Complete Guide to Pu`ukoholā Heiau National Historic Site on the Big Island of Hawaii, including history, things to do, directions, hours, lodging, and so much more.
Pu`ukoholā Heiau National Historic Site
Pu`ukoholā Heiau National Historic Site is located on the Northwestern coast of the Big Island of Hawaii. The park is 35 miles north of Kailua-Kona Town.
The 86-acre park protects one of the oldest structures in the National Park System. The Puukohola Heiau was built in 1790-91 by the Hawaiian leader Kamehameha I.
A heiau is a temple or sacred place where Kahuna (priests) communicated with the gods and advised the Ali'i (chief).
Pu'ukohola Heiau means a temple on the hill of the whale.
Kamehameha I built the large structure as an offering to the war god Kuka'ilimoku.
About Pu`ukoholā Heiau NHS
One interesting thing about the heiau structure is every rock was hand-carried along a chain of warriors. If a rock was dropped it would have to be picked up and sent back to the original space so it didn't bring bad energy to the heiau.
The lava rocks weighed between 20 to 100 pounds each and they had to be special ocean lava rock that is only found 20 miles away in Polulu Valley.
When you visit Pu`ukoholā Heiau NHS on the Big Island of Hawaii make sure and say hi to Park Ranger George! He is fantastic and has a wealth of knowledge about the site and why it is important to not only Hawaiian History but US History.
This temple unified the eight major Hawaiian Islands to one unit and one chief. In order to be a chief, you had to have a royal bloodline.
Before this heiau was built the islands had been warring for over five centuries.
The building of the heiau brought the warriors together and by the time it was done they were strong, fit, and unified.
One of the things we learned during our visit was that the war gods want a gift, they want a human sacrifice and the chief would have the most Mana.
The 1st Sacrifice was Kamehameha's cousin who was invited to the dedication ceremony in 1791.
The cousin accepted the invitation knowing what was going to happen when he arrived. He felt that it was his goddess Pele's wish for it to happen.
The bones of the Chief and the warriors were given to the gods of the temple. The bones were given because they carry the Mana, they would have been placed under rocks as a gift to the gods.
This heiau fulfilled the prophecy of unification and ended 5 centuries of wars among the Hawaiian Islands.
Is Pu`ukoholā Heiau National Historic Site worth visiting?
It's a great place to go if you're into Hawaiian history and culture or you just love learning more about different cultures' history and traditions.
The site is well-maintained and offers a range of educational and interpretive programs, as well as guided tours and self-guided tours.
We have enjoyed every visit to the park. The rangers are amazing and offer a ton of information on the importance of the Heiau.
History of Pu`ukoholā Heiau National Historic Site
The Pu'ukohola Heiau National Historic Site preserves the site of one of the last ancient Hawaiian temples to be constructed. The construction of the heiau (meaning temple) played a pivotal role in the unification of the warring Hawaiian islands.
Before the heiau was constructed, the Hawaiian islands were in a constant state of unrest. High chiefs or ali'i nui controlled different sections of the islands or whole groups of islands. Power struggles between rival chiefs were frequent, as each high chief wanted to expand their territory.
Ancient Hawaiian society revolved around strict spiritual beliefs, which resulted in a rigid class system. The ancient Hawaiians developed a system called the Kapu system or taboo system to enforce spiritual beliefs and maintain law and order. The ancient Hawaiian religion included human and animal sacrifice, performed in sacred heiaus'.
The sacred temple is not the only historical site the park protects. The park is home to a fort called Mailekini Heiau, Hale o Kapuni (shark temple), the Pelekane (the royal courtyard), and the homestead of John Young.
Pu'ukohola Heiau was built in 1790 by one of Hawaii's greatest ancient leaders, King Kamehameha. The heiau was constructed during a time when the islands of Hawaii were in a state of civil unrest.
Kamehameha rose to power amid the unrest, which was prophesized to end if Kamehameha built a heiau to the god Ku at Pu’ukohola. Ku was Kamehameha’s family war god.
The temple was constructed using lava rocks from the Pololu Valley. The builders formed a human chain stretching 25 miles up the mountain to place the rocks. The temple had to be constructed according to exact instructions.
