Puukohola Heiau (temple)

This National Historic Site preserves a sacred structure built by King Kamehameha I

Showcasing one of the state’s last major ancient Hawaiian sacred structures (heaiu), this 85-acre park sits overlooking the sea in Kawaihae. Meaning Temple on the Hill of the Whale, Puukohola was built by Kamehameha I in 1790 for his war god, Kukailimoku. Find it in South Kohala on Highway 270 next to Spencer Beach Park.

The impressive stone temple measures 224 by 100 feet with walls up to 20 feet high. How this temple was built and what happened there are some of the compelling stories visitors learn during their visit. 

“Puukohola Heiau is the most important historic site in all of Hawaii because no other structure changed the history of Hawaii more than this temple,” says George Enuton, park ranger. 

Other points of interest include Mailekini Heiau, which was converted into a fort with cannons; a submerged temple dedicated to the shark gods and John Young’s Homestead. Young was a British sailor who was trusted by the Kamehameha Court and became a high chief. 

Designated as a historical landmark by the Territory of Hawaii in 1928, the park boasts a 2007 visitor center with a weapons display, movie theatre and original paintings by noted art historian Herb Kawainui Kane. A brochure provides a self-guided park tour via a paved and easy, half-mile loop trail; also available is a smart phone audio tour.  Cultural demos of lauhala weaving and ohe kapala (stamping) are 9 a.m.-3 p.m. Tuesdays and Wednesdays as staffing permits.

Puukohola’s 43rd annual Establishment Day Hawaiian Cultural Festival is August 15-16, 2015 with the annual Hawaiian Flag Day Festival July 31.  The park is one of three sites statewide allowed to fly the state flag at the same height as the U.S. flag. The visitor center is staffed 8 a.m.-4:45 p.m. daily.