Explore Pu`ukohola Heiau History



There’s no denying that Classic Resorts at Mauna Lani is the best place to stay on the Big Island, with all of the luxury and space you may be tempted to never leave the resort – and we don’t blame you! But, we have to admit that the Big Island has some amazing historical locations that are a must see. Just a few miles up the road from Mauna Lani you will find Pu`ukohola Heiau, meaning “Temple on the Hill of the Whale”. Let’s explore some of Pu`ukohola Heiau history and we will give you some upcoming activities that are great for the whole family.


How many places in America can you walk in the footsteps of a king? Where else has a stranded sailor risen up to become a great chief over an entire island? Pu`ukohola Heiau of course!


Although there is some debate as to the precise year of Kamehameha I’s birth, Hawaiian legend claimed that a great king would one day unite the islands, and that the sign of his birth would be a comet. Halley’s Comet was visible from Hawaiʻi in 1758 and it is likely Kamehameha was born shortly after its appearance.


Around 1790 Kamehameha I rose into power and constructed Pu’ukohola Heiau. Heiau (temples) took on many forms from simple stone markers, to massive stone platforms associated with human sacrificial temples. Large heiau such as Pu’ukohola could only be accessed by the priests and chiefly classes.


One explanation for Kamehameha’s rise to power is based on the fulfillment of four prophecies that different kahuna (priests) decreed would change the course of history in Hawai’i. Each prophecy was directly related to Kamehameha either through his birth or his deeds. A different explanation for his rise to power is based on the political conflict on Hawai’i in the 1780s. It focuses on his uncles pushing Kamehameha I to the forefront in order to protect their own interests.


The end of the 1700s European explorers increased the number of visits to the Hawaiian Islands. With their trade ships, warships, cannon, and military experience, the foreigners were considered assets by the warring chiefs. Kamehameha was particularly astute on this point and took two young sailors captive, John Young and Isaac Davis. Young and Davis proved their courage and loyalty in battle and became close, trusted lieutenants to Kamehameha, aiding his rise to power. Their relationship lasted far beyond the battlefield and into everyday life, Young eventually becoming governor of the Big Island, and Davis of O’ahu.


John Young also handled the king’s business affairs with foreign traders. As a trusted advisor held in high esteem, the king granted him land at Kawaihae, adjoining Pu’ukohola, for a home. Young first built a small home near the beach below the heiau. Later, he built a larger compound just north of the heiau. His plaster-covered stone house was the first Western style structure in Hawai’i. John Young’s homestead is a part of Pu’ukohola Heiau National Historic Site and is being protected and preserved for future generations.


Pu’ukohola Heiau was designated in 1928 when it was commemorated as a Historical Landmark by the Hawaiian Territorial Government. In the 1960s, the Queen Emma Foundation and the Queen’s Medical Center, the Waimea and other Hawaiian Civic Clubs, and the local community groups were instrumental in getting Pu’ukohola Heiau designated as a National Historic Landmark.


The Queen Emma Foundation donated 34 acres of land in 1972 encompassing Pu’ukohola Heiau and the John Young Homestead made it possible for the establishment of Pu’ukohola Heiau National Historic Site. Through an act of Congress on August 17, 1972, this site became one of the chosen few to be recognized as one of our nation’s crown jewels and national treasures, to be preserved and protected for future generations.


March Events

Coconut Leave Weaving

Join members of the Royal Order of Kamehameha for hands-on opportunities to learn how to weave various items out of coconut leaves (fish, small bowl, etc.).

March 17 10am -2pm


Whale Watches

Watch humpback whales with staff and volunteers from the Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary (NOAA). Learn about these “Giants of the Sea” while watching them at Pu`ukohola…”the Hill of the Whale”! These whale watches take place just outside of the park’s Visitor Center.

March 22 & 29 9am-11am


Lei Making

Learn about the art of Hawaiian Lei Making through hands-on demonstrations.

March 22 & 29 9am-1pm

Contact Pu’ukohola Heiau at 808-882-7218 ext. 1011 for more information.



Article content provided by our friends at Pu’ukohola Heiau National Historic Site.