Kamehameha was able to unite the Hawaiian islands and end the civil unrest.
Mailekini Heiau is situated just below Pu'ukohola Heiau. Mailekini Heiau was once a temple, but it was converted to a fort by Kamehameha in the 1800s. Towards the end of the 1700s, Europeans began visiting the Hawaiian islands. The Europeans came to explore the islands and possibly trade with the islands inhabitants.
The chiefs of the island's sought to use the Europeans and their weaponry to their advantage. Kamehameha used western military ideas and built several forts on the island. Mailekini Heiau was equipped with as many as 21 guns sometime after the unification of the Hawaiian islands.
The role of Mailek Heiau was to protect the bay from a naval attack and the royal residence, which was located close to the fort.
Hale o Kapuni
Hale o Kapuni is an ancient temple that is now underwater. The locals believe the temple was erected to honor the shark gods. The Hawaiians worshipped several different shark gods. Each shark god was specific to a certain family. The sharks each had names, histories, and homes.
The temple is not visible, but you can catch a glimpse of the sharks playing in the waters where the temple is thought to have been.
Below the temple is the Pelekane, meaning royal courtyard. Many significant historical events occurred in the Pelekane during the reign of King Kamehameha. In 1791 the king killed his cousin and political rival, Keoua Kuahu'ula, in the royal courtyard.
The Pelekane was the site where the king received foreign visitors. Tradesmen and dignitaries from France, Britain, Russia, and America were received by the king in the Pelekane.
John Young Homestead
When foreign ships started visiting the Hawaiian islands toward the end of the 1700s, the chiefs of the islands believed the European's warships and knowledge were an asset. The king took two European captives because of this. The captives were Isaac Davis and John Young.
John Young was stranded on the island in 1790, left behind by his crew on their way to China. Kamehameha believed John Young would be useful, so he invited Young to live with him at Kawaihae. Young became an advisor to the king.
Young served as a translator for the king and managed to negotiate trade and political agreements with the foreign dignitaries who were met at the Pelekane.
John Young trained Kamehameha’s armies in western military tactics and weaponry. Young fought alongside the king during the battles to unify the islands. The European sailor also taught the king how to sail and build western-style ships.
Young was made a high chief by the king and was the governor of the island of Hawaii. Young married the king's niece and lived in his homestead just beyond the Pelekane. John Young's homestead was the first Western-style house on the Island of Hawaii.
Things to know before your visit
$0.00 - There is no Entrance Fee to visit the park.
Planning a National Park vacation? America the Beautiful/National Park Pass covers entrance fees for an entire year to all US National Park Sites and over 2,000 Federal Recreation Fee Sites.
The park pass covers everyone in the car for per vehicle sites and for up to 4 adults for per-person sites.
Buy on REI.com and REI will donate 10% of pass proceeds to the National Forest Foundation, National Park Foundation and the U.S. Endowment for Forestry & Communities.
Free Entrance Days -Mark your calendars with the five free entrance days the National Park Service offers annually.
Hawaiian Time Zone
Dogs are allowed in almost all places in the park except inside the buildings and heiau. Dogs must be kept on a leash no longer than 6 feet.
There is good cellular service in the park.
The park is open from 7:30 AM to 5:00 PM.
There is no public Wi-Fi available at the park.
Insect repellent is always a great idea when outdoors, especially if you are around any body of water.
We use Permethrin Spray on our clothes before our park trips.
Make sure to bring your own water bottle and plenty of water with you. Plastic water bottles are not sold in the park.
There is parking right near the entrance to the visitor center.
There are no restaurants within the park. There are amazing restaurants in Kailua-Kona
There are no gas stations within the park.
Drones are not permitted within National Park Sites.
National Park Passport Stamps
National Park Passport stamps can be found in the visitor center.
Pu'ukohola Heiau NHS is part of the 2021 Passport Stamp Set
Electric Vehicle Charging
There are at least 23 public charging ports in Kailua-Kona
Details about Pu`ukoholā Heiau National Historic Site
Size - 76.6 acres
Check out how the park compares to other National Parks by Size.
