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South Kona

Pu'uhonua O Honaunau (Place of Refuge) National Park

There is, perhaps, no other region on the Big Island shrouded in more history than the district of South Kona. Whether it be the origins of Kona coffee, the ancient Hawaiian village setting of Pu`uhonua O Honaunau (Place of Refuge) National Park, or the Painted Church nestled along the hillside overlooking Kealakekua Bay, the spot where the famous English explorer Captain Cook met his fate in 1779, South Kona will keep the historically minded visitor busy weaving their way through its network of mountain roads.

Coffee first came to Kona in 1828 when the Reverend Samuel Ruggles brought plant cuttings to Kealakekua. The early Japanese farmers cultivated many of Kona's first farms and engineered the system of milling and processing this prized coffee.

Painted Church.

On highway 160 amidst coffee farms and high on the slopes of Kealakekua Bay is The Painted Church, where sometime between 1899 and 1904, Father John Velge, a Catholic missionary from Belgium painted images on the interior walls of the church depicting the biblical scenes of heaven and hell.

At the bottom of Napoopoo Road is Hikiau Heiau at Kealakekua Bay, and a white stone monument across the bay that marks the spot where Captain Cook was killed in 1779. The story behind Cook's death was that it was the result of a failed attempt by Cook and his soldiers to exchange the high chief Kalaniopuu hostage in return for a cutter that was stolen the night before. Cook, who had come south to the Hawaiian Islands seeking shelter for the winter months, was in search of a northwest passage to England.

A lower coastal road connects Kealakekua Bay to Pu'uhonua O Honaunau (Place of Refuge) National Park. In the early years of Hawaiian civilization it was to the Place of Refuge that people who broke kapu (sacred laws) would attempt to flee. If the kapu breaker could reach this sanctuary his life would be spared. Some of these kapu that governed the common people included not being allowed to walk in the footsteps of the chiefs or to touch their possessions. Other rules forbade commoners from eating foods reserved for offering to the gods, and women were not allowed to eat with the men. The gathering of wood, seasons for fishing and the taking of animals as well as the hula were also controlled under the kapu system. Other features at the park are lokos (ancient fish ponds), hales (thatched roof structures that served as homes), heiaus and ancient rock walls. Visitors are usually provided with live demonstrations of ancient Hawaiian crafts such as the building of canoes and tikis at the park. Check at the Park’s visitor center to find out about any special programs that may be happening at the park during your stay.

Hawaiian tikis.

Some of Hawaii’s exotic fruit left to right: mango, star fruit and rambutan.

Leis for sale.

Hawaiian Green Sea Turtle.

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