NORTH KOHALA has been a source of many powerful chiefs and rulers, among them Kamehameha the Great, arguably Hawaii Island’s most significant and pivotal historic figure. KAMEHAMEHA I is best known for consolidating the Hawaiian Islands kingdoms into the nation of Hawaii. Kamehameha was born near MOOKINI HEIAU, located off Highway 270 just north of Lapakahi State Historical Park. MOOKINI HEIAU was a luakini heiau (sacrificial temple) and today is still under the care of MOOKINI descendants.
Post contact and business and missionary influences set the stage for the area’s next significant demographic activity: sugar. During the 19th and most of the 20th centuries, sugar was king in NORTH KOHALA, and the towns of HAWI and KAPAAU thrived as lively sugar plantation towns populated with immigrants from the Pacific Rim countries. As the sugar industry waned, and the visitor industry along the SOUTH KOHALA Coast grew in the past few decades NORTH KOHALA evolved into a bedroom community for resort workers who sought a friendly rural atmosphere in contrast to their upscale fast-paced work environment. The island pace and lifestyle also attracted artists. The towns of HAWI and KAPAAU are home to an energetic arts and crafts community.
One of the best ways for a visitor to taste the flavor of NORTH KOHALA is to “talk story” with the kupuna (elders) who frequent the Senior Center at the KING KAMEHAMEHA STATUE in KAPAAU. The center’s verandah is perfect for a casual conversation with the seniors who are a treasure house of real life experience stories about days gone by.
Just above KAWAIHAE HARBOR, the PU’UKOHOLA HEIAU looms as a reminder of KAMEHAMEHA THE GREAT’s power just before his invasions of the other Hawaiian Islands. Built in 1791 to honor war god, KUKAILIMOKU, PUUKOHOLA rises like a great stone mountain and is the site of the sacrifice of KAMEHAMEHA’s last great rival KEOUA. It is also the last major HEIAU built in Hawaii.
Ancient Hawaiians traveled to the SOUTH KOHALA shoreline to reap the ocean’s abundant coastal resources. During ancient times overland travel was arduous, and because water resources were nearly non-existent, the SOUTH KOHALA district was negligibly populated. But with the development of water resources and land-access during the 1960s, jewel-like resort oases have been created to accommodate growing numbers of visitors. The resorts, however, have preserved and paid homage to archaeological reminders of ancient Hawaiian activities along the coast. Among them are PETROGLYPH FIELDS and fishponds.