Visit to Pu'u Loa Petroglyphs

Visit to Pu’u Loa Petroglyphs at Volcanoes National Park

A visit to Pu’u loa Petroglyphs at Volcanoes National Park feels like going back to Hawaiian ancient history come alive. The trail leading up to the petroglyphs located in the lower part of the park is short with rolling hills and gorgeous views of the coastline and coastal mountains in the background.  Once you approach the site, you’ll be astounded by all the thousands of petroglyphs representing individual families that make pilgrimages to this site as a rite to their newly born child and wishes for a healthy and long-life time for the new infant.

Visit to Pu’u Loa Petroglyphs at Volcanoes National Park

How to get to the Pu’u Loa Petroglyphs

The Pu’u Loa Petroglyphs located in Volcanoes National Park is located in the southern part of the park. Once pass the entry gate to the park, make a left entering the Chain of Craters Road and follow it directly to the parking lot and adjacent trailhead map. Follow the Chain of Craters down this scenic route approximately 16.3 miles from the start of the Crater’s Road to mile marker 16 and look for the pullout parking spots and cross the road to the trailhead start.

How to get to the Pu’u Loa Petroglyphs

What to bring

The area is exposed with no trees or shelter and has variable weather.  Bring water, sunscreen, hat and hiking shoes. Also, a rain jacket for occasional rain in the area.

Trail head start

Trail head start

Across from the parking is the trail head start and interesting information about the history and importance of the area. The trail is less than 1.4 miles roundtrip and about ½ hour to hike in one direction. Mostly rolling small hills or Pahoehoe lava rock and gravel. It is easy to follow signs and rock stacks to the end where the petroglyphs are located. The best time to visit is late in the afternoon when the shadows from the afternoon sun make the petroglyphs stand out better.

Towards the end of the trail, you’ll see a wooden boardwalk that you should stay on and protects the fragile and shallow petroglyphs in the area. Please remember that this area is sacred grounds and very fragile so do stay on the boardwalk and not wander around the rest of the area until you get back to the start of the trail to head back to the parking lot.

What to see and the meaning of Pu’u Loa

What to see and the meaning of Pu’u Loa

Stay on the board walk area and soon you’ll notice all the shallow petroglyphs come into view. These petroglyphs are called Kii Pohaku – carved images onto the lava stone of petroglyphs (the smoother and hardened pahoehoe lava is what the natives typically were able to carve on these flatter rock areas. The petroglyph carvings range from simple circles to double circles and more stick figures and other symbols of people, animals and other geometric designed images. Created from the 13th century to the 15th century, the carvings represent each family member what would do the carvings.

Boardwalk area at Pu'u Loa

The most common are the holes and circles which typically are the holes carved into the rock where the newborn children’s piki or piece of umbilical cord would be buried to represent each child and to hope for a healthy long life at Pu’u Loa meaning hill of long life. Other images you might see are basic stick figures, feathered cape designs, canoe sails and other geometric patterns like lines, zig zags or concentric ring patterns representing different numbers in party and visits around the island to this special spot.

The carvings were made with stone hatchets or solid rock that could carve into the hardened lava rock.

The common petroglyph design

The common petroglyph design

You’ll see thousands of these holes and circles representing the thousands of native Hawaiian children and early generations that visited the area. The holes or puka comprise of about 85 percent of the engravings on this hilly area of Pu’u Loa connecting each child with the aina or land that they will be growing up in and prayers for a very long and healthy life ahead filled with so much potential.

There are over 23,000 petroglyphs at this site in Volcanoes National Park, making it the largest petroglyph area in all of Hawaii. Find out more about Petroglyphs around Hawaii here for more background, locations and the major areas to visit in each island.

Interpretations of the petroglyphs

Interpretations of the petroglyphs

Noted anthropologist, Martha Beckwith visited Pu’u Loa in 1914 and made some initial observations and research into the carvings which loosely were interpreted below:

A dot in the hole represents a child

A dot in a circle represents a hole for the first born

A dot with two circles represents born of an ali’I (a Hawaiian ruler)

A plain calabash represents a calabash

A jagged line represents a mo’o lizard

A circle with a long line is a Poloulou or a native stick carried by an ali’I and covered with a tapa ball and used to symbolize a taboo

A cross with a dot on each end represents a cross before a chief traveling at night

These beautiful petroglyphs represent that purpose of recording travel around the island and also to express and hope for good health and longevity to a newborn

Notes to visiting

Notes to visiting

Please do not do your own carvings or create any rock walls in the area.

Stay on the boardwalk area only to do the short loop experience.

To learn more about the area and petroglyphs check out this website here for more details.

There is a call box at the parking area but no other services but restrooms nearby at the end of Chain of Craters road.

Other places to visit around Volcanoes National Park and surrounding area

Visit Nahuku Thurston Lava tube

Explore Volcano Village in Puna

Lava eruptions at Volcanoes National Park

Why you should visit Volcanoes National Park now

Petroglyphs of Hawaii

Exploring the Puna district in Hawaii

Visiting Naalehu in the Kau district

Green sand beach at Papakolea

Black sandy beach at Punalu’u

Where to stay around Volcanoes National Park

There is camping and limited cabin stays in the park, but there are more inns and Air Bnb locations close by in Volcano Village. Most of the stays at the village are at small mom and pop inns and Air Bnbs or private home rentals. Check out the best reviewed sites here.

Aloha Junction Bed and Breakfast – well located in the village in an old plantation home with nice comfortable rooms, great service and breakfast

Hale Ohia Cottages – a classic home and bed and breakfast with gorgeous grounds, cottages and service in the village

Aloha Crater Lodge – located close to the park within a lush rainforest, cozy, peaceful, comfortable and priced well for the area.

Check out these top reviewed hotels on Trip Advisor here for more details, availability and prices.

Have you been to the petroglyph fields at Pu'u Loa?

Have you been to the petroglyph fields at Pu’u Loa?

Please share your thoughts and other recommendations in the comments below with your recommendations.

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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.