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16 Must-See Cultural Hot Spots on the Hawaiian Islands

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16 Must-See Cultural Hot Spots on the Hawaiian Islands

20170412_Hawaii Volcanoes National Park_Halemaumau Crater eruption
Halemaumau Crater eruption at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park on the Big Island. Alan Cressler

OluKai is partnering with Hawaiian Airlines to offer one grand prize winner (and a companion!) their very own 4-day, 3-night Ultimate Island Adventure in Hawaii. For full details and to enter, visit OluKaiAdventure.com (but hurry—entry is open from April 15, 2017 to May 15, 2017, and the winner will be selected by May 20, 2017). After you enter the contest, read on and get inspired for your own adventure in the Hawaiian islands.

The human history of Hawaii goes back to when the Polynesians first landed on the islands between AD 300-600. Though the people and the culture have been influenced through the centuries, you can still find the true Hawaiian spirit on the islands today (if you know where to look). From ancient Hawaiian temples to mountaintops shrouded in legend, we’ve lined up the top four cultural hot spots on each major island that will leave you with a deeper understanding of the history and culture of Hawaii.

Some of the spots listed include ornate palaces and museums, while others will have you walking across hardened lava or beaches, so you’ll want to make sure your feet are protected. You can’t go wrong with the lightweight ‘Eleu Trainer (for men or women) or the more casual Nohea Moku for men or Pehuea for women. Don’t forget to pack your sunscreen and some extra water, and you’ll be all set for your own Ultimate Island Adventure.

Oahu

Exploring the Pu’u o Mahuka Heiau.
Exploring the Pu’u o Mahuka Heiau. Ken Lund

1. Pu’u o Mahuka Heiau

Heiaus, or ancient Hawaiian temples, can be found on all of the state’s major islands. The Pu’u o Mahuka Heiau—located in the state historic site of the same name—is the largest in Oahu and covers more than two acres. Situated atop a coastal bluff overlooking Waimea Bay, Pu’u o Mahuka was built in the 1600s as a luakini heiau, meaning that it was designed for religious and social rituals involving human or animal sacrifice.

2. Kāko‘o ‘Ōiwi

You’ll find this community-based, nonprofit organization nestled in the wetlands of He’eia on Oahu’s eastern shore. Kākoʻo ʻŌiwi promotes the social, economic, and ecological health of the local community by restoring the agricultural productivity of its 405 acres. Check out their educational programs to learn about the land’s significance to Native Hawaiians, or get involved in the restoration process during monthly volunteer days.

3. Iolani Palace

Once the official residence of the Hawaiian monarchy, the Iolani Palace has since been restored as a National Historic Landmark in the heart of downtown Honolulu. Constructed under King Kalākaua in 1882, you can now to take guided tours through the first two floors of the palace and around the grounds. Inside, you’ll see the majestic Grand Hall, the crimson and gold Throne Room, and the king and queen’s private bedrooms. Outside, don’t miss the Sacred Mound, a royal tomb where chiefs may still be buried.

4. Honolulu Museum of Art

The Honolulu Museum of Art offers self-guided or docent-led tours through the rotating exhibits from across Asia, Europe, and America. The museum also showcases the best of Hawaiian art, ranging from centuries-old artifacts to modern paintings of the islands and their people. This means that you’ll find indigenous treasures like pottery and quilts exhibited alongside 20th century classics like Georgia O’Keeffe’s portraits of Maui.

Hawaii

A lava flow at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.
A lava flow at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. Alan Cressler

5. Hawaii Volcanoes National Park

Not surprisingly, volcanoes are a major part of the Hawaiian Islands’ natural history. While Hawaii Volcanoes National Park puts the island’s geological history center stage, you can also find many archaeological sites here. Remains of ancient Hawaiian houses, caves, and agricultural structures tell the story of the indigenous groups that lived on the land hundreds of years ago. Head to the Pu’u Loa region of the park for the largest concentration of ancient petroglyphs (over 23,000 total), all easily accessible via a 0.7-mile lava bedrock trail. On the Ka’u Desert Trail, explore the fossilized footprints of Native Hawaiians left in the hardened ash of a volcanic eruption. The entire route is 18.2 miles, but you could also just hike out as far as you want and then head back.

6. Pu’uhonua o Honaunau National Historical Park

Extending 420 acres across the Kona Coast, Pu’uhonua o Honaunau encompasses historical, religious, and cultural sites dating back more than 700 years. Explore the Royal Grounds, where ancient Hawaiian royalty established homes and ceremonial sites, or venture to the pu’uhonua, *a place of refuge enclosed by a 965-foot-long wall where defeated warriors and violators of the sacred law could escape persecution. Hiking the ancient two-mile 1871 Trail is a good way to see the sites around the park, including a *heiau , hōlua sled courses, and the Keanae'e cliffs. Be sure to tread lightly and avoid walking on the archaeological sites to protect them from deterioration.

