Pu'uhonua O Honaunau National Historical Park, also known as the City of Refuge or Place of Refuge, is a sacred site for Hawaiians. Visiting this park will give you tremendous insight and knowledge about the Hawaiian culture and way of life.
I personally felt a connection to Hawaii after my visit here! This article is intended to help you understand the importance of this park and to get the most out of your experience here.
There will be a list of things to do and tips for visiting Pu'uhonua O Honaunau National Historical Park.
City Of Refuge Hawaii - Pu‘uhonua o Hönaunau National Historical Park
In old Hawaii, if you broke the law, the penalty was death. Your only option for survival was to elude your pursuers and reach the nearest puuhonua, or city of refuge. As you enter, the great wall rises up before you marking the boundaries between the royal grounds and the sanctuary. Many ki'i (carved wooden images) surround the Hale o Keawe, housing the bones of the chiefs that infuse the area with their power or mana. If you reached this sacred place, you would be saved.
Pu`uhonua O Hōnaunau is considered a sacred site. I walked this park feeling at ease, protected, and stood in silence feeling its spirit. I felt the warm breeze across my face, hearing the waves crash and studying the ki'i and wondering what must have gone through someone's mind as they reached this sacred place knowing they had been saved.
There is so much for your senses to take in. There is natural beauty, historical significance, and spirituality. You can possibly see green sea turtles laying on the sand, go for a short hike, or perhaps walk past the many ki'i through the palm trees and step out onto the lava and watch the waves come in.
Whatever you do with your time at this park you can guarantee this will be one of the highlights of your trip to Hawaii. It truly is a must-do on any trip to the Big Island.
Common words you will see while visiting the City of Refuge.
Heiau: an Ancient Hawaiian Temple and a place of worship.
Halau Wa'a: Canoe House, a place where a canoe is stored and provided adequate space for worship activities.
Pu'uhonua: A place of refuge.
Ki'i: Wooden carvings that surround Heiau. They represent the many gods.
Honu: Green Sea Turtles
Konane: board game also known as Hawaiian Checkers.
Ali'i: Royal Chief or King
Kahuna: Priests, religious leaders
Kapu: Sacred Law
Nui: Coconut palm
There are several things you can do at Pu'uhonua O Honaunau National Historical Park. Below is a list of things that I have enjoyed and has kept me coming back multiple times!
Become a Junior Ranger or Kapuna Ranger
Make sure to get a Jr. Ranger Program book when you arrive. There are three different books, dependant on age, that are designed to help you learn about this park in by doing fun activities.
Even adults can do this program, in fact, I encourage adults to do them!
My dear wife always gets the Jr. Ranger books and we always learn something new when completing them.
Adults can participate in the Kapuna Ranger program!
Attend a cultural demonstration
Watch demonstrators as they perform traditional Hawaiian crafts. This is a great opportunity to interact with others and learn about the park.
There was a basket weaving demonstration on my last visit by the Halau Wa'a and was fantastic!
Explore the Pu'uhonua and the Royal Grounds
This is a spiritual place, one that should be taken with the utmost respect. Sit there an feel the breeze, hear the ocean waves and wonder what it would have been like to finally make it to the Pu'uhonua after fleeing here avoiding death after breaking the Kapu(sacred law).
See how many Ki'i you can find or perhaps the Halau Wa'a.
Maybe learn to play Konane (Hawaiian Checkers) or see the Honu resting on the beach.
I want to start by emphasizing that snorkeling is not allowed by entering the water at Keone'ele Cove in the Park. This is a sacred place and we are visitors here. There may be fish visible from the shore but it is also the side of the cove getting the waves and is shallow, all of which does not make for the ideal snorkeling spot unless you prefer getting thrown into rocks instead of looking at pretty fish.
Take the time to go across the bay and you will have an experience of a lifetime.
Some of the best snorkeling in Hawaii is an easy walk from the park! So good that you will compare all other snorkeling trips for the rest of your life to this trip and say how they just don't compare to two-step and Hawaii!
Most of the tour boats that take you snorkeling leave out of Kona and take you to two-step and Captain Cook but most tourists don't realize that two-step can be reached from the parking lot at the City of Refuge.
