We stumbled on it accidentally on our way to Mauna Kea and its dramatic sunset. A highway sign off Route 19 announced the Kaloko-Honokōhau National Historical Park. It didn’t look promising — the Kona side of the Big Island is filled with large hotel developments, and this looked no different from afar, so we almost didn’t take the turn. How glad I am that we did.
At the end of a dusty drive, we found a small visitor center, Hale Ho’okipa (House of Welcome), subdued and basking in quiet music — Native Hawaiian instruments were being demonstrated as we entered. Beyond lay another century. Several sunny trails meander to the ocean. The park preserves the coastal remnants of two ahupua’a (traditional land divisions) that used to link the upper slopes of the Hualālai mountain to the shoreline. Ancient communities lived, farmed, and fished within these borders. It is their fishing methods that take the pride of place here: The showpieces of the park, each lined with walls of lava rocks brought down from the mountain, are two fishponds, where fish were raised, and a fishtrap, that lured fish in high tide. Some of the older structures in the park are believed to date back over 600 years.
We could only make one stop, the ‘Ai‘ōpio Fishtrap. You can either stroll there along a half-mile trail from the visitor center, through lava fields and shrub thickets, or park by the Honokohau Small Boat Harbor that borders the park to the south and enter from there. Pressed for time, we did the latter. The park’s southern entrance looks a bit forlorn, but do press on. Past the lonely gate and a two-minute stint on a dirt road, the trees part before a peaceful beach, a place I’d like to revisit again and again.
A local family played in the waves. A couple sat by a stately longhouse, its thatched roof protecting a canoe, much like the ones that brought the first humans to these shores. After the crowds of Kona, this place felt intimate, restful, cleansing. We wandered along the walls that framed the inlet. All was quiet.
A heiau towered over the area, erected recently by the park’s rangers.
Shorebirds sieved through the sand. The fishponds to the north are havens for native and migratory wetland birds, including the endangered Hawaiian black-necked stilts and local coots that make their home at the ‘Aimakapa Fishpond. We got to see their less retiring cousins:
But the brightest memory of our visit were honu, the green sea turtles we first glimpsed at the Punalu’u Black Sand Beach. Here they were in full attendance, bobbing in the shallow water, sunning themselves on the rocks. The turtles are endangered, and visitors are asked to keep at least 15 feet away from them at all times. That was a challenge! They were everywhere.
Our favorite couple seemed to tango in the waves.
We lingered for as long as we could. The visit was too brief to do the place justice, but I still find myself thinking of being there. I felt recharged, calmed. With its proximity to the Kona Airport, this will be my first stop when we are back.
Posts and websites I wish I read before our visit:
- Kaloko-Honokohau National Hist. Park post from Around the World: One Journey at a Time blog – an account of an eventful family visit that gave me a great preview of the parts of the park we missed this time around
- Then & Now: Kaloko Honokohau National Historic Park by Robert Oaks – a wonderfully informative article for the Ke Ola Magazine
- Hiking the Kaloko-Honokohau Park – inspiration for tackling the trails
- Birds of Kaloko-Honokohau National Historical Park – an illustrated treasury of the park’s winged regulars