.

The original temple was built around the year 1650 to house the remains of Keawe-i-kekahi-aliʻi-o-ka-moku, an ancestor of King Kamehameha I. 

Along with his remains, the temple also housed the remains of 23 ali’i or Hawaiian chiefs.

The mana, or spiritual power, emanated by the bones of these noble Hawaiians is said to have enhanced the sanctity of the refuge.

Hale o Keawe at the Pu'uhonua o Honaunau National Historic Park on the Big Island of Hawaii
The restored Hale o Keawe temple
Ki'i carvings at the hale o Keawe Puʻuhonua o Hōnaunau National Historical Park Big Island Hawaii
Carved ki’i figures at the Hale o Keawe

The original temple was destroyed in the 1800s. The bones were moved to Mauna ‘Ala, the Royal Mausoleum, on Oahu.

Although it no longer houses any mortal remains, for native Hawaiians, the site remains sacred and you may see offering left here.

The current Hale o Keawe was built a few decades ago as a representation of Hawaiian culture.

Surrounding the structure are gorgeous ki’i carvings that were also created in the 1960s, when the Hale o Keawe was restored. The carvings, made of wood, are replaced from time to time as they get damaged by the elements.

The most famous ki’i at Puʻuhonua o Hōnaunau National Historical Park are Kiei and Hālō, representations of the gods Kāne and Kanaloa, pictured at the top of this article.

You can also the sites of ancient heiaus as you explore the Puʻuhonua.

>> Book an exciting, 5-star rated, highly popular, Big Island tour now!

Hike the 1871 Trail to Kiʻilae Village

Active visitors to Puʻuhonua o Hōnaunau National Historical Park will want to walk the 1871 trail to KI’ilae Village.

This scenic trail offers views of the ocean, of course, but also the Keanaeʻe cliffs and many ancient sites.

An ocean view from the 1871 Trail on the Big Island of Hawaii
An ocean view from the 1871 Trail

The coastal trail is part of the Ala Kahakai National Historical Trail. Foot trails were used by ancient Hawaiians to move around long before the advent of modern roads, and the trail was the main route for this section of coast, connecting several villages.

The 1871 Trail starts by the visitor center in the park and leads to KI’ilae Village, an old fishing village.

To get to the trailhead from the visitor center, take the steps to the left of the building and follow the path through the lava rock. Take the first left onto the lava rock trail, and you will arrive at the trailhead just after you cross the road.

An easy 2-mile round-trip walk, the coastal trail features mountain views on the land side. Observe local flora as you walk, and keep an eye out for birds!

You will be walking over uneven lava rock on the trail, so make sure your footwear is appropriate.

>> Book an exciting, 5-star rated, highly popular, Big Island tour now!

Explore the tide pools at the picnic area

You can walk out onto the lava rock at Puuhonua o Honaunau National Historical Park to look for marine life in the many tidepools.

Be cautious though, as the rocks can be slippery.

Sunset on the tidepools at the Puuhonua o Honaunau National Historical Park on the Big Island of Hawaii
Look for marine life in the tidepools!

Enjoy a meal in the picnic area

Located south of the Great Wall, the picnic area at Puʻuhonua o Hōnaunau National Historical Park is a great place to relax after your exploration.

There are benches to sit and take in the views of the swaying coconut palms and the South Kona Coast. Sunset is often magnificent here!

If you’ve brought lunch or picnic fixings, enjoy a meal with ocean views. You’ll find a grill here, and picnic tables.

Watch cultural demonstrations

Usually at the end of June, Puʻuhonua o Hōnaunau National Historical Park hosts an annual cultural festival.

Artists and craftspeople from the community gather in the park to offer demonstrations of their skills. You can watch demos of traditional hula dancing, hukilau, lei making, weaving baskets from coconut leaves, and much more.

But you can also get a taste of Hawaiian culture most days in the park, with NPS staff and community artists offering demos. You can find current cultural events at the park posted on their Facebook page.

>> Book an exciting, 5-star rated, highly popular, Big Island tour now!

