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Pu'uhonau o Honaunau Place of Refuge

The Big Island, Hawaii, United States


Pu'uhonau o Honaunau Place of Refuge is so beautiful it is almost like a movie set of the perfect little island paradise, with thatched huts similar to those found in Samoa. Big sea turtles sleep on the sand of a small crescent bay of calm pale-green water. At sunset it is magical, as silver light glimmers on the water. Surrounding the bay are large black lava rocks mixed together with big white chunks of coral- the blackest black and the whitest white.
It is peaceful to walk the meandering white-sand paths amongst the leaning palms. Scattered around the park are wood carvings of fierce gods. The bones of 23 Hawaiian chiefs were buried here, and this was a place of refuge. In ancient Hawaii the people were governed by a set of laws. Whatever was not allowed was "kapu" or forbidden, and usually the penalty was death. If a woman ate a banana in front of a man, the penalty was death. If you walked past the chief and your shadow fell on him or his food, the penalty was death. Anyone who broke the kapu could run to the place of refuge to find sanctuary, and his crime would be excused. But it wasn't easy to get inside the ten-foot-high walls. If he didn't make it in time and was caught he would be sacrificed by burning, stoning, drowning, clubbing, or strangulation. But if the kapu breaker made it inside he could save his life, and rest in this lovely bay shaded by coconut palms and blessed with a sheltered cove full of fish and a freshwater spring. Once the priest performed cleansing rituals, the kapu breaker could leave safely. Wow, that was close...
I found this site in Exploring Lost Hawaii, a great travel book that tells you all the interesting stories of Old Hawaii. 
A popular snorkeling spot called Two Steps is on the right side of the Place of Refuge. There are two or three steps that you use to get in to the water. Don't step on sea urchins! There are fish galore to see. Older kids might be able to snorkel here if you bring a float or noodle for them to hold onto, since you can't put your feet on the coral.
For an easier snorkel experience with kids, check out Kahalu'u Beach.

Photo Gallery

Peaceful lagoon.

Profile of a Hawaiian god woodcarving- yikes!

Woodcarving of a Hawaiian god.

Another Hawaiian god woodcarving.


This is an interactive map, you can zoom and move it.

From Kona, follow Hwy 11 south to Highway 160. Follow the signs to Pu'uhonua O Honaunau, Place of Refuge.
Cost is $15 per car. There is a visitor center and restrooms.
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