I can certainly appreciate why native Hawaiians would give this National Historic Park the highest rating. However, as a haole I am forbidden from entering the two temples that are the part of the reason that this is a must-visit while on the Big Island, so I will never experience the park as a native Hawaiian might. Even so, the park is so rich in history and what you can see is so interesting that anyone with the least interest in Hawaiian history should make a point of setting aside an hour so to visit. The site is located just off the main island highway about half an hour north of the Kona airport and the drive through the mostly barren black lava fields is enlivened by the hundreds if not thousands of white lava -for lack of a better word - graffiti monuments along both sides of the road. Trying to read them is distracting as is the question - where the heck did they get the white rocks from in this sea of black?
Almost certainly the most famous Hawaiian of all time is not Don Ho or Steve McGarrett, but King Kamehameha the First. He was the Hawaiian superman who was able to unite all of Hawaiian islands into one realm which for an agonizingly short period of time was a sovereign nation recognized by all the major powers of the time. He was a native of the North Kohala coast and his career started at Pu'ukohola as a result of a prediction by a noted sage who advised him that if he built a great temple on this site he would one day rule all of Hawaii.
The temple was built and remains the prime attraction at the park even though you can't go inside. Kamehameha's first task was to become supreme ruler of the Big Island which in the late 1700's was embrioled in chaos. In order to consecrate the new temple he invited his cousin Keoua, his chief rival to the ceremony and promptly had him killed as an offering to the war god Ku. Apparently it worked as one by one the other islands fell under Kamehaneha's command until in 1810 he ruled them all. Like Augustus, Kamehameha was ruthless in his ascent to power, but once he held it he was a just ruler who brought many beneficials change and a sense of national unity to the Hawaiian people that still exists. As an interesting aside, the bad feelings that arose after Keoua was killed lingered for over 200 years until a healing and forgiveness ceremony was held on the site in 1991
In terms of visting there is a short circular trail that starts at the architecturally beautiful visitor center that is made of the lava stones similar to those in the two temples on site. Aside from Kamehameha's impressive temple there is an older one that he converted into a fort. It is not much to look at, but the new one is. If you have ever been to Newgrange in Ireland which is almost 5000 years older you might see a resemblance.
Also on the tour are stops at a viewing rock where kings long before Kamehameha would sit and watch for the reef sharks and whales that are frequently seen off shore. To native Hawaiians sharks are sacred creatures and they would never harm one - too bad the rest of us aren't as wise. While I didn't see any sharks the ranger told me that he saw one that morning and that their dorsal fins are seen almost every day.
All in all you won't regret stopping here for a visit - and it's free.
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