If you are going to do one historical activity while on the Big Island, do Pu‘uhonua O Honaunau National Historical Park (off Hwy. 11 on Hwy. 160, 808/328-2326). The gate is open daily 7am-7pm, while visitors center hours are daily 8:45am-5:30pm. Admission is $5 per car, $3 to walk in, free with a national park pass, or included in the $25 pass for three national parks on the Big Island. To get there from Highway 11, between mile markers 103 and 104 turn onto Highway 160 and travel down the hill a few miles to the entrance on the makai side.
There is a wonderful sense of peace that overtakes the area around and just after sunrise.This is where you see the true old Hawaii, circa the 1600s. A park ranger explains that there is a calming feeling here because it is a religious site dedicated to the god Lono, who was a god of life. No killing or wars occurred at Pu‘uhonua O Honaunau—it was, as it is sometimes called, a place of refuge or the Camp David for Hawaiian chiefs. During times of war, women and children would seek safety on the grounds, and if defeated chiefs or those accused of sins could make it to the shore by swimming across the bay, then they would be absolved of their sins and given a second chance. In fact there were 30 such places like Pu‘uhonua O Honaunau across the islands, but this site is the only one that remains. It’s sort of a bonus that it’s actually at the beach.
Some of the structures in place at the park are original, but many are replicas. Kids tend to be particularly impressed by the imposing structures and sculptures of ancient times. The best time to visit the park is early morning—even before the gate opens. There is a wonderful sense of peace that overtakes the area around and just after sunrise. Tours with the knowledgeable staff are free and offered daily at 10:30am and 2:30pm, and are highly recommended. Otherwise, pamphlets are provided for your self-guided tours, which would take a half hour if you just walked straight through, or you can do a self-guided audio cell phone tour by calling 808/217-9279.
The majority of tourists head straight to Two Step (turn makai off Hwy. 160 where you see the Pu‘uhonua O Honaunau park sign, and instead of driving straight into the gate turn right onto the road directly before the gate), called such because of the lava shelf that requires you to take two steps down into the water. It’s an incredibly popular area because it does have great snorkeling and it’s shallow so it’s popular with non-experts and kids. There are no facilities, so it is recommended that you park in Pu‘uhonua O Honaunau’s lot, where there are bathrooms and walk to the two minutes to the right back to Two Step.
Excerpted from the First Edition of Moon Hawaiian Islands.