top of page

Pu'ukohola Heiau National Historic Site, Kawaihae

At the top of a gently sloping hill along Hawai'i Island's Kohala Coast north of Kona rests Puʻukoholā Heiau, the last great ancient Hawaiian temple to be built and a U.S. National Historic Site.

Atop the hillside, the temple looks like a massive castle made of un-mortared stone - a rock pile of mind-boggling scale whose rectangular shape and straight, clean lines instantly convince the observer that it was built by human hands. The name "Puʻukoholā Heiau" means "Temple on the Hill of the Whale", and indeed the state's legendary humpback whales do seasonally traverse the ocean waters that spread out below the hill.

The structure was likely built on the site of an older temple that dates back to the mid-1500s. But the rock castle that can be seen today towering over the land of parched yellow grasses and weathered black lava rock was finished in the summer of 1791, commissioned by Kamehameha I, arguably the most powerful and influential Hawaiian to ever live. The king, who would go on to conduct many bloody battles to unite all of the Hawaiian Islands which now comprise the State Of Hawai'i, built the temple as a sacrificial site to make offerings to and gain the favor of the war god known as Kūkaʻilimoku, or "Ku", before embarking on his successful years-long, inter-island campaign.

According to historians, the site's red stones were transported by a human chain roughly 14 miles long from Pololu Valley due east of the temple. It took thousands of people working for nearly a year in order to complete the 224 foot by 100 foot structure, with its thick terraced walls and flat, circular platform in the center.

The National Park Service operates a visitor center located at the start of the footpath heading out to the temple. Here friendly park rangers give impromptu history lessons and advice about the best spots to view the heiau, which can be seen in the distance from the visitor center's open-air museum and the many different educational stations featured in it. There's even a small theater space of simple wooden benches facing a TV screen playing a short informational film about the site on a loop. Artifacts from old Hawai'i like hand-carved bowls, spears and drums - even a sailing ship's cannon - can be found within the museum's indoor portion, which also contains a gift shop selling books, trinkets, artworks and various souvenirs. There's even a 3-D model of the temple and surrounding structures with historical buildings and geological features marked.

Visitors to the historic site have several options for walking trails, so be sure to consult the various maps placed around the visitor center to plan a route out to see the temple. For those looking for a contact-less way of experiencing the various sights, the park offers a free guided audio tour that can be accessed by any smartphone: simply scan the QR code or follow the URL listed on the informational signs posted at the visitor center's entrance.

The 76-acre Puʻukoholā Heia National Historic Site is open daily to visitors from 7:30am to 4:45pm, and is located just south of the small industrial town of Kawaihae along Kawaihae Road, near Spencer Beach Park. Admission to the site is free.


Mahalo nui loa to Stefan Verbano, Content Blog Writer for Kona Wedding Officiant® - Hawaii 101 - Things to Do On Hawaii Big Island -

Aloha - Deanna - Kona Wedding Officiant, Licensed Minister and Marriage Officiant.

Kona Wedding Officiant offers Wedding Packages for couples who are looking to do something a intimate when they tie the knot. Learn more about our Weddings here.

To learn more about planning your perfect wedding day in Hawaii, visit

Connect with me anytime to plan your dream destination wedding at Kona Wedding Officiant, or 808-209-6275

Images protected by Copyright owned by Kona Wedding Officiant®.


bottom of page