It's a short walk back out of the parking lot and take the second road (one-way road) to the left.
Having said how easy it is to get to two-step, I must caution you that it can be tricky getting in and out of the water and I found out that you have to catch a wave to the rock to easily get yourself back out.
You will also be swimming in deep water and you should be a strong swimmer and have experience snorkeling.
Also, be cautious of urchins in the rock crevasses and will lead to a very unpleasant experience if you get a finger or toe inside one.
Park Ranger John Pro Tip: Two-Step and many other great snorkeling spots on the Big Island of Hawaii can be found with great detail in the book "Hawaii the Big Island Revealed: The Ultimate Guidebook". This is perhaps one of the best guidebooks that I have ever seen and I didn't know about it until I was already in Hawaii halfway through my vacation. This book is a must for any first-timer to the Islands and will help you prepare for the best vacation possible in Hawaii.
Go for a Hike - 1871 Trail
Most visitors simply take a stroll out through the Ou'uhonua and the Royal Grounds. Some make go a bit further and go out to the palm trees and watch the waves come.
If you are up for a two-mile hike then take the 1871 trail. This will take you through a Hawaiian Heiau, agricultural areas, Holua sled courses, and Keanae's Cliffs.
Please wear adequate shoes and wear sunscreen if you plan to do this hike as the sun is intense here and don't expect a stroll on the beach here. This is an island made of lava rock.
Drink some Coffee
Do you like coffee? Well, you are going to be in luck driving to the City of Refuge as you drive right through the coffee country.
You will see coffee stands along the way and many of these stands have samples to try. Coffee is king in this area and Hawaiian Coffee is known throughout the world, especially the Peaberry coffee.
Don't pass a sample of Peaberry as it is something to cherish! Its beans are only 5% of all coffee grown and you will easily pay $40+ for a pound.
Share the parks with friends and family
I actually never really wanted to go to Hawaii before meeting Tammilee (the better half). My impression was that it was filled with resorts and people walking around on beaches with suntan oil on and being tourists. I personally wanted more from a vacation but I finally gave in to her wanting to go and her constantly giving me a hard time.
I am so happy that she persuaded me into going! The Big Island of Hawaii far surpassed my expectations to the point that I have even looked at houses on the Islands. Tammilee says that she created a monster 🙂
One of the big reasons for this change of mind was our first visit to the City of Refuge. I saw there was so much more to Hawaii and is filled with culture.
We now like to get friends and family go with us to the Islands and share these experiences with them, seeing their surprise and excitement exploring Hawaii and why it is one of our favorite places on earth.
FYI: Palm fonds make a great background for photos so seize the opportunity when walking at the City of Refuge.
General Information for visiting Pu'uhonua O Honaunau National Historical Park
Park opens at 7:00 am and closes 15 minutes after sunset.
The visitor center is open from 8:30a-4:30p
There is no camping, lodging or restaurants in the park.
Pets are not allowed in the Pu'uhonua or Royal Grounds but allowed in the picnic area and on the 1871 & Coastal Trails.
Fees are collected at this park.
There is no Wi-fi access provided to the public
Honaunau, HI 96726
How much does it cost to visit Pu'uhonua O Honaunau National Historical Park?
$15.00 per private non-commercial vehicle (capacity 15 or less) - 7 days
$7.00 per pedestrian or bicycle - 7 days
$10.00 per motorcycle - 7 days
$30.00 Pu'uhonua o Hōnaunau NHP Annual Pass
$50.00 Hawai‘i Tri-park Annual Pass
Free Entrance Days in 2019
- January 21: Birthday of Martin Luther King, Jr.
- April 20: First day of National Park Week
- August 25: National Park Service Birthday
- September 28: National Public Lands Day
- November 11: Veterans Day
Other fees such as reservation, camping, lodging, tours, concession and fees collected by third parties are not included unless stated otherwise.
Explore other National Park Sites in Hawaii
Big Island of Hawaii:
Ala Kahakai National Historic Trail
Island of Maui:
Island of Oahu:
World War II Valor in the Pacific
Honouliuli National Monument
Island of Molokai:
Kalaupapa National Historical Park
Are you taking a cruise to Hawaii? Check out the National Parks you can visit via Cruise Ship in Hawaii!