Updated July 2, 2021.
Aloha! If you’ve been following me on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter, you know that we just got back from our third anniversary trip to the Big Island of Hawaii! We love the islands more and more each time we visit.
I would venture to say most mainland Americans never learn about our most recently added state’s history. It’s a bit of a blemish on our record, to be honest. But this beautiful island chain’s history is exciting and intriguing. Hawaii is the only state to have an official royal palace (I’olani Palace on O’ahu), and actually, there are several royal sites across the islands! So here’s to Hawai’i’s royal family. King Kamehameha I was born and lived most of his life on Hawaii’s Big Island, so if you decide to visit, these are some royal sites that should not be missed!
Kona Side (West)
Pu’uhonua O Honaunau
This is a place of pu’uhonua, or refuge. If you broke a kapu, or ancient Hawaiian law, and faced a possible death sentence, you could come here to be ceremonially forgiven by a priest and given permission to return to society as free person. Those who sought protection during times of war could also find refuge here, including defeated warriors from either side of the fighting.
Interestingly, breaking an ancient Hawaiian law could mean you looked directly at a chief, a woman ate with men, or a women ate pork, bananas, coconuts, or taro root. I’d need to build a permanent residence here.
Read next: Hawaii for History Lovers
Kamakahonu (Eye of the Sea Turtle)
This small bay is the location where King Kamehameha I lived his final years. After his death in 1819, as was the custom, kapu (forbidden) laws were set aside for a time and the new ruler, Liholiho (King Kamehameha II), left the island for six months while this site was purified. When he returned and tried to reinstate kapu, his mother and his co-regent, Queen Ka’ahumanu, would not allow it!
He left for two more days in a canoe with some of his followers, but when he returned to this place, he sat at the women’s table and ate with them, ending kapu restrictions across the Hawaiian islands. It also happens to be the site where Christian missionaries first landed and started building a mission just months later, fulfilling an ancient Hawaiian prophecy that a new god would come to the islands here.
Keep reading: What to Know Before You Visit Hawaii’s Big Island
This building is located in the Kamakahonu and was King Kamehameha I’s personal place of worship. It means “Temple of the Burning Altar.” He met with his advisors here, and on May 8, 1819, he died here in this building.
This is the royal vacation home. It was built in the 1838, and now it’s a museum showcasing native Hawaiian furniture and quilts, as well as Victorian artifacts from King Kalakaua and Queen Kapiolani.
More here: 10 Reasons to Visit Hawaii’s Big Island
Hilo (East Side)
Liliuokalani Park and Gardens
Queen Liliuokalani was Hawaii’s last reigning monarch. She donated five acres of this land for use as a public park in 1907, and in 1919 it was opened in her name and to honor the Japanese people who came to the islands for work in the 19th century.
Kamehameha I proved his great strength when he fulfilled a priest’s prophecy and overturned the Naha Stone when he was 14 years old, years before he united the Hawaiian Islands and became its first king. The stone weighs 3.5 tons–that’s 7,000 pounds! You can see it right outside the Hilo Public Library.
Read next: Top 10 Highlights of Hilo
No one knows for sure, but legend has it King Kamehameha II buried his father’s remains, King Kamehameha the Great, in a cave behind these majestic falls. Arrive around 10:00am any day of the week and you’ll see the namesake rainbow in front of the falls!
More here: 5 Things You Forgot to Pack for Hawaii
Waipi’o and Hawi (North Side)
When Paiea (Kamehameha) was born, fighting clans on the island posed a threat to the baby. He was hidden away in the Waipi’o Valley, still one of the most secluded places on the Big Island. It’s also one of the most breath-taking sights on the island. People still come here to live “off the grid,” so please respect any private property and no trespassing signs.
Read on: Hiking Hawaii: The Big Island
King Kamehameha I Statue
This is the original. There are several statues modeled after it, most notably on the island of Oahu and in the Capitol Building in Washington, DC. But this one is particularly interesting because it was lost at sea–or so they thought! It was forged in Florence, Italy, in 1880 and intended to stand in Honolulu. Unfortunately, it sank with the ship carry it near the notoriously treacherous Cape Horn. Considered lost, a new one was erected in Honolulu. In 1912, however, it was recovered and restored, and here he stands in Hawi, near his birthplace.
More here: What to Do on Your Last Day in Hawaii
Human sacrifices happened here. Creepy, huh? This temple is the first ever built in the Hawaiian islands, around 480 A.D. Around 980 A.D. years later, a Tahitian high priest named Pa’ao arrived and started the tradition of human sacrifice. The large, flat stones where human sacrifices took place are still there, though human sacrifices stopped shortly after King Kamehameha I’s death and the end of the kapu system of laws.
Keep reading: Hawaii’s Best Adventures
King Kamehameha I Birthplace
Just a little ways down the coast from Mookini Heiau you’ll find the King Kamehameha I birthplace. There are some discrepancies about exactly where and when he was born, but general consensus says it was here around 1758. Earlier prophecies said a great leader would be born when a great light filled the sky, and indeed, Halley’s comet passed over Hawaii around the time he was born!
Keep reading: 7 Steps to Plan Your Big Island Trip
Are you ready for a royal tour of Hawaii’s Big Island? Have I missed something you think should be included? Tell me in the comment section below! Check out my Hawaiian Islands Page for more!
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