Kapu and the Puʻuhonua: A Brief History Lesson

In ancient Hawaii, actually right up until the 19th century, a system of law called kanawai governed the social order.

Specific places, people, and things were off-limits and certain activities were kapu, or forbidden.

For example, a common person could not have his or her shadow fall on an ali’i. A woman could not eat with a man. Women could not certain foods like pork, bananas, or coconuts. You could only fish, farm, or harvest when permitted.

Kapus were strictly enforced. If a person broke the kapu, the punishment was immediate death.

Unless you fled from your pursuers and made it to a puʻuhonua, a place of refuge. Here you could stay safe until an ali’i absolved you, after which you could go back.

The puʻuhonua also offered refuge to families in the event war broke out, so they could return home unharmed after hostilities ended.

There were many puʻuhonua on Hawaii Island, but Puʻuhonua o Hōnaunau National Historical Park is the best known and best preserved site.

Puʻuhonua o Hōnaunau National Historical Park on Hawaii Island
The Puʻuhonua, a place of refuge

Getting to Puʻuhonua o Hōnaunau National Historical Park

Puʻuhonua o Hōnaunau National Historical Park is located in Hōnaunau, about 22 miles south of Kailua-Kona on the leeward side of the Big island (see map).

It is about a 40-minute drive from Kona to the park in normal traffic.

If you plan to visit Puʻuhonua o Hōnaunau National Historical Park from Hilo, on the windward side of the Big Island, you will drive to park on Saddle Road.

The distance from Hilo is 98.9 miles (see map), and you should be able to drive it in a little over 2 hours in normal traffic.

From Hilo, you can also take the southern route, through Volcano and Naalehu (see map). This distance is 108 miles and takes about 2 hours and 20 minutes in normal traffic.

Coconut palms and canoe houses at Puʻuhonua o Hōnaunau National Historical Park at sunset, Big Island, Hawaii
Beautiful sunset sky at the park!

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Puʻuhonua o Hōnaunau National Historical Park Hours and Admission Fees

Puʻuhonua o Hōnaunau National Historical Park is open daily from 8.15 a.m. until sunset.

Since sunset times vary through the year, you can get the exact closing time for the date of your visit by calling the park or asking the staff at the visitor center when you arrive.

The park visitor center is open from 8.30 a.m. until 4.30 p.m. everyday.

Puʻuhonua o Hōnaunau National Historical Park charges an entrance fee of $20.00 per standard vehicle, $15.00 for a motorcycle, and $10.00 per person for walk-ins.

Only credit or debit cards are accepted, no cash.

The America the Beautiful National Parks Pass is accepted at Puʻuhonua o Hōnaunau National Historical Park, so remember to bring your card if you have one!

If you don’t have one, an annual pass can be purchased online at REI.

Tiki statues at Puʻuhonua o Hōnaunau National Historical Park on the Big island of Hawaii
A closer look at the ki’i Kiei and Hālō as they look out at the ocean

Are Puʻuhonua o Hōnaunau National Historical Park reservations required?

Currently, reservations are not required for visiting Puʻuhonua o Hōnaunau National Historical Park.

>> Book an exciting, 5-star rated, highly popular, Big Island tour now!

The Best Time to Visit Puʻuhonua o Hōnaunau National Historical Park

You can visit Puʻuhonua o Hōnaunau National Historical Park year round.

Daytime temperatures in the park get up into the upper 80s, making it usually hot during the day. Plan to visit early or late during park operating hours, when it is a little cooler.

Adverse weather such as storms or high winds can cause the rare park closure, so always check the official website before heading to the park.

Lava rock landscape at Puʻuhonua o Hōnaunau National Historical Park on the Big Island of Hawaii
Coconut palms and lava rocks make for a dramatic landscape in the park

Tips for Visiting Puuhonua o Honaunau National Historical Park

Visit early or late in the day

You will be outdoors for much of your visit to Puʻuhonua o Hōnaunau National Historical Park, and it can get hot during the day.

For the most pleasant weather, plan to visit early in the morning, when the park opens, or in the late afternoon.

