Mo'okini HeiauMo’okini Heiau

Kohala Historical Sites State Monument

Kamehameha Akahi ʻĀina Hānau

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: 3.5 miles

Elevation Gain: 210'

Gear: Standard hiking gear

Weather: NOAA forecast for Mo'okini Heiau

Learn about Hazards

Read my Disclaimer

Learn about Leave No Trace Principles

Map: Topographical Map for Mo'okini Heiau

Overview: On the windy northern Kohala coast is Mo’okini Heiau, one of the most amazing archaeological sites on all of the Hawaiian islands. Mo'okini Heiau is a part of Kohala Historical Sites State Monument. It means "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.

Also inside Kohala Historical Sites State Monument is Kamehameha Akahi ʻĀina Hānau, the birthplace of the great King Kamehameha. A specific stone marks his birthplace, supposedly in 1758 as Halley's Comet passed overhead.

Kohala Historical Sites State Monument is open every day except Wednesday, from 9:00am to 8:00pm. There is no admission fee. There are no services. Camping is prohibited.

Getting to the Trailhead: Near the small town of Hawi on Hwy. 270, turn north on a small road by the 20 mile marker that indicates “Upolu Airport.” This small airport is near the trailhead. Turn onto this road and follow it toward the airport. The one-lane road is in poor condition. Slow down and take care passing oncoming traffic. Park in an open area across the road from the airport on the east side of the road. It is possible to drive closer with 4WD, but the road is very rough.

The Hike: Hike to the west along the dirt road that is parallel to the airport. Stay on the road as it quickly turns north and reaches the coast. The coast here is rough and rocky without any beach. In the winter months, this area can be a great vantage to view Humpback whales. Hike along the road until you spot a  sign for Mo’okini Heiau. Walk up to the ancient site via an eroding trail. Hike around the site, but do not climb on or otherwise disturb any of the rocks. Do not enter the heiau.

Kamehameha Akahi ʻĀina Hānau: If you continue down the road past Mo’okini Heiau for less than 1/2 mile, 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.