Pu'ukohola Heiau National Historic Site

Pu’ukohola Heiau National Historic Site: Preserving Hawaii’s Sacred Temple of the Whale

Pu’ukohola Heiau National Historic Site is one of the most sacred Hawaiian monuments and symbolizes that sheer willpower in creating this temple. A prophecy made by a Kahuna (spiritual advisor) to Kamehameha and tells him that if he built a heiau here to honor his god Kuka’ilimoku, it would fulfill his destiny to become Hawaii’s first king. After many long battles with the surrounding islands, Kamehameha eventually becomes the first king to unit all of Hawaii into one kingdom under his rule.

Standing above the harbor area of Kawaihae, Pu’ukohola sits high in a regal position for all to see this majestic temple from below.

A brief history of Pu'ukohola Heiau National Historic Site

A brief history of Pu’ukohola Heiau National Historic Site

Pu’ukohola Heiau National Historic Site holds a rich and fascinating history on the Big Island of Hawaii. This sacred site, located on the Kohala coast, was constructed in the late 18th century by King Kamehameha I, the renowned Hawaiian monarch who eventually unified the Hawaiian Islands.

The name “Pu’ukohola” translates to “Hill of the Whale,” referencing the large stones brought from far distances to build the temple. Legend has it that a prophecy foretold Kamehameha’s rise to power, and constructing Pu’ukohola Heiau was a crucial step in fulfilling this prophecy. The heiau (temple) was dedicated to the war god Kuka’ilimoku, whom Kamehameha sought the favor of in his quest for unification.

The construction of Pu’ukohola Heiau involved tremendous labor and collaboration. Thousands of people were involved in moving the massive stones, some weighing as much as several tons, from over 30 miles at Polulu Valley. The completion of the heiau marked a pivotal moment in Hawaiian history, as it solidified Kamehameha’s authority and paved the way for the unification of the Hawaiian Islands.

The temple’s construction and dedication were followed by a series of battles, known as the “Battle of Moku’ohai” and the “Battle of Nu’uanu,” in which Kamehameha proved his military prowess and eventually united the islands under his rule.

Visiting the historic site at Pu'ukohola

Visiting the historic site at Pu’ukohola

Today, Pu’ukohola Heiau National Historic Site stands as a testament to Hawaiian history, culture, and spiritual traditions. Visitors can explore the impressive stone structure and learn about its significance through interpretive signs and guided tours. The site offers panoramic views of the surrounding landscape and provides insights into the ancient Hawaiian practices and beliefs that shaped the islands’ past.

First stop is at the visitor’s center where you can watch a really well done video that tells about the history and significance of this temple and how it manifested Kamehameha’s destiny to unite the Hawaiian islands.

Visitors have the opportunity to explore the location through a 0.5-mile paved walking path, which encompasses significant sites such as Pu’ukohola Heiau, Mailakini Heiau, Pelekane (a royal courtyard), Hale O Kapune (an underwater temple), and John Young’s Homestead. John Young, a British sailor marooned on the island in 1790, went on to serve as an advisor to Kamehameha.

How to get to Pu'ukohola Heiau

How to get to Pu’ukohola Heiau

To get to Pu’ukohola Heiau National Historic Site, located on the Big Island of Hawaii, there are several transportation options available:

By Car: The most convenient way to reach Pu’ukohola is by car. If you’re already on the island, you can drive to the site by taking Highway 19, also known as the Queen Ka’ahumanu Highway. The monument is located near the town of Kawaihae. Look for signs indicating the entrance to the historic site, and follow the directions provided.

By Public Transportation: While public transportation options are limited on the Big Island, you can still reach Pu’ukohola using the Hele-On Bus service. Check the bus schedule and plan your trip accordingly. Keep in mind that bus routes and frequency may vary, so it’s advisable to check the latest information before your visit.

By Guided Tours: Another option is to join a guided tour that includes transportation to Pu’ukohola. Various tour companies offer excursions to the historic site, providing transportation, expert guides, and additional insights into the cultural significance of the area. Research different tour options and choose one that suits your preferences.

