Even among the devout, the thought of going to a church or temple while on vacation in Hawaii may seem like a downer. Think again. The Islands are dotted with spritually inspired, knock-your-socks-off beautiful places that in a few minutes will impart a long-lasting emotional lift. Religions from all over the globe have put edifices here, both little and large, in locations to suit any movie director. And tucked away everywhere (as in everywhere) are the remains of centuries-old Hawaiian heiaus (temples), both grandiose and decrepit, that were dedicated to the various aspects of the Polynesian way of life.
The Trailblazer guides include directions to many dozens of spiritual spots on each island. No Worries Hawaii, a vacation planning guide, provides a priorized summary of the best churches, holy places, and heiaus—as well as best mountain trails, surfing and snorkeling beaches, swank resorts, shopping, walk-around cool towns, and adventure treks.
Here are a few places to get your Zen on:
The 88 Holy Places of Kobo Daishi (above), now part of the Lawai International Center near Kalaheo, are miniature stone houses set on a steep hillside. Brought from Japan and emplaced about a century ago, the Buddhist-inspried shrines were swallowed up by greenery until 'rediscovered' and refurbished by this nonprofit group about a decade ago. At the end of the road on the north tip of the island, the Kauluolaka Hula Temple is the ancient birthplace of hula in Hawaii. On an unmarked trail, the temple consists of grassy platforms below cliffs just above the crashing waves at the Napali Coast. Since the wildly popular Kalalau Trail and Ke'e Beach are nearby, most visitors miss this wonder. Anyone who has driven through Hanalei will likely remember the green-painted Waioli Hui'ia Church, where a gifted choir plays to a packed house on Sundays.
But on any day, don't miss walking across the vast lawn to the grounds of the Waioli Mission House (above), whose buildings date from 1841 and are set next to taro fields and a 3,000-foot-high jagged ridge known as the 'birthplace of rainbows.' Yow.
Similar to the peaks of north Kauai, the razorback Ko'olau Range hangs above the Valley of the Temples on Windward Oahu.
The valley features ornate mausoleums of some of Oahu's well-to-do families, but the centerpiece is the Byodo-In Temple (above). A large koi pond reflects the image of the temple, which is a replica of the 900-year-old original in Kyoto, Japan. Pay your respects to an 18-foot-tall Buddha of the Western Paradise, enjoy a serene cup of tea, and gong a huge bronze bell to rid your mind of temptations (can't hurt to try).
Set off busy Nu'uano Avenue in Honolulu, the Royal Mausoleum (above) is an unexpected sanctuary. Most all the Hawaiian ali'i (kings) are buried here, at the only place in the Islands where the Hawaiian flag flies unaccompanied by the Stars and Stripes. A coral-block chapel with an all-koa-wood interior has been presided over by the same family since the early 1800s.
On the delightfully forlorn south coast, not far from the one-horse town of Kaupo, sits the charming Huialoha Church (above). Drive or walk down .25-mile, to grassy flats fringed by cocopalms, just above wild Haleki'i Bay. The Big Island looms across a channel. Vandals recently did damage to the church, which dates from 1859, but locals have formed a nonprofit group that has brought it back to life in stunning fashion. On the opposite side of Maui, just off the Hana Highway, is Kaulanapeuo Church. Poetically sited on a clearing in the jungle, the church's thick walls rise to a tall steeple that has stood since 1853. Miles north on the windward coast, and centuries older, is Kukuipuka Heiau, which radiates vistas in all directions. Restored in recent years, this modest enclosure is a short walk up a hill very near the Waihe'e Ridge Trail. (BTW: You could spend a whole vacation checking out the quaint churches on Maui.)
Location, location, location. The Wood Valley Temple (below) rests in the verdant Kau Forest Reserve near Pahala, about 40 miles south of the barren expanses of Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. The Dali Lama has visited this tranquil retreat, and you can too.
Farther north in Kona on the steep slopes of Honaunau, the well known Painted Church (below) has big views of Kealakekua Bay. Father John Berchman Velge adorned the Catholic Church's wooden walls with tropical-themed Christian murals in 1898.
At the heiau's dedication ceremony in 1791, Kamehameha the Great's rival cousin, Keoua, and his retinue were killed in a scuffle. Whether Big K planned the attack, or it transpired from unforeseen events, is open to historical interprepation.