October 15, 1966
In 2021, Pu`ukoholā Heiau NHS had 24,326 park visitors.
In 2020, Pu`ukoholā Heiau NHS had 23,970 park visitors.
In 2019, Pu`ukoholā Heiau NHS had 133,573 park visitors.
National Park Address
62-3601 Kawaihae Road, Kawaihae, HI 96743
National Park Map
Where is Pu`ukoholā Heiau National Historic Site?
The Park is located at 62-3601 Kawaihae Road, Kawaihae, on the northwest coastline of the Big Island of Hawai'i.
Estimated distance from major cities nearby
Kailua-Kona - 33 miles
Waimea - 10 miles
Hilo - 65 miles
Pahoa - 91 miles
Captain Cook - 46 miles
Estimated Distance from nearby National Park
Hawaii Volcanoes National Park - 101 miles
Haleakala National Park is located on the island of Maui.
Where is the National Park Visitor Center?
The visitor center is located near the main entrance to the park.
Getting to Pu`ukoholā Heiau National Historic Site
Keahole International Airport (Kailua-Kona Airport) (KOA) - 28 miles
From Kona International Airport:
Take Highway 19 North for 27 miles. Turn left (north) onto Highway 270 (Kawaihae Road) and go ½ mile to the Park entrance (on the left side of highway).
Turn left off the highway on to the park road. The Visitor Center is located down the hill just before Spencer Beach County Park.
Take Highway 19 North 67 miles. Continue on Highway 270 (Kawaihae Road) to the Park entrance (on the left side of highway). Turn left off the highway on to the park road.
The Visitor Center is located down the hill just before Spencer Beach County Park.
From North Kohala (Hawi/Kapa'au):
Take Highway 270 South 20 miles to the Park entrance (on the right side of highway). Turn right off the highway on to the park road.
The Visitor Center is located down the hill just before Spencer Beach County Park.
Best time to visit
The best time to visit is anytime you can make it to the Big Island of Hawaii.
Weather and Seasons
Kailua Kona experiences epic warm weather throughout the year. There is very little temperature change throughout the year.
Best Things to do in Pu`ukoholā Heiau National Historic Site
We suggest planning a couple of hours to explore the park and look for sharks in the bay.
The park visitor center opened in 2007 and is an open-air museum and space to learn more about the park.
Becoming a Junior Ranger is a great activity for any visitor to the park. You have the chance to learn more about the park and dive into the park in a fun new way.
Cell Phone Tour
The cell phone tour is a great way to learn more about the history of the park while exploring the trails.
Watch the park movies
The park movies are played outside of the visitor center with a gorgeous view of the water. There are multiple movies you can choose from.
Cultural Demonstration of Hawaiian Crafts
During the year the park offers demonstrations and activities including activities such as lei making, kukui nut top, and mini feather kahili.
Look for sharks in the bay
Most days you can see sharks returning to the bay and the Hale o Kapuni Heiau temple that is submerged and dedicated to the sharks.
This park is a great place to look for Hawaiian birds including the state bird the Nene Goose. We saw a pair of Nene near the Heiau while walking around the park.
Saffron Finch, Common Myna, Northern Cardinals, Java Sparrows, and Zebra Doves can also be found in the park.
Hiking in Pu`ukoholā Heiau National Historic Site
Always carry the 10 essentials for outdoor survival when exploring.
Walk the parks ½ mile loop trail
The loop trail leads you to the Heiau and provides an epic view of the water.
There is very little shade along the trail so you will want to bring a hat and sunscreen. You can fill your water bottle up at the visitor center.
Along the walking trail, you can see an example of a Hawaiian LeLe (offering tower).
You can also see a Kapu that designated that the area was forbidden.
When you walk up to the rocks pay close attention to how they are stacked. They were dry-stacked with no concrete or mortar to hold the rocks in place. It is one giant rock puzzle with the rocks perfectly placed to hold the structure up.
How to beat the crowds
We did not experience any crowds while visiting the park.
Where to stay when visiting the Big Island of Hawaii
There are no National Park Lodges within the park.
There is great lodging and vacation rentals available in Kailua-Kona and surrounding areas.
