Part of the Big Island’s appeal is its wealth of monuments to Hawai’ian history. Lapakahi State Historical Park, north of Kawaihae on Highway 270 on the Kohala Coast, provides an archaeologist’s glimpse of Hawai’ian village life. The park has preserved the remnants of an ancient Hawai’ian fishing village, Koai’e, and is located along the shoreline of the Lapakahi Marinr Life Conservation District.
When you walk the self-guided tour, you can look at the ocean and the palm trees blowing (this area is quite windy), then at the dry ground full of scrubby grass. You can wonder, “How did anyone live here?” As you walk the one-mile 45-minute self-guided tour (tip: wear 45 SPF sunscreen, as Hawai’i sun, especially on the dry Kona side, is strong, and go in the early morning or late in the day), and look at the wood-and-stone fishing structures, you’ll appreciate the ingenuity of the people who called this village home. The ocean can be rough (modern kayakers have needed rescue).
The area around Kawaihae is the driest part of the state of Hawai’i. Kohala Mountain, which the Kohala Coast is named for, shields the Kohala Coast from the rain abundant on the Hilo side of the island. Ancient Hawai’ians made it drier by burning the dryland to plant crops such as taro root (the main ingredient in that staple lu’au dish, poi).
Reconstructed homes built of pili grass supported by lava stone walls and outlets where villagers once launched canoes, as well as a canoe halau (long house) remind you that people lived here. Shrine stones to the fishing god Ku’ula still stand (fishermen traditionally deposited a portion of their catch at the shrine as offerings in exchange for the gods’ blessings). A renovated structure covered with greenery shows how homes were built, with poles supporting the roof. Artifacts are scattered throughout the park, such as hollowed-out logs that served as cooking vessels and hollowed-out rocks used to collect sea salt, which preserved and flavored the food.
Through displays and interactive exhibits, you can learn about Hawai’ian games as well as farming and fishing techniques
A sign gently reminds you to take care: “Aloha. You are entering a village over 600 years old. It was built well but has become less safe with time. Feel free to explore but please do not sit or climb on walls. Mahalo.” (Mahalo means “thank you” in the Hawai’ian language.)
Another sign that reads “Pohinahina” points out one of the native plants of Hawai’i, a shrublike groundcover.
If you’re in the mood to snorkel, nearby Mahukona Beach Park offers snorkeling and swimming. You can also snorkel at Koai’e Cove in the Lapakahi park, but Andrew Doughty notes in Hawaii: The Big Island Revealed that the staff seems to resent snorkelers there. Since this is a conservation area, certain activities are limited; swimming is prohibited in certain areas, and in addition, part of the site is considered sacred. Do not remove fish or marine life from the area, and do not feed the fish.
The park is open from 8 a.m.-4 p.m., except state holidays. Admission is free and reservations are required for guided tours (although self-guided discovery is half the fun). Call 808-882-6207 for park information or visit http://www.hawaiimuseums.org/MCflash/Fhawaii_lapakahai.htm.