The Big Island of Hawai‘i may be the youngest in this volcanic chain of tropical islands – in fact, it is still being formed – but it is also the site of a great deal of Kona history. The Big Island is the believed site of the first Polynesian voyagers’ arrival (at South Point, 1,500 years ago), the birthplace of King Kamehameha, and the site of Captain Cook’s death in 1779. Home to historic heiaus, villages, petroglyphs, and more, this young island drips with history, providing plenty of Kona Historical Sites for you to explore during your visit to the gorgeous Kona Coast.
Kealakekua Bay State Historical Park
Just 12 miles south of Kona, the tranquil aquamarine waters of this bay are a marine preserve for dolphins and green sea turtles, making it a popular (and free to the public) spot to snorkel and explore via kayak. On the shore are two Kona historical sites: the Hikiau heiau (“temple”) to the Hawaiian god Lono, and a white obelisk that stands as a memorial to the arrival – and subsequent death – of the English explorer Captain James Cook. Cook, who was the first Westerner to make contact with Hawaiians on the island of Kaua‘i in 1778, arrived here a year later. He was subsequently killed in a skirmish in this very bay.
Kaloko-Honokōhau National Historical Park
Located just south of the Kona airport is the site of an ancient Hawaiian settlement. A Visitor Center provides insight into the culture and lifestyle of the people who thrived on this rugged coast, and two ancient fishponds still remain. Visitors can observe four different ahupua`a (traditional Hawaiian land divisions, akin to a watershed), several heiaus, and iconic petroglyphs.
Puʻuhonua o Hōnaunau National Historical Park
A former seaside royal settlement that doubled as a refuge for native Hawaiians who had violated kapu laws or were seeking sanctuary from wars, this National Historic Site is one of the most sacred places on the Big Island. Featuring massive wooden kii warriors, a “Great Wall” 10-feet high and 17-feet thick, and a massive temple that houses the bones of 23 different chieftains, this spectacular glimpse into the culture of the first Hawaiians is more than just a scenic retreat (though it is also a spectacular place for a sunset).
Puʻukoholā Heiau National Historic Site. North of the mega-resorts of the Kohala Coast you can visit one of the largest and most important ancient Hawaiian temples. Formed entirely of stone, this sacred site was a place of worship built by Kamehameha to fulfill historic prophecies during his conquest and unification of the Hawaiian Islands. Constructed entirely without mortar, it is believed that the large lava rocks were passed here hand-to-hand in a massive human chain that stretched some 25 miles. The final structure is 224 by 110 feet, with 16 to 20-foot high walls. Open daily from 8am to 4:45pm.
Lapakahi State Historical Park
This partially restored 600-year old coastal village features coastal seawalls, houses and foundations, and lava stone walls. A self-guided 1-mile tour explores the 262 seaside acres and provides a unique glimpse at the seagoing lifestyle of the ancient Hawaiians on this remote and rugged coast. Open daily 8am to 4pm.