Na ka pō I kūkulu a’e iā Mo’okini, a na Pa’ao na’e. (Night built the temple of Mo’okini , for Pa’ao).
Round Trip Mileage: 3.25 miles for two-wheel drive, can be less than 100 yards for 4WD
Elevation Gain: negligible
Gear: nothing other than standard hiking gear.
Map: Topographical Map for Mo'okini Heiau
Overview: On the lonely, seldom-visited, barren, and rocky northern Kohala coast is Mo’okini Heiau, one of the most amazing archaeological sites on all of the Hawaiian islands. It means literally "many lineages." In the 11th or 12th Century, legend says that a priest named Pa’ao came to the Big Island, probably from Tahiti. Pa’ao brought a new system of worship to the island as well as an established system of kapu (forbidden items) and human sacrifice. Pa’ao either built Mo’okini Heiau or expanded upon an already-existing site. Oral tradition says that tens of thousands of men passed stones hand-by-hand from the Pololū Valley, nearly 9 miles away. If a stone was dropped, it was left where it lay, and there is a trail of polished basalt rocks to and from the heiau to Pololū Valley. Although modern historians question whether or not Pa'ao was real, thousands of people were killed here ritually in furtherance of the kapu system of laws. Outside the main heiau, you’ll find a large boulder with worn-in indentations with another upturned stone nearby (see top photo). Upon this stone victims were ritually stripped of their flesh and their bones were removed and used to make fish hooks and other implements. This site is exceptionally eerie and quiet and will provide you with a deep appreciation for the violence that attended the ancient Kapu system of religion.
Getting to the Trailhead: Near the 20 mile marker on Highway 270 and nearby the small town of Hawī, look for a sign that indicates “Upolu Airport.” This small airport is the trailhead. Turn onto this road and follow it toward the airport. The road is in poor condition, and is only one lane for most of it. Slow down and take care passing oncoming traffic. Once you reach the airport (don’t enter it), turn left and take the dirt road as far as you feel comfortable driving. The road gets worse as you get closer to the heiau, but with 4WD, you’ll be able to drive right up to the gate. Respect private property and take care not to park in a place that would inconvenience residents.
The hike: If you park soon after passing the airport, hike along the road as it passes a couple of stately properties. Stay on the road as it quickly reaches the coast. The coast here is rough and rocky without any beach – swimming is inadvisable. Hike along the road until another short spur road indicates access to Mo’okini Heiau. Hike around the site, but do not climb on or otherwise disturb any of the rocks. Do not enter the heiau.
More: If you continue down the road past Mo’okini Heiau, you’ll find the supposed birthplace of Kamehameha the Great, Kamehameha Akahi ʻĀina Hānau. It isn’t nearly as impressive as Mo’okini Heiau, but worth a stop for those interested in the history of the island. A small marker and some signage marks the spot.