Try Not to Dehydrate at Pu’uhonua O Honaunai Park on the Big Island


The clouds rolled in but the heat remained. We had spent the morning swimming and were now touring down the southwest side of the Big Island of Hawaii. We’d made a stop at the Painted Church while Dek snoozed in the car. We scouted out a bit more of the island until he was ready to get up. Then we headed over to Pu’uhonua O Honaunai National Historical Park for a little stretch and toddler wandering time. The plan was set, we just weren’t quite prepared for it. Of all things not to have on hand, water was one I should have been carrying around by the case.

Pu’uhonua O Honaunai National Historical Park, also known as Place of Refuge, was once a sanctuary for anyone accused of a crime and facing the death penalty. If you could make it to the refuge you could atone for your sins in whatever way the priests deemed necessary and then go back to your life, no matter your crime. Not a bad way to avoid death if you are a fast runner, especially given the strict laws of the time.

For us modern folk, you can get a glimpse into life a few hundred years ago. Reconstructed houses and temples are littered throughout the grounds. There are wood carvings of gods (some anatomically correct) placed throughout the compound overlooking the water and some even in the water. A huge black stone wall, dating back to the 1500s separated the Pu’uhonua from the Ali’i’s (aka the chief’s) palace grounds.

It was that big black wall of stone that caused the trouble. We were exploring in the tropics. It’s kind of warm down there if you don’t already know. Add in a big heat conductor like a 10-foot high black wall and you have your very own oven to stroll through. Throw in a pregnant lady and you really do have a magical combination. In no time I became overheated, something I hadn’t had happen so far on the trip. There was a lot more to see, but I needed to get into some air conditioning fast. I needed a bottle of water and a little food stat. We bee lined it for the car to get me sorted out. We could have gone back into the park to explore some more once I was feeling better, but we were all tired.

I was sad to miss the nearby park. The beach looked perfect and was supposed to have some great tide pools for little ones to splash around in. Local families were out snorkeling and playing. Sea turtles were bobby around looking for a quiet place to rest. We even had our swim stuff in the car! It just wasn’t meant to be.

What I feel really bad about is that we missed the Arch City Coastline. Mike had been talking about doing a hike through there all morning. The pictures in our guidebook looked crazy, in a good way. I stupidly thought the park was where the arches were, but no, they were on the other side of the bay. This is when husbands really need to speak up and tell you where to go when you are in charge of driving. Here I thought we were headed towards the arches, when it fact they were two separate things.

Our time was quickly dwindling on the west side of the Big Island. Arch City had to get added to the list of places to see when we come back. With an island this huge, and a tired pregnant woman and toddler in tow, there was only so much we could see each day. And really, I can always use another excuse to head back down to the islands.

Know Before You Go

  • Pu’uhonua O Honaunai National Historical Park, Tel: 808.328.2326 ext 1702
  • Entrance fee: $5 per car, check the website for No Fee days
  • Hours: 7am to sunset
  • Strollers? Ditch the stroller and let the kids walk or strap the baby in a carrier. It will be much easier to navigate the rock and sand paths.
  • Restrooms and water fountains are available on sight
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Showing 15 comments
  • Easy Hiker

    This walk sounds very interesting. I could imagine myself enjoying it with all the interesting views mentioned here.

  • Bob R

    Thanks for this post, sounds like a really interesting place. I really like the top photo.

  • InsideJourneys

    What an interesting place and a very revolutionary concept.

  • Sabrina

    Sorry you missed the park. So disappointing when days go like that. I do like your pictures though, especially the one of the little statue toward the end 🙂 Very nice!

  • Lisa

    Now you have a reason to go back! The park looks beautiful even if you can’t pronounce it (I love Hawaiian names)!

  • Reply

    I do enjoy all the Big Island has to offer! Such a large and diverse island.

  • Leigh

    As others have suggested – you now have a reason to go back. Looks like you at least got in some time exploring. And I know it’s not fun, pregnant or not, when the heat just whips you.

  • Kym

    The Big Island is beautiful! Please be sure to eat all the delicious fruit you possibly can for me! Also in Kona you should check out Mountain thunder coffee. Best Drink I have ever had! Like-CRAZY DELICIOUS! Happy Travels!

  • Steve

    Great pictures Keryn. Sorry you had to cut your day short, but better you take care of yourself. Just for the record though, there is no good time for “husbands to speak up and tell you where to go when you are in charge of driving”. There’s no upside in that for us at all.

    • © Keryn Means/ walkingon travels

      Don’t worry Steve, even while writing it I knew that no matter what my hubby couldn’t win that conversation. Poor guy.

  • Nancie

    Lovely photos and definitely a great place to spend a few hours. I always like to have a few things to come back and see. That way, you do come back!

  • Dick Jordan

    Interesting. Never made it to that part of the Big Island when I was there in 2007.

  • Reply

    You always take the most thought-provoking pictures. You always make we want to go where you take me…make sense?


  • Reply

    Beautiful pictures! We were there a few years ago and my kids loved it especially seeing the resident green sea turtles. It was such a contrast to the Volcanoes NP. Sorry you had to leave but it is worth going back to.

  • Anwar

    Interesting place! I have never heard of it…although maybe because I have not been to Hawaii yet. Very interesting thing about atoning for sins. Definitely a practical definition of “survival of the fittest”

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