Monday, April 18, 2011

Taking Refuge on Hawaii's Big Island

Pu'uhonua o Honauau National Park, on the south shore of Kealakekua Bay, was a place of refuge in Hawaii—not used for meditation, but rather where defeated warriors and violators of the kapu system (laws) could go voluntarily to escape punishment. When justice is a swift club, people break into jail. For minor kapu violations, the stay could be overnight. Confinement appeased the gods, who would otherwise punish everyone with earthquakes, tsunamis, and volcanic eruptions.

The park's premier attraction is the Great Wall—10-feet high, 7-feet thick, and 1,000 feet long—that was dry-stacked in 1550 to separate the Royals who lived at Honaunau (Ho-now-now) from the dwellers of the pu'uhonua. Normally, craftspeople ply ancient trades in the central area of the 200-acre park. Snorkeling at nearby Two Step is among the best in Hawaii, and hikers can take a coastal trail south through the ruins of Ki'ilae Village and then along the Keane'e Cliffs, a route that includes a cobblestone ramp built in the early 1800s. County-run Pu'uhonua Beach Park is adjacent and offers picnic tables under palms and swimmable tide pools in the lava reef. Bottom line: Bring the family. To get there consult your Hawaii Big Island Trailblazer guidebook, page 100.