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Less Visited Must-See National Parks on Hawaii’s Big Island

Less Visited Must-See National Parks on Hawaii’s Big IslandLess Visited Must-See National Parks on Hawaii’s Big Island

When people think of national parks in Hawaii, they inevitably think of Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. While this is certainly a park worth visiting, few visitors realize that there are three other less visited, but no less significant, national parks on Hawaii's Big Island. I had the privilege of growing up in and around these parks during my dad's 30-plus years in the National Park Service.

One of the things you must do if you are planning on visiting these parks is rent a car. The parks are dozens of miles apart, and it will take you quite a bit of time to get from one park to the other. Whether you visit all of the national parks on the Big Island or just one or two of them, you will not be disappointed.

Kaloko-Honokohau National Historical Park - Lifestyle of Ancient Hawaii

Kaloko-Honokohau is where you can see and learn about the genius of the land and food management systems of the ancient Hawaiian people. Their intricate farming methods were designed so that they could provide enough food for their population even though they were living on what looked like barren land.

Farming in ancient Hawaii included fish farming. Your visit here will be a fascinating journey into the past where you can learn about sustainable farming, fishing, and environmental lifestyles of these ancient people.

Pu'ukohola Heiau National Historic Site - Ancient Hawaiian Temple

Pu'ukohola Heiau is one of the largest heiau (temples) in the state. This heiau was built because King Kamehameha was told that building it would help end the ongoing war and unite the Hawaiian Islands.

Around the time the heiau was completed, King Kamehameha's cousin was killed there. The death of his cousin made King Kamehameha the sole heir to all of the islands. This unification of Hawaii under one ruler fulfilled the prophecy.

Pu'ukohola Heiau is must be seen to be believed. It's a massive stone structure that served as a temple and a fort. Cannon fire was once heard echoing through the grounds.

Where you walk in this park is likely where King Kamehameha walked. Only royalty and priests were allowed here when the heiau was built. When you visit this park be aware that you will be standing on privileged ground.

Pu'uhonua o Honaunau National Historical Park - Place of Refuge

Pu'uhonua o Honaunau is located on grounds where it meant the death penalty hundreds of years ago had you been caught walking on them. If you broke a kapu (taboo), even if it was one punishable by death, you had one last hope. If you could make it to the Pu'uhonua, you would be granted sanctuary and allowed to live.

You can play konane (Hawaiian checkers) on a huge konane board carved on a lava boulder. While at the konane board, look out into the bay. You may see endangered Hawaiian green sea turtles swimming there. Ancient Hawaiian petroglyphs also abound throughout the park, but they are not in plain sight.

Be sure to stop at the visitor center and get a self-guided tour brochure to make the most of your visit. There are so many things to see here that you will need at least an hour to see it all. Much of it is easily missed if you don't have the brochure.

Less Visited Must-See National Parks on Hawaii’s Big IslandLess Visited Must-See National Parks on Hawaii’s Big Island

Annual Cultural Festivals

For an extremely unique experience, visit Pu'uhonua o Honaunau or the Pu'ukohola Heiau during their annual cultural festivals. If your timing is right, you may be able to see a fully costumed royal processional complete with conch shell blowers announcing the arrival of the king and queen.

Multiple Hawaiian arts and crafts demonstrations occur throughout the parks during the festivals. Demonstrations are done by skilled and knowledgeable artisans and craftsmen. Ancient Hawaiian craft demonstrations usually include coconut frond weaving, lauhala basket weaving, fishnet making, and tapa pounding (cloth making).

The cultural festival at Pu'uhonua o Honaunau tends to be held in July. The cultural festival at Pu'ukohola Heiau tends to be held in August. If you are able to attend these festivals, you will find that they are magical experiences that transport you back to ancient Hawaii.

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