A place of refuge in Hawaii


Hawai’i is famous for its spirit of aloha, hula and surf, but learn more about the archipelago’s ancient culture and you’ll discover another dimension to your adventure. Intrepid’s Sue Elliot helped design our new Hawaiian Highlights trip and one of her favourite places in Hawai’i is Pu’uhonua o Honaunau National Historical Park…

“Reaching pu’uhonua in ancient times was a bitter-sweet experience. The events leading to your arrival would have been extremely traumatic, not to mention the panic of having to swim across the bay while being chased by warriors. But on the other hand, this ‘Place of Refuge’ was your salvation. It represented your precious chance for redemption.

In the 16th century, these black lava flats on the southern Kona Coast were the home of the ali’i, royal chiefs. Separated by a massive stone wall, the site was also a sanctuary for defeated warriors who were escaping a battle and for people in need of a second chance. For anyone who violated kapu, the sacred laws, the punishment was a gruesome death. But according to those same beliefs, blood could not be spilt within the confines of pu’uhonua, so this was your chance to start a new life or be absolved by a priest and allowed to return home.

After Kamehameha II ordered the abolition of religious practices in 1819, the site was abandoned and sadly left to the elements. Fortunately in the 1920s the cultural significance was acknowledged and since 1961 it has been protected as a national historical park.

Today, exploring the royal grounds and pu’uhonua is an experience you won’t want to miss on the Big Island of Hawai’i. If you’ve wondered where to find those intimidating sculptures that are pictured in so many brochures and postcards, this is the place. The wooden ki’i and the temple that they guard have been impressively rebuilt and every attempt has been made to ensure it’s an accurate reconstruction of old Hawaiian life.

There is something about the calm and sense of place that can be felt here, as you wander amongst the coconut palms and take in the ancient sites. There’s a peaceful spirit of those who have come before you and you can gain an appreciation of the ways in which the past continues to influence modern Hawai’i in historical parks such as Pu’uhonua o Honaunau.”

Intrepid’s new Hawaiian Highlights takes you on an island-hopping adventure to Oahu, Maui, Kauai and the Big Island – introducing you to the real Hawai’i in true Intrepid style!

Photo: Sue Elliot, ki’i of Pu’uhonua o Honaunau National Historical Park.

About the author

Sue Elliot - Like many of us, Sue contracted a serious travel bug at an early age. She's visited over 90 countries in search of a cure, but her wanderlust just seems to get worse. Thankfully at Intrepid Travel she's amongst people who understand the affliction and since 1998 Sue has enjoyed being our blog and newsletter editor. Here you'll find helpful travel advice and inspiring tales from Sue and other Intrepid travellers.

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