Place of refuge – and the Big Island
One of the most accessible, interesting, and enchanting cultural sites in the State of Hawaii is the Pu’uhonua o Honaunau National Historical Park. Translated, the “Place of Refuge at Honaunau” is the most complete restoration of an ancient Hawaiian religious sanctuary in Hawaii. On the black lava flats of the southern Kona Coast, Pu’uhonua o Honaunau is a preserved ancient Hawaiian village. This National Park is located adjacent to the excellent snorkeling spot of Honaunau Bay.
Tall royal palms surround the temple complex that sits on a 20-acre finger of lava bordered by the sea on three sides. The only access to the Pu’uhonua (temple of refuge) was by swimming across a bay known as the Sharks Den. If you managed to survive, the kahuna (priest) was required, under pain of death, to offer you sanctuary and absolve you of all wrong doing. Here in the national park you can walk through an ancient Hawaiian village and see firsthand how the kings of Hawaii once lived.
Puuhonua O Honaunau National Historical Park (daily 7.30am-5.30pm; $2; ), four miles on from Kealakekua, is the single most evocative historical site in all the Hawaiian islands, jutting into the Pacific on a small peninsula of jagged black lava. The grounds include a palace, with fishpond and private canoe landing, and three heiaus , guarded by large carved effigies of gods – reproductions, but still eerie in their original setting. An ancient ” place of refuge ” lies firmly protected behind the mortar-less masonry of the sixteenth-century Great Wall. Those who broke ancient Hawaii’s intricate system of kapu (taboo) – perhaps by treading on the shadow of a chief, or fishing in the wrong season – could expect summary execution unless they fled to the sanctuary of a place such as this. As chiefs lived on the surrounding land, transgressors had to swim through the shark-infested seas. If successful, they would be absolved and released overnight.