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Historic Hawaii

Exploring Hawaii's Past

The scenic Waipio Valley provides a glimpse of Old Hawaii on the Big Island
The scenic Waipio Valley provides a glimpse of Old Hawaii on the Big Island


Plan ahead and make advance reservations for the Molokai Mule Ride to Kalaupapa where the former leper colony (the preferred term for leprosy is now Hansen's Disease) overseen by the revered Father Damien is located. In order to make this journey, you will want to depart Honolulu very early and fly to Molokai for the day-long trip. Saint Damien of Molokai (Father Damien was canonized as Saint Damien in 2009) devoted his life to caring for the outcast sufferers of this terrifying disease here. After the tour, fly on to the Kona Airport on the Big Island, rent a car and drive to the Outrigger Kanaloa at Kona, a luxury condo hotel featuring well-appointed rooms. For maximum relaxation, request an ocean view room with a Jacuzzi when you make your reservation. You'll enjoy the quiet seclusion of this place and its endless views of the Pacific Ocean.


The past comes alive at Puuhonua o Honaunau on Hawaii's Big Island
The past comes alive at Puuhonua o Honaunau on Hawaii's Big Island

Spend a leisurely morning at the Outrigger Kanaloa at Kona, and then drive down the coast, stopping at the historic Manago Hotel in Captain Cook for lunch, then moving on to Puuhonua o Honaunau (Place of Refuge of Honaunau). Hawaiians who transgressed the ancient kapu (forbidden or taboo in Hawaiian) laws could escape death by clubbing if they outran their pursuers and reached the place of refuge. In this old coconut grove amid ancient fishponds, with a ten-foot-high rock wall built around 1550, you get an eerie feeling that the ancient past is alive around you. This is a national park, featuring an audio walking tour as well as park rangers. You may well see Hawaiian green sea turtles, known as "honu" in the shallows or on the beach. On the way back to Kona Village, you may wish to stop off and see Hulihee Palace in Kailua-Kona. Once a summer vacation home for Hawaiian royalty, it is now a repository for Victorian pieces from the era of King Kalakaua as well as koa furniture, feather work, Hawaiian quilts and other artifacts from the period. Wander the old town, which is replete with shops and restaurants and enjoy some shopping and dinner before returning to Outrigger Kanaloa at Kona for a relaxing soak in your Jacuzzi.


A cowboy shows off his lasso skills in the Big Island's Waipio Valley
A cowboy shows off his lasso skills in the Big Island's Waipio Valley

Drive up Queen Kaahumanu Highway to Route 270 for a further taste of ancient Hawaii. Start at Puako, near Kawaihae, then stop and view the ancient Hawaiian petroglyphs, or rock carvings. North of Puako, just before Kawaihae, lies the most famous of ancient Hawaiian temples, Puukohola Heiau, built by Kamehameha the Great in 1790. Travel north, then stop at Lapakahi, a state historical park, between Kawaihae and Mahukona on Highway 270. This ancient coastal fishing village was preserved to show Hawaiian life as it was lived 600 years ago. Finally, make a stop at the mysterious Mookini Heiau, once the site of important ceremonies and human sacrifices.

Afterwards, backtrack down Route 270 and take Route 19 up to Waimea (Kamuela) for lunch. Dine at Merriman's Restaurant and experience seasonal menus created by one of the original founders of Hawaii Regional Cuisine, Peter Merriman. Then drive on to Honokaa to visit historic Waipio Valley. This birthplace of Kamehameha is also where residents live lifestyles most similar to those of Old Hawaii. Only four-wheel-drive vehicles — and mules — can get you into this valley, isolated by cliffs on three sides and the Pacific on the fourth. We suggest seeing Waipio in a mule-drawn wagon with Waipio Valley Wagon Tours, which will take you across taro fields and through the valley floor for an hour-and-a-half tour you are unlikely to forget.

Day 1, 2 & 3
See where to Eat, Sleep and Explore


Travel Guide Hawaii
Hawaii 101
Hawaii Volcano Tours
Hawaii Adventures
Hawaii Honeymoon

* Waipio Valley image courtesy of Hawaii Tourism Authority (HTA) / Kirk Lee Aeder; Puuhonua o Honaunau and cowboy images courtesy of Hawaii Tourism Japan

(Updated: 02/22/12 SG)

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