Courtyard by Marriott King Kamehameha's Kona Beach Hotel - We have stayed at this hotel a few times and it has been fantastic. look forward to a poolside bar, a terrace, and shopping on site. With a beachfront location, beach massages, and beach towels, this hotel is the perfect place to soak up some sun. Indulge in a body scrub, a deep-tissue massage, and a body wrap at The Spa, the onsite spa. Enjoy a meal at the two onsite restaurants. Yoga classes are offered at the gym; other things to do include rowing/canoeing. Stay connected with free in-room Wi-Fi, and guests can find other amenities such as a coffee shop/cafe and a garden.
Westin Hapuna Beach Resort - This is one of our favorite hotels in the world. Take advantage of 18 holes of golf, a grocery/convenience store, and a terrace at The Westin Hapuna Beach Resort. This resort is a great place to bask in the sun with a beachfront location, beachfront dining, and sun loungers. Indulge in a deep-tissue massage, a body treatment, and a body scrub at Hapuna Spa by Mandara, the onsite spa. Be sure to enjoy a meal at any of the 3 onsite restaurants, which feature Mediterranean cuisine and ocean views. The 24-hour gym offers aerobics classes and yoga classes; other things to do include snorkeling, volleyball, and kayaking. Stay connected with free in-room Wi-Fi, and guests can find other amenities such as shopping on site and a coffee shop/café.
Holiday Inn Express Hotel & Suites Kailua-Kona - Free continental breakfast, 9 beach bars, and a terrace are just a few of the amenities provided at Holiday Inn Express Hotel & Suites Kailua-Kona, an IHG Hotel. For some rest and relaxation, visit the hot tub. Free in-room Wi-Fi is available to all guests, along with dry cleaning/laundry services and a gym.
Royal Kona Resort - look forward to a terrace, a garden, and laundry facilities. This hotel is a great place to bask in the sun with beachfront dining and beach massages. Treat yourself to a body treatment, a body scrub, or a body wrap at Lotus Center Spa, the onsite spa. Be sure to enjoy a meal at Don The Beachcomber, the onsite restaurant. Free in-room Wi-Fi is available to all guests, along with 2 bars and a gym.
Aston Kona by the Sea - Guests at this beach condo building will appreciate convenient onsite amenities such as barbecue grills and a picnic area. Each condo provides a kitchen with a refrigerator, an oven, a stovetop, and a microwave. Guests will appreciate conveniences like 2 bathrooms and a washer/dryer, while a TV with cable channels and a DVD player provide a bit of entertainment. Housekeeping is available on request.
Fairmont Orchid - 4.5-star luxury resort by the ocean. At Fairmont Orchid, you can look forward to 18 holes of golf, a beach bar, and a free daily manager's reception. This resort is a great place to bask in the sun with a private beach, beachfront dining, and beach cabanas. Treat yourself to reflexology, a body scrub, or a hot stone massage at Spa Without Walls, the onsite spa. Be sure to enjoy a meal at any of the 4 onsite restaurants, which feature international cuisine and garden views. The health club offers Pilates classes and yoga classes; other things to do include rowing/canoeing, scuba diving, and snorkeling. In addition to a terrace and designer stores on site, guests can connect to free Wi-Fi in public area
Click on the map below to see additional hotels and vacation rentals near the park.
There are no National Park Campgrounds in the park.
Nearby campgrounds include
Hawaii's Best Campspot - Naalehu, HI
This campground offers lodging, RV and tent sites.
Big Island of Hawaii Travel Tips - Our best tips for traveling to the island and having an amazing trip.
Best Sunset Spots on the Big Island - Where to go to get an epic sunset photo!
Free Things to do on the Big Island - Enjoy one of our favorite free things to do while visiting Kona and the Big Island.
Parks Near Pu`ukoholā Heiau National Historic Site
Pu’uhonua O Honaunau National Historical Park - AKA City of Refuge
Volcano House - Find out what it is like to stay on the rim of the crater in Hawaii Volcanoes NP
Pearl Harbor National Monument - Located on the island of Oahu
Check out all of the US National Historic Sites managed by the NPS