Big Island

Hawaiian Heritage Sites on the Kohala Coast

The Big Island of Hawaii might be best known for its dramatic lava rocks, green cliffs, and awe-inspiring golf courses, but it also has a rich cultural history. As the birthplace of King Kamehameha III — the celebrated leader who united the Hawaiian Islands — the Island of Hawaii is a perfect marriage of rugged beauty and cultural heritage that’s sure to intrigue even the most well-traveled history buff.

Hawaiians celebrate King Kamehameha for successfully balancing modernization by adopting Western ways, while carefully preserving Hawaii’s cherished culture. Ke Kailani, a private, gated luxury oceanfront community inside the esteemed Mauna Lani Resort, takes inspiration from the great Hawaiian leader by seamlessly integrating modern design and amenities with panoramic ocean, mountain, and verdant views to create a peaceful community in harmony with the ‘āina (land).

Not only does the Ke Kailani property represent this harmonic balance between modern and eternal, but it’s also in close proximity to some of the island’s most exciting historical heritage sites. There is truly nowhere else in the state that residents can enjoy a resort lifestyle in a private, peaceful and intimate setting that’s a short drive to multiple historical sites.

From commanding statues, temples and hieroglyphs to tranquil ponds and gardens, the Kohala Coast brings Hawaiian history to life so vividly that residents will never need to travel far or step foot inside a stuffy museum.

Ancient Hawaiians used the Kalahuipua’a Fishponds to raise mullet, milkfish, shrimp and other sea life.

Kalahuipua‘a Historical Fishponds & Trail

The Kalahuipua’a Fishponds are an archeological site serving as the spiritual (and physical) center of the Mauna Lani Resort complex. The ponds are fed by natural freshwater springs and seawater, creating a mixed-water environment that ancient Hawaiians used to raise mullet, milkfish, shrimp and other sea life.

Based on the pond’s ancient aquaculture system, experts believe the ponds date as far back as 250 BC. Today, the Mauna Lani Resort cares for the ancient complex using traditional methods: by allowing fish to enter through gates, swim through channels into the ponds, and then blocking the pools’ access to the ocean so the fish remain inside.

Visitors can explore the ponds by following an asphalt trail that winds around the ponds towards the beach. The trail takes about 30 minutes roundtrip and along the way, there are signposts with historic information and maps.

The ponds are open from 6:30 a.m. – 6:30 p.m., but there are some blackout dates so visit their website for more information.

Puakō Petroglyph Archaeological Park

Explore mysterious ancient lava rock carvings at the Puako Petroglyph Field, which is about two miles or a short seven-minute drive from the Mauna Lani Resort community. The 223-acre archaeological preserve is home to more than 3,000 kii pohaku — lava rock carvings — that date back to 1200 A.D.

The sheer number of petroglyphs is amazing. Visitors can access a section of 1,200 petroglyphs, including paddlers, sails, marchers, dancers and family groups, as well as dog, chicken, turtle and deity symbols.

There’s no shade so make sure to bring water, sunscreen, and try to visit in the early morning or late afternoon when the temperature is cooler. Early and late in the day, the sun’s position casts shadows on the petroglyphs that allow for the perfect picture. There are also replica petroglyphs at the start of the trail where visitors can use paper and pencils to make rubbings for a unique DIY souvenir.

The park is open year-round and takes about an hour to explore. The site is unpaved so wear proper shoes and watch out for thorns on the ground!

The Puako Petroglyph Field is home to more than 3,000 lava rock carvings that date back to 1200 AD. Photo by David Grant via Flickr.

Pu’ukohola Heiau

Pu’ukohola Heiau is a national historic site 15 minutes from the Mauna Lani Resort that’s home the last major ancient war temple built by King Kamehameha between 1790 and 1791. It’s thought to be one of the last sacred structures built in the Hawaiian Islands before Western influence.

Pu’ukohola Heiau is one of Hawaii’s largest and last heiau — a sacred place of worship — that Kamehameha erected to win the war god Kukailimoku’s support, which he believed was critical to unite the Hawaiian Islands. King Kamehameha ultimately fulfilled this prophecy when he united the Hawaiian Islands in 1810.

This 224 by 100-foot temple is surrounded by 16- to 20-foot stone walls that were built without the use of mortar. It’s been carefully restored to preserve the early stages of the Hawaiian Kingdom.

It’s open all year from 8:00 a.m. to 4:45 p.m. daily. The park trail takes about 30 minutes to walk. Consider visiting the temple during the winter and spring months since it gives an ideal lookout point for humpback whales (Pu‘ukohola means “hill of the whale”).

Lapakahi State Historical Park

Lapakahi State Historical Park is a large area of partially restored ruins from an ancient Hawaiian coastal settlement in North Kohala, about 20 miles — approximately 30 minutes — from the Mauna Lani Resort.

An early fishing village and meeting place, Lapakahi holds tremendous significance. Indigenous Hawaiians believe that the underwater volcano or hotspot that sparked the formation of the island chain lies just off the coast of Lapakahi Park. The park became a healing garden where visitors from across all the islands would meet to share medicinal herbs and healing practices.

Visitors can learn about a variety of Hawaiian traditions at the park, including the early Hawaiian agricultural technique of flooding natural land masses and locking-in pockets of water to grow crops or stock with fish.

The park offers hiking, sightseeing and is open daily from 8:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. except on holidays.

Statue of King Kamehameha

Kapa‘au is home to the original statue of King Kamehameha. Photo by RDPixelShop via Flickr.


Kapa‘au is a small town approximately 40 minutes north of Mauna Lani that has tremendous historical significance in Hawaiian culture. Considered to be near the birthplace of King Kamehameha, Kapa‘au is home to the original statue of the celebrated leader. It’s a sleepy town, but consider visiting in the spring when the town honors the King with a parade, games and a lei-draping ceremony of the statue, which stands on the grounds of the former courthouse.

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