What to see at Pu'ukohola Heiau

What to see at Pu’ukohola Heiau

At Pu’ukohola Heiau National Historic Site, there are several notable attractions and features to explore:

Visitor Center: Start your visit at the visitor center, where you can gather information, watch informative videos, and engage with knowledgeable staff. The visitor center provides a valuable introduction to the site and its significance.

Pu’ukohola Heiau: The main highlight of the site is the Pu’ukohola Heiau itself. This impressive temple is a massive stone structure with a unique design and historical significance. Take the time to appreciate its grandeur and learn about its role in Hawaiian history and culture.

Pu'ukohola Heiau:

Mailakini Heiau: Sitting below the Pu’ukohola heiau, Mailakini Heiau is a significant cultural and historical site located along the half-mile paved walking trail. This older and ancient Hawaiian temple or sacred place holds great spiritual and religious importance and was also used as a fortress to protect the area. The heiau consists of carefully stacked lava stones and features a distinct architectural design. It served as a place of worship and ceremonial rituals in ancient Hawaiian culture.

Pelekane: Situated at Pu’ukohola around the bayfront area is a royal courtyard with historical significance. This courtyard holds a notable place within the Pu’ukohola Heiau complex. It served as a gathering place for Hawaiian royalty, where important ceremonies and events took place. The term “Pelekane” refers to the English influence on the Hawaiian islands during the time of King Kamehameha. It represents the intersection of cultures and the interactions between British and Hawaiian people during that era.

Hale O Kapune: Located within the vicinity around Pelekane in the bay, This is an underwater heiau, a traditional Hawaiian temple or sacred structure. The name “Hale O Kapune” translates to “House of Kapune” in English and is dedicated to the Hawaiian shark and regarded as an amakua or a spiritual guardian. This submerged heiau holds cultural and spiritual significance, reflecting the deep connection between the ancient Hawaiians and the ocean. While it may not be visible above the water’s surface, the presence of Hale O Kapune serves as a reminder of the rich heritage and beliefs of the Hawaiian people.

Interpretive Signs: Throughout the site, you’ll find informative interpretive signs that provide insights into the significance of Pu’ukohola Heiau, its construction, and its cultural context. These signs offer valuable historical and cultural information that enhances the visitor’s understanding of the site.

Views and Scenic Beauty: Pu'ukohola Heiau

Views and Scenic Beauty: Pu’ukohola Heiau offers breathtaking panoramic views of the surrounding landscape, including the sparkling ocean and nearby coastline. You can take a loop trail around Pu’ukohola area and admire in the beauty of the natural surroundings, gorgeous coastlines and vistas while walking around the ancient ruins in the park area.

Cultural Demonstrations and Events: Depending on the timing of your visit, you may have the opportunity to witness cultural demonstrations or attend special events held at Pu’ukohola Heiau. These activities provide a deeper insight into Hawaiian traditions, arts, and practices. One of the main events is held in August with a sunrise ceremony at Pu’ukohola and day cultural celebration at Pelekane.

Nature Walks and Hiking Trails:

Nature Walks and Hiking Trails: Explore the area surrounding Pu’ukohola Heiau on nature walks and hiking trails. These paths allow you to immerse yourself in the natural beauty of the region, including native plants, bird species, and possibly even sightings of marine life in the ocean.

Historical Significance: Take the time to learn about the historical significance of Pu’ukohola Heiau and its connection to King Kamehameha I and the unification of the Hawaiian Islands. Gain a deeper appreciation for the cultural heritage and the events that shaped the islands’ history.

Remember to respect the sacredness of the site and follow any guidelines or restrictions in place to preserve its integrity. Enjoy your visit to Pu’ukohola Heiau National Historic Site and immerse yourself in the rich history, cultural significance, and natural beauty it offers.