7. Pololu Valley

You’ll find the lush Pololu Valley at the beginning of the Kohala Coast—the oldest stretch of land on the Big Island. To fully experience the beauty of the valley, park at the Pololu Lookout off Highway 270 and hike down to the serene Pololu Beach (less than one mile round trip). Go a little farther for an almost three-mile round-trip hike to floor of the Honokane Nui Valley, which offers even more spectacular views.

8. Pu‘ukoholā Heiau

The town of Kawaihae on the island’s northwestern shore is home to the** * Pu‘ukoholā Heiau National Historic Site, one of Hawaii’s most historic *heiaus. Around 1790, Hawaiian King Kamehameha I ordered the construction of this heiau in honor of the war god Ku, attempting to end the civil war raging around the islands at the time. Besides it’s history, the site is popular for the regular shark, whale, and dolphin sightings just offshore. Sharks can be seen year round (usually in the mornings), while whales make their appearance during the winter months.

Maui

Haleakalā National Park is a popular spot to catch an island sunrise.
Haleakalā National Park is a popular spot to catch an island sunrise. Sean Munson

9. Haleakalā National Park

One of two national parks on the Hawaiian Islands, Haleakalā is most known for its namesake volcano and the opportunity to hike or bike to the summit (especially for sunrise). What many visitors to the park may not realize is that Haleakala’s summit is a wahi pana, or legendary place, shrouded in stories about the demi-god Maui. According to legend, Maui stood atop the Haleakalā summit and snared the sun to hold it in the sky a bit longer, allowing his mother to dry her kapa (bark cloth) in its warmth.

10. Pu‘u Ka‘uiki in Hana

While visiting the remote town of Hana on Maui’s eastern edge, it’s worth noting the cultural significance of Pu‘u Ka‘uiki, the hill on the southeast side of Hana Bay. Hawaiian legend tells that in this spot, Maui raised up the sky above the hill in order to get a drink of water from a woman. Various other legends involving Maui and ancient Hawaiian demi-gods surround this hill, which you can easily explore from the Hana Beach Park.

11. Wailuku Town

The historical legacy of Wailuku Town on Maui’s north shore makes it worth a stop (and the views of the surrounding hills are an added bonus). Birthplace to Maui’s booming sugarcane industry, the town expanded rapidly for nearly a century to accommodate the influx of workers moving to the island. The old town vibes can be felt around Wailuku in the plantation-style homes and art deco buildings that line the main street.

12. Maui Arts & Cultural Center

In the heart of Kahului, the Maui Arts & Cultural Center offers a premiere venue for concerts, opera, film screenings, dance performances, and everything in between. They also host a small selection of rotating art exhibits (for free) that you could easily check out during show intermissions.

Kauai

The view along the Maha'ulepu Heritage Trail in Poipu.
The view along the Maha'ulepu Heritage Trail in Poipu. Robert Linsdell

13. Hanalei

Nestled between lush green mountains on one side and a two-mile stretch of sandy beach on the other, the town of Hanalei is both a scenic and historic stop in Kauai. Ancient Hawaiians primarily grew taro, a starchy root vegetable, in the marshes of Hanalei Bay until the 1860s. Today, the Ho‘opulapula Haraguchi Rice Mill offers visitors a glimpse into this working taro farm and Hawaii’s last remaining rice mill. Additionally, the royal yacht of Hawaiian King Kamehameha II, Pride of Hawaii, sank off the shore of Hanalei Bay in 1824, and though large sections of the ship washed up on shore a few decades later, the majority of the shipwreck still remains underwater.

14. Kauai Museum

Located in the historic Albert Spencer Wilcox Memorial Building in downtown Lihue, walk through the history of the island with photographs, writing, movies, and artifacts of all kinds in the Kauai Museum. The museum’s mission is to work in collaboration with the indigenous and immigrant people of Kauai and Ni’ihau to create exhibits that maintain their cultural heritage.

15. Nu'alolo Kai

Along the rugged Napali coast on the north shore of Kauai, there’s a remote, 800-year-old fishing village called Nu'alolo Kai. The cultural and archaeological sites at Nu'alolo Kai are some of the most extensive and well-preserved in all of Hawaii, with more still being uncovered to this day. This secluded strip of coastline is accessible only by boat, with a small selection of commercial outfitters holding legal permits to bring visitors. Along with the archaeological sites in the village, the coastline offers impressive snorkeling opportunities and sightings of Hawaiian monk seals.

16. Koloa Heritage Trail

Situated in the south shore of Kauai, the Koloa Heritage Trail is a 10-mile self-guided walking tour with 14 stops of cultural, historical, and geological significance. The trail takes you through the towns of Koloa and Poipu, with glimpses into the island’s sugar growing past, the famous Spouting Horn geyser, and the history of the area’s beaches, bays, and gardens.

Originally written by RootsRated for OluKai.