The Big Island of Hawaii’s Place of Refuge

Pu’uhonua o Hōnaunau – Place of Refuge

You have committed an infraction against ancient Hawaiian law.  The system of justice is simple and efficient.  You are sentenced to death.  Since you live on an island, there is no chance of escape.  Or is there? All you need to do is reach Pu’uhonua o Hōnaunau, the Place of Refuge.  If you can get there before your pursuers, all will be forgiven.

That’s how it was back in the day. Today Pu’uhonua o Hōnaunau (called Place of Refuge by those of us who can’t speak Hawiian) is a National Historic Park, providing an opportunity to see how the upper echelon of Hawaiian society lived.  You can wander through the ruins of an ancient village and see demonstrations of Hawaiian cultural practices (crafts, fishing, weaving, etc.).

And of course, the setting is spectacular.  Today Pu’uhonua o Hōnaunau is a place of refuge for green sea turtles who come to lounge on the warm sound.

Following the coastal trail to the south end of the park, you have the option of hiking to Hookena Beach Park.  The surf provides for great boogie boarding and if you have your mask and snorkel, you will be rewarded.  The round trip hike takes just under three hours.

Just north of Place of Refuge is a popular snorkeling spot, known as Two Step for a place where steps in the lava form and easy entry.  If you swim out a little way, someone has left a welcoming message, “Aloha,” on the sea floor.  Note that there is no swimming or snorkeling allowed in the park itself.

irene.'s photo of Place of Refuge

Place of Refuge. Photo by irene.

Captain Cook

If you proceed farther north, near where highway 160 meets with Napo’opo’o Road, you will see a white obelisk protruding from the edge the bay, marking the place where the great explorer, James Cook died.  As imperialist white guys go, Cook was one of the better ones, recognized for his efforts to treat both his crew and the peoples they encountered with care and justice.  Indeed, when he “discovered” Hawaii in 1778, first contact went well.  Both island nations, monarchies, sea-faring powers and highly stratified societies, Britain and Hawaii had a lot in common.  The Hawaii State flag still carries the Union Jack.  However, Kealakekua became a place of refuge for Cook as well- his final refuge. On a return trip in 1779, he was killed by Hawaiians over a misunderstanding regarding use of a rowboat.  One of history’s great ironies.

The area around the monument has fabulous snorkeling with clear waters and a beautiful wall of coral.  However, you have to earn the right to see it as the only access is by boat or by hiking (4 mile round trip with 1,300 foot elevation change). Kealakekua Bay, Two-Step and Hookena are all good place to see dolphins.

Upsilon Andromedae's photo of the Captain Cook monument.

Monument to Captain Cook at Kealakua Bay. Photo by Upsilon Andromedae.

See the Painted Church

On your way back up to the highway, stop in at the Painted Church, conveniently located on Painted Church Road.  St. Benedict’s Catholic Church dates back to the 1800’s.  Around 1900, Father John Velge began covering all the interior surfaces with frescos.  The themes are typically religious, but the palms on the ceiling give it a definite Hawaiian flair.

Coconut wireless' photo of the Painted Church.

A polynesian view of the heavens? Photo by coconut wireless.

 

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Jennifer Choban

Editor & Author at Gear Up & Play
Seasoned traveler, avid reader, over-eater, clumsy but determined hiker, nascent piano player and wannabe Spanish-speaker.
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