The Big Island of Hawai’i is the youngest of the Hawaiian islands, yet it possesses some of Hawaiian culture’s most ancient and treasured places and artifacts. Once the retreat of Hawaiian royalty, Kohanaiki—which takes its name from its traditional land division, the Kohanaiki ahupua‘a – is nestled among ancient lava flows, carefully preserved anchialine ponds, and cultural sites along the Kona coastline.
Kohanaiki was a sacred land, highly valued by early families as a bountiful, peaceful gathering place. For new and future generations of fortunate islanders, the tradition is destined to continue.
Discover ancient heiau (temples), paena wa‘a (canoe landings), ki‘i pōhaku (petroglyphs) ,and kū‘ula (fishing shrines) that still remain from a culture that spanned 1,200 years prior to Western contact at the 1,160-acre Kaloko-Honokōhau National Historical Park, literally steps away from Kohanaiki along the Ala Kahakai National Historic Trail.
Along the shore, watch for honu (Hawaiian green sea turtles) grazing in the shallows of ‘Ai‘ōpio, waterbirds such as the endangered ae‘o (Hawaiian stilt), and the ‘alae ke‘oke‘o (Hawaiian coot) and Hawaiian monk seals sprawled out on the beach under the warm Kona sun.
The Kohanaiki Club, as the modern caretaker of the Makai (ocean) portion of the Kohanaiki ahupua‘a, has preserved and restored many historic sites, including home sites that date back to AD 1020, ceremonial sites, ahu, more than 200 anchialine ponds and two ancient trails – Ala Māmalahoa, and Ala Kahakai.
More details on these cultural sites is available below and in the Kohanaiki Nature Guide.
Ahu, or Shrines, are stacks of rocks used to mark something significant or to act as a navigational point. Ahu could often be found along the boundaries of the wedge shaped divisions of land known as Ahupua‘a. This would notify a traveler when they were entering a new people’s land. There are 14 Ahu at Kohanaiki, running parallel along the mauka (mountain) side of the Anchialine Pond area.
Hawai’ians were experts at manipulating the natural resources of the land to work in their favor. This is most evident in their mastery of aquaculture. In many of the Anchialine Ponds, you can see remnants of rock walls. These walls were used to partition ponds for use as Loko I‘a, or Fish Ponds. Often you will find two or three walled ponds near each other, most likely used to separate different sizes of fish.
TRAIL BY THE SEA
The Ala Kahakai, or “Trail by the Sea,” is the name given to the historic coastal trail that can be found along the shoreline of Kohanaiki. This trail spans the distance between Upolu Point in Kohala to Kailua-Kona, and is just one section of the much longer, ancient Ala Loa or “Long Trail” which circumscribes the coast of Hawai‘i and was once the island’s main thoroughfare.
Traditionally this trail was a foot trail, but sections of the trail were widened to accommodate horse and mule travel by the 1840s.
The Pā Kēkake or Donkey Corral can be found along the mauka side of the beach. This rock walled corral was used to house donkeys who would ferry goods up the Ala Mauka Makai, the mountain to the ocean trail. It has been said that the donkeys were so well-trained they would not need a human escort on the trails; the promise of food in the mauka and makai corrals was enough to keep them on course.
KA HALE WA'A
Ka Hale Wa‘a is an A-frame structure built in traditional Hawaiian style, using native ‘Ōhia wood, rocks, and thatch made of native Lo‘ulu Palm leaves. The Hale is used as a meeting place and education center for local community cultural groups. The Hale is named after Wāwahiwa‘a Pt., which is located in front of the structure. Wāwahiwa‘a loosely translates to “broken canoe,” most likely due to the rough conditions and currents found just off shore.
Throughout Kohanaiki one can find numerous Ki‘i Pōhaku, or Petroglyphs. These ancient rock etchings were formed years ago using only hand tools. Each Petroglyph tells a different story. Some represent a family’s lineage or storyline, others represent a god or deity, and some may represent the significance of a certain location. The Kohanaiki logo is taken from a Petroglyph of a fisherman found at the shoreline.
Kōnane is a board game that cultivated analytical and strategic skills useful in war and peace. Kamehameha and other prominent ali‘i were expert players. To play Kōnane, the Hawai’ians would create a board by etching a flat rock to create a square “board” with an equal number of holes on each side. For the game pieces, they would use small black or white pebbles. A petroglyph of a Kōnane Board on the Kohanaiki shoreline was the inspiration for our signature Kōnane Restaurant.
The Ala Māmalahoa, or Māmalahoa Trail, dates back to the 1800s. This Trail was constructed to facilitate commerce and trade between large population centers on the west side of the Island of Hawai‘i. The Ala Māmalahoa is wider, flatter, and better ￼marked than the older coastal Ala Kahakai trail. It was widened to accommodate horse-drawn carts.