Some of the most historically significant sites in all of Hawaiʻi can be found on the island of Hawaiʻi. From the birthplace of King Kamehameha and the cradle of paniolo (Hawaiian cowboy) culture to restored heiau and the site of Captain Cook’s death, the island offers visitors the unparalleled experience of walking in the shadows of Hawaiian history.
These three sites take visitors back to the days of ancient Hawaiʻi – fishponds and fishing grounds, petroglyphs, heiau (temples) and a place of refuge for law breakers and defeated warriors.
The Kona Coast is where Captain James Cook first set foot on the island of Hawaiʻi in 1779. The archipelago, with a population of approximately 300,000, is given the moniker the “Sandwich Islands” after the Earl of Sandwich. A year later, Cook is killed at Kealakekua Bay following an attempt to kidnap the island’s king, Kalaniōpuʻu.
A young warrior chief named Kamehameha launched his efforts to unite the Hawaiian Islands from the island of Hawaiʻi. He built Puʻukoholā Heiau in Kohala as a tribute to the war god Kūkāʻilimoku, to fulfill a prophecy and gain divine aid in his efforts. This was the last major heiau (temple) built by early Hawaiians. Soon after completion, Kamehameha succeeded in unifying the Hawaiian Kingdom.
Located on royal land across Aliʻi Drive from the ocean, Mokuʻaikaua Church is the first congregation established by Christian missionaries when they arrived in Hawaiʻi in 1820.
Located in historic Downtown Hilo, the Lyman Mission House was built in 1839 – the oldest wood frame building on the island of Hawaiʻi showcasing the lifestyles of early Christian missionaries. Next door, the Lyman Museum houses exhibits on natural and cultural history.
With its two sites, the Greenwell Store Museum and the Kona Coffee Living History Farm, the Kona Historical Society offers a window into the earliest days of the Kona coffee industry and the lifestyle of early coffee farmers.
History is written every day at Hawaiʻi Volcanoes National Park, even after the longest continuous eruption of Kīlauea in recorded history ended in 2018. Learn more about the geological and spiritual forces that continue to shape the island of Hawaiʻi at the chosen home of Pele, the volcano goddess.
In 1778, Captain Cook arrived on Kauaʻi, opening the door to an influx of westerners. Only a year later, warriors at Kealakekua Bay killed Cook after a contentious chain of events. During this time of discovery, the island of Hawaiʻi was divided into separate chiefdoms and war between factions was common. From 1790–1791, Kamehameha built the Puʻukoholā Heiau National Historic Site in North Kohala as a tribute to the war god Kūkāʻilimoku, to help in his efforts to unite the Hawaiian Islands. This was the last major religious heiau (religious temple) built by early Hawaiians and the largest restored heiau in Hawaiʻi. Soon after completion, the Kohala-born Kamehameha conquered the island of Hawaiʻi and went on to unify the Hawaiian Kingdom.
Hawaiʻi Island was also the home to King Kamehameha’s court until it moved to Oʻahu in 1804. In 1812, Kamehameha the Great returned to his beloved island of Hawaiʻi, where he died in 1819. In 1820, the first missionaries arrived in Kailua-Kona. Other westerners followed, introducing cattle to the island. Sugar plantations also bloomed on the Hilo side in the 20th century.
Today, the island of Hawaiʻi remains a vital touchstone for Hawaiian culture. Throughout its modernization, one ancient Hawaiian god is believed to be alive and well here. Pele, the volcano goddess, has settled in Kīlauea Volcano at Hawaiʻi Volcanoes National Park after moving south along the island chain. She continues to display her power today, keeping Kīlauea in a constant state of eruption since 1983.
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