Walking the 1871 Trail

A few hours free in Kealakekua… What to do. Drive down the Puʻuhonua O Hōnaunau National Historic Park? Why not? Have camera will travel.

My goal was not to visit the sanctuary itself, I have been here several times. Instead, my plan was to walk the 1871 trail south along the shore, something I had never had a chance to do. I did start at the sanctuary, passing through and shooting a few photos of Kiʻ i before heading south.

1871 Trail
The 1871 Trail proceeds south from Puʻuhonua O Hōnaunau
This historic trail proceeds south from the visitor center, cutting across the point and then along the shoreline. The trail connected villages and religious centers along the coast. North of the park the trail has become the modern route 160, crossing over the coastal plain to Kealakekua Bay. In satellite shots you can follow the trail along long sections of the Kona Coast. Along the Kohala Coast the King’s Trail was built in a similar fashion and serves the same purpose.

The trail is what was called a two-horse trail, wide enough for two horses to pass with room to spare, about eight feet wide. A curb of stone runs along both sides, while the roadbed between is cleared of rock and sometimes filled with sand or gravel to level the worst pits. In places the trial is built up to cross low areas with substantial stonework. The result reminded me in many ways of Roman roads in Europe, built to a similar pattern and cutting straight across the landscape.

On both side of the trail there are numerous remains of the ancient settlements. Stone walls and raised platforms reveal what was once a thriving settlement along the shoreline. There is the foundation of John Ahu’s house, complete with a cistern and an old grave. The remains of the ʻŌmaʻo Heiau, a hōlua slide and more are alongside the trail as you proceed. Ask at the visitor center desk for a guide to the various points of interest along the trail.

Kiʻilae Bay
A cove of blue water beneath the sea cliffs of Kiʻilae Bay
About a quarter mile south of the visitor center the trail reaches the shoreline and runs along the top of the sea cliffs. The view is stunningly beautiful… small coves of crystal blue water lie at the bottom of the rugged cliffs. The coral reef is clearly visible, even from fifty feet above you can make out fish feeding amongst the coral heads. Here and there the bright yellow of small schools of tangs add color to the blues and greens. Next time here I need to remember to bring some snorkeling gear.

About halfway the trail is built against a small sea cliff. A large stone ramp was constructed to allow travelers to ascend the cliff. The amount of stonework serves to highlight how much work went into building this coastal access trail.

The south boundary of the park is a mere 0.8 mile along the trail, an easy stroll. Perhaps add a couple points of difficulty for the rough, rocky nature of the trail. It takes about half an hour to reach the abandoned fishing village. From there the trail continues south, out of the park. It becomes substantially overgrown, the path reduced to a cut through the brush with the occasional branch to push aside. I proceeded a bit further, but became rather annoyed with the amount of spider web I was accumulating.

As I sit amongst the abandoned stone walls of Kiʻilae Village it is interesting to imagine what the scene would have looked like a well over century ago in the 1870’s. A thriving settlement with travelers coming and going along the trail. Fishermen carrying their catch home, village women doing the chores and shopping, the tasks of life that never really change. Perhaps a royal procession going north to the temples at Puʻuhonua O Hōnaunau. The period was an interesting one, when western ways were mixing with the ancient patterns of life in the islands.

If you have some time while visiting Puʻuhonua O Hōnaunau, take an hour and walk the old trail. The scenery alone makes it worthwhile, with a bit of history thrown in.

Author: Andrew

An electrical engineer, amateur astronomer, and diver, living and working on the island of Hawaiʻi.

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