Allow plenty of time

Allow one to two hours to walk the grounds and view the exhibits. If you like to explore at a leisurely pace, stopping to take in the views and snap photos, you will need a couple of hours.

If you plan to hike the 1871 trail, budget additional time. We spend about an hour on this trail, because the views are spectacular and sometimes there are birds to photograph.

A hale at Pu'uhonua O Honaunau Historical Park on the Big Island, Hawaii
A hale in the park

Wear sun protection

Sun protection is an absolute must, since you will be outdoors in exposed conditions during your visit to Puʻuhonua o Hōnaunau National Historical Park.

We like this reef-safe sunscreen that’s perfect for Hawaii. We also sometimes use this one: it’s great for sensitive skin!

Also wear a sun hat with a broad brim (men’s/women’s on Amazon) and sunglasses (we like this brand), and use a lip balm with SPF.

>> Book an exciting, 5-star rated, highly popular, Big Island tour now!

Wear proper walking shoes

Wear comfortable walking shoes or sandals that secure to your feet, with good grip.

We love our Teva sandals (women’s/men’s on Amazon). We also use Keen sandals, another great option for this tour (women’s/men’s on Amazon).

Carry drinking water

Bring an adequate supply of drinking water on your explorations at the park. The visitor center has a bottle filling station near the restrooms where you can fill your refillable water bottle.

Bring snacks (or a picnic meal)

Depending on the time of day you visit, you can bring snacks to stay fueled as you explore, or a picnic meal to eat in the picnic area.

Sunset at Pu'uhonua O Honaunau Historical Park, Big Island, Hawaii
Sunset at Pu’uhonua O Honaunau Historical Park

Visit respectfully

Please be respectful of the sacred sites in the park! Do not touch, remove, or climb on exhibits in the park.

>> Book an exciting, 5-star rated, highly popular, Big Island tour now!

Note park restrictions on pets

Pets are not permitted in the Royal Grounds or in the Pu’uhonua. Leashed pets are permitted in the picnic area, and on the 1871 and coastal trails.

Do not swim, snorkel, or sunbathe in the park

Ocean access to swim, snorkel, or dive is not permitted inside the park, nor are sunbathing and beach games.

But do visit Two Step at Hōnaunau Bay to snorkel

Just to the north of the park, the Two Step area of Hōnaunau Bay is one of the most popular snorkeling spots on the Big island. The fish and the coral here are exceptional.

You may also see Hawaiian green sea turtles, and spinner dolphins in the bay.

If you want to spend some time snorkeling before or after your visit to the park, this is the place to go! It’s also a great place to learn to scuba dive.

Sunset at Two Step Beach, Hōnaunau Bay, Big Island, Hawaii
Sunset at Two Step Beach, Hōnaunau Bay

Morning is generally better for visibility and you’ll have a better shot at getting a parking spot earlier in the day.

There is no “beach” here, just a lava ledge that offers the “two-step) entry into the water.

Hōnaunau Bay usually features calm waters, but if the surf is rough avoid getting into the water.

>> Book an exciting, 5-star rated, highly popular, Big Island tour now!

Have lunch at Kaaloa’s Super J’s or The Coffee Shack

If you didn’t have a picnic in the picnic area at Pu’uhonua O Honaunau National Historical Park, and you want to stop for a bite en route, consider Kaaloa’s Super J’s or The Coffee Shack.

At Kaaloa’s Super J’s you can try Hawaiian plate lunches. They are especially known for their laualaus.

The Coffee Shack offers sandwiches, pizza, and salads, with vegetarian options. They also serve Kona coffee!

The Best Big Island Tours

Have you booked these top-rated Big Island tours yet?

Guided snorkeling with manta rays at night, a bucket-list underwater Big Island adventure to watch the amazing manta rays up close. Sightings guaranteed or go again.

Big Island in a Day excursion from Kona or Waikaloa, including Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, Punalu’u Black Sand Beach, ‘Akaka Falls, and the Waipi’o Valley Lookout!

Snorkeling historic Kealakekua Bay, one of the top snorkel spots on the Big Island. Look for dolphins en route (plus whales in season)! Don’t want to snorkel? Take a dinner cruise instead.

