Located on the west coast of the Big Island of Hawai‘i, Pu‘ukoholā Heiau translates as “temple on the hill of the whale.” Under the rule of Kamehameha I, the heiau was built in 1790-91 after a prophet told his aunt he needed to appease the family war god. In 1810, after years of warfare, Kamehameha I finally became the first king of the unified Hawaiian Islands. Following his death nine years later, his son abolished the kapu system of beliefs and the heiau fell into ruin. This 86-acre site was added to the National Park Service (NPS) system in 1972.
Pu‘ukoholā Heiau, Mailekini Heiau, John Young’s Homestead
Start your visit at the NPS visitor center and check out the metal artwork that tells the story of the demi-god Maui. Then walk the interpretive trail for views of several heiau, including the submerged Hale o Kapuni Heiau dedicated to the shark gods. You can also park across Highway 270 and walk to the site of John Young’s homestead. Young was a British sailor stranded on Hawai‘i in 1790 who became a trusted military advisor of Kamehameha I.
A short portion of the 175-mile long Ala Kahakai National Historic Trail runs through this site, though at present most of the trail is not publicly accessible.
Pu‘ukoholā Heiau measures 224 by 100 feet with 20-foot high walls and was constructed without mortar by stacking volcanic rocks. The heiau are closed to the public, but can be photographed from downhill.
Year round, but each August there are ceremonies held at the heiau.
All roads paved
Samuel Spencer County Park offers camping nearby, but reservations are required.
Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park (Hawai‘i)
Explore More – The kikiako‘i (or stone leaning post) was at least six feet tall and used by chiefs to observe sharks feeding at Hale o Kapuni Heiau; when was it accidentally broken?