Tips to visiting Pu'ukohola Heiau National Historic Site

Tips to visiting Pu’ukohola Heiau National Historic Site

When visiting Pu’ukohola Heiau National Historic Site, consider the following tips for a meaningful experience:

Respect the Sacredness: Pu’ukohola Heiau is a sacred site, so it’s important to show respect. Follow any posted signs, avoid climbing on structures, and refrain from touching or removing any artifacts.

Learn Before You Go: Gain some knowledge about the site’s history and cultural significance before your visit. This will enhance your understanding and appreciation of Pu’ukohola Heiau and its place in Hawaiian heritage. The video presentation at the visitor’s center is excellent and a great learning experience.

Visitor Center: Start your visit at the visitor center. Watch informative videos, speak with knowledgeable staff, and gather maps or brochures to orient yourself to the site and its attractions.

Guided Tours: Consider joining a guided tour to gain deeper insights into the site’s history and cultural significance. Experienced guides can provide valuable information and answer any questions you may have.

Bring Sun Protection: Hawaii’s sun can be intense, so remember to bring sunscreen, a hat, sunglasses, and comfortable clothing. Stay hydrated by carrying water with you during your exploration of the site.

Stay on Designated Paths: Respect the preservation efforts by staying on designated paths and trails. This helps protect the site’s fragile ecosystem and ensures your safety.

Photography Etiquette: Feel free to capture the beauty of Pu’ukohola Heiau through photography, but be mindful of any guidelines regarding photography restrictions, especially in sacred areas.

Time Your Visit: Plan your visit during the early morning or late afternoon to avoid peak crowds and potential midday heat. This allows for a more serene and enjoyable experience.

Take It All In: Take your time while exploring Pu’ukohola Heiau. Absorb the spiritual atmosphere, admire the architecture, and embrace the natural surroundings. Be present in the moment and appreciate the historical and cultural significance of the site.

Leave No Trace: Help preserve the site’s integrity by taking any trash with you and leaving nothing behind. Leave Pu’ukohola Heiau as you found it, ensuring its beauty and historical value for future visitors.

Details to visit Pu’ukohola Heiau


  • The site is open daily from 7:45 am to 4:45 pm, except on Thanksgiving Day, December 25th (Christmas Day), and January 1st (New Year’s Day).
  • Please note that these hours may be subject to change, so it’s advisable to check the official website or contact the site directly for the most up-to-date information before your visit.


  • There is no entrance fee to visit Pu’ukohola Heiau National Historic Site. It is a free site to explore and enjoy.
  • Donations to support the preservation and maintenance of the site are gladly accepted and greatly appreciated.
  • Parking is available near the visitor center, and there are no additional fees for parking.

Visit the main website here for more information and calendar of events.

Check out our posts of other places to visit in Hawaii

Visit to Spencer Beach on the Kohala Coast

Best beaches in Kona

Things to do in Kona

Things to do in Waikoloa

Waimea, Hawaii

Anaeho’o-malu Bay

Best restaurants in Kailua Kona

Kona International Airport


Learn about Kamehameha l

Historical overview of Pu’ukohola

Conclusion to visiting Pu'ukohola Heiau National Historic Site

Conclusion to visiting Pu’ukohola Heiau National Historic Site

Visiting Pu’ukohola Heiau National Historic Site on the Big Island of Hawaii is a unique and enriching experience. This sacred site holds historical and cultural significance, offering awe-inspiring architecture, informative resources, stunning views, cultural demonstrations, and a connection to Hawaiian traditions.

It provides an opportunity to appreciate the rich heritage of Hawaii and the interconnectedness between nature and culture. By respecting the site’s sacredness and following guidelines, visitors contribute to its preservation. It’s a journey through Hawaiian history, culture, and natural beauty that creates lasting memories.

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Meet Noel Morata

Noel Morata is the creator of This Hawaii Life along with a small team of contributors. Living on the Big Island and traveling regularly to the neighbor islands, Noel and team actively search and share the latest information and updates to Hawaii travel, food, adventure and various lifestyle activities on the islands for your planning and vacation. Aloha and enjoy This Hawaii Life.