Sunset and stargazing at the summit of Mauna Kea, the highest point in all of Hawaii! Travel up and down in a luxury 4X4 van. Hooded parkas and gloves provided!

Thrilling zipline adventure over KoleKole Falls, a 7-line Hilo ziplining experience that allows you to soar over lush forest vegetation and the 250-foot waterfall!

Renting a Car on the Big Island

Most visitors that travel to the Big Island choose to rent a car because the island is, well, BIG, and the Big Island must-see attractions are scattered around the island.

Depending on where you choose to base — Kona or Hilo are the main places visitors choose — you can pick up a rental car in either location.

We always use Discover Cars to book Kona car rentals or Hilo car rentals. They search across a variety of rental car companies, both budget and brand, to offer you the best deals, AND they offer free cancellations. Plus, there are no hidden fees.

>> Check availability and prices on Kona car rentals now!

>> Check availability and prices on Hilo car rentals now!

Where to Stay on the Big Island

Kailua-Kona, on the sunnier leeward side of the Big Island, ands Hilo, on the lush windward side, are the main bases on Hawaii Island, also known as the Big Island. Most visitors to the Big Island split their stay between these two places.

You will find the biggest choice of hotels and resorts in Kailua-Kona and Waikaloa, with both chains and boutiques, while Hilo has fewer hotels and inns.

The Westin Hapuna Beach Resort is an excellent choice if you are looking for a pristine beach out the front door. The Hilton Waikaloa Village is a great choice if you are traveling as a family.

The Mauna Lani on the Kohala Coast, just 40 minutes from Kailua-Kona, is a fabulous resort for a splurge. The SCP Hilo Hotel is the perfect base from which to visit Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.

You will find VRBO listings all over the island, especially in Kailua-Kona, Hilo, and Volcano (the base for travelers spending a night or more visiting Hawaii Volcanoes National Park).

We have stayed in VRBO rentals in Volcano as well as in Kailua-Kona and Hilo and we’ve found the choice and quality great.

>> Look for a Big Island vacation rental on VRBO now!

Noni tree in Puuhonua o Honaunau National Historical Park on Hawaii Island in Hawaii
Noni tree with fruit in the park

More Big Island Travel Inspiration

Planning a trip to the Big Island of Hawaii? Also known as Hawaii Island, the Big Island is home to some spectacular scenery and lots of activities.

Learn about the 4 national parks on the Big Island, including Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, where you may be lucky enough to catch flowing lava!

Head to the southeast part of the island to admire Punalu’u Black Sand Beach, possibly the most striking of the Big Island’s black sand beaches, and read our guide to the rare green sand beach on the Big Island!

The state parks of the Big Island protect some of the island’s best treasures. A few miles north of Hilo, you will find Akaka Falls State Park, home to the 442-foot Akaka Falls.

Also on the scenic Hamakua Coast, stop to visit the lush and beautiful Hawaii Tropical Bioreserve and Garden, with its numerous varieties of tropical plants.

On the leeward side of the island, you’ll find many beautiful beaches. Must-visit Hapuna Beach is a picture-postcard tropical beach with its long stretch of white sand.

Kauna’oa Beach, also known as Mauna Kea Beach, is another white sand beach north of Kona you have to visit. It routinely makes the top 10 beaches in the USA list!

Part of the Kekahai Kai State Park, Manini’owali Beach is yet another stunning white sand beach on the Kohala Coast just north of Kailua-Kona.

South of Kailua Kona, you’ll find arguably the best snorkeling spot in all of Hawaii at the Captain Cook Monument at Kealakekua Bay. Our guide to the best Captain Cook snorkeling tours will help you find the perfect tour for you!

Also on the South Kona Coast is Puʻuhonua o Hōnaunau National Historical Park, one of the Big Island’s national park sites that is historically and culturally significant. And, it’s very scenic!

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Discover the complete guide to Pu'uhonua O Honaunau National Historical Park on the South Kona Coast of the Big Island of Hawaii. What to see and do, how to get there, hours and admission, more!

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