From the heiaus and sacred sites of the ancient Hawaiians to the communities and churches of the missionaries that flocked to the Hawaiian Islands in the later part of the 19th century, the Big Island of Hawai‘i is full of important heritage sites and Hawaii landmarks with religious importance and symbolism. Many of these sites feature commanding views of the rugged coastline and awe-inspiring mountains, but they were more than just scenic retreats for the indigenous peoples. Native Hawaiians maintained a spiritual connection with the land and practiced their religion where mana, a supernatural force, was particularly strong. Visiting these sites today, you can still feel the power of this beautiful land and its ability to move and inspire.
Pu`u Loa Petroglyphs
Located in Volcanoes National Park, these Hawaii sights are sacred rock carvings are found 16 miles below the rim of the Kilauea Volcano. More than 23,000 shapes, human figures, and pictographs can be seen just as they were when they were carved into cooling lava between 1200 and 1450 AD. These etchings were a way for travelers to log their journey, with rings and dots indicating the number in the wayfaring party. This site was also sacred to new mothers who would venture here to bury their newborn’s umbilical cord in the smoldering lava as it cooled in order to ensure a long life for their child.
Pu`uhonua o Honaunau
Known as the city of refuge, this seaside community on a gorgeous bay south of Kona was a popular summer residence for Hawai‘i royalty. It featured a royal residence, massive carvings of wooden warriors (kii), a large protective wall nearly 20-feet high, and a massive stone mausoleum that housed the bones of 23 deceased chiefs until they were removed in the 1800s. The city was a haven. Still a sacred Hawaii landmarks, reconstructed houses, and interactive tours allow guests to experience what it was like to live on this beautiful but rugged coastline over the past 800 years.
In 1790, King Kamehameha the Great sought to unify the Hawaiian Islands into one kingdom under his rule. A prophet told him that if he constructed a might stone heiau on the Kohola Coast (his home), his victory would be assured. A labor force of thousands was employed to pass lava stones hand-to-hand along a chain 20 miles long, and the massive 224-foot by 100-foot temple platform was built as the site for human sacrifices to honor the King’s impending conquest. One of the last temples built in the islands, this Hawaii sights still stands to this day.
Along the picturesque shores of Kealakekua Bay stands one of the most scenic heiaus on the Big Island. Constructed from lava rock, this large, raised platform occupies a prominent place of spiritual power for the native Hawaiians; as such, it is believed to have been dedicated to several deities over its multiple centuries of existence. It was near this very spot that Captain Cook became the first Westerner to land on Hawai‘i, and it is also the site of his death a few short weeks later.
Hawaii Sights: Moku`aikaua Church
The oldest Christian church in Hawai‘i, this stone structure was constructed in 1837 from stones repurposed from ancient Hawaiian heiaus, after King Kamehameha II granted the missionaries permission to teach Christianity. Located on Ali`i Drive in Kona, this iconic church with beautiful interiors of koa wood is open to the public for tours and worship services.