Tour the Royal Grounds

The royal grounds area was the home of the royal chiefs (ali'i) of the Kona district of the island of Hawaii. The royal grounds were for the use of the ali'i alone. It was a violation of the sacred law, or kapu, for a commoner to cast a shadow into the royal grounds, let alone enter the area. This offense would be punished by death, unless the offender could reach the place of refuge, the pu'uhonua.


Stop #1 – Visitor Center

Begin your tour of the royal grounds at the visitors' center. Here you can find valuable information about the park. See a display mural of ancient Hawaiian history, or get a schedule of interpretive walks. Every year, on the weekend nearest to July 1st, the park hosts a cultural festival to celebrate the traditional Hawaiian ways of life. Follow the path past the mural and enter the royal grounds of the ruling chiefs, the ali'i, of the Kona district.


Stop #2 – View of the Royal Grounds

Entering the royal grounds from the visitor center, see the amphitheater on the north side, and the lush and beautiful royal grounds all around you. This place was the home of the royal chiefs, the ali'i, of the Kona district. The royal grounds were within the ahupua'a of Honaunau. This was a political division of land that descended down the slope of Mauna Loa to the sea. The purpose for dividing land in such long districts was to provide residents with areas for farming, collecting drinking water and fishing.

Rendezvous Point – Ahupua’a

The Hawaiian system of land division was one that was good for the land as well as the people who depended on it. These land divisions, called ahupua'a, were long and narrow, extending from the slope of Mauna Loa all the way to the ocean. This was a wise system, because the people living in each ahupua'a had access to all of the natural resources they could need. They used wood from trees such as mahogany that grew in forests on the slope of the volcano, and caught fish such as kole in the ocean.

This system was good for the land, because it encouraged people to spread out. Only small groups of people were harvesting each resource, so it was a sustainable system. People became specialized in the resource they were connected with, and cared for it.


Stop #3 – The Royal Residence

There was no one single structure or complex that could be identified as a royal palace of the ali'i. The residence consisted of several thatched buildings within the coconut palm grove. The ali'i had many servants and attendants who would hurry from hut to hut performing daily chores, perhaps waiting on the chief or preparing fish for dinner. The structure below was probably used for recreational activities. The housesite of Chief Keawe has been identified inside the park, and can be seen along the end of the 1871 Trail. There were separate structures for sleeping, parties, meetings, and other activities.

Thatched Structures

Pili grass and palm fronds were used to thatch the roofs of these structures. The materials were dried and then tied together and attached to the wooden frame of the roof. In the corner of this reconstructed hut, some palm fronds are hung to dry before they are made into baskets or used to tie the wooden frame together.

Baskets like these could hang from the frame of a structure or be carried around the royal gounds. They could be used to transport food and other materials, or to store such things. These baskets were woven from coconut palm fronds like those hanging from the ceiling.


Stop #4 – Temple Model

This is a half-sized reconstruction of the Hale o Keawe temple. The framework is made from 'ohi'a wood tied with coconut fiber. The thatched roof was done with dried ti leaves.

Temple Frame

The temple is constructed with 'ohi'a wood. Larger pieces are used for the interior frame and structural support. These can be seen at the corners of the building and at strategic places inside to support the frame. A network of smaller 'ohi'a poles are tied together and attached to the main frame. The ti leaves are tied to this lattice to provide a roof for the structure.

Ti Leaves

The leaves of the ti plant were cut, dried, and tied together to make the roof of the temple in the royal grounds.

Looking inside the temple model, you can see how intricately and carefully each bundle of ti leaves was tied together to make the roof. This may have been a long, painstaking process, but very important because of the significance of the temple.

Inside the Temple Model

Inside the temple model, there is shade from the hot tropical sun. The temple is built on a platform of heavy lava rocks. Inside the floor is covered with coral and lighter colored rocks. For a temple in use, there would also be an altar and several carved images (ki'i) to guard it.


Stop #5 – Konane

Konane, also called Hawaiian checkers, was a favorite game of the ancient Hawaiians. They had many games for liesure time, and these demanded sharp verbal and mental skills. Many, like konane, were games of strategy. Ali'i played konane both for recreaion and for serious business. A chief could play an enemy chief a game of konane to decide the outcome of a war.


Konane was played on a gamestone called papamu that was made by carving small shallow holes in the top of a flat lava rock. A small papamu could have around 64 holes and a larger one could have over 200 holes.

One player used black lava rocks as his game pieces and the other would use white coral or shells. Players had equal numbers of pieces. The object of the game was to be the last player to make a move. Moves were made by jumping the oponent's pieces and removing them from play.


Stop #6 – Kanoa

Kanoa bowls were carved into the lava long ago by ancient Hawaiians living the the ahupua'a of Honaunau. These bowls were made possibly to hold dye made from plants, to evaporate ocean water and collect salt, or to pound the 'awa root to make a ceremonial drink.


Stop #7 – Tree Mold

A lava flow from the volcano Mauna Loa descended the mountain more than 1,000 years ago, enveloping and devouring everything in its path. It knocked down a tree that was growing here, and the tree left its print on the hardening lava.

Tree Molds

These tree molds were created when lava solidified around trees that it knocked down in its path to the ocean. The hot, liquid lava cooled and solidified aroud the trees. Trapped in the lava, the trees died and decomposed over many years. Now, over a thousand years later, the trees are long gone, but their imprints remain in the lava.


Stop #8 – Keone'ele Cove

This beautiful cove was the royal canoe landing, for use only by the ali'i. The area was forbidden to all commoners, and anyone entering it would be violating sacred law (kapu) and could be killed on the spot. There is a wooden marker in the cove warning people of the kapu. Wooden images (ki'i) also stand watch over the cove. Today Keone'ele Cove is an excellent place for snorkeling. Sea turtles come to swim in the clear water and sun themselves on the beach.

Wooden Marker

Keone'ele Cove. Ali'i would launch and land their canoes from here. The area was forbidden to commoners, and entering would mean breaking kapu. A wooden marker was placed in the cove to warn people of the kapu.

Sea Turtles

It is very important that park visitors do not chase or touch these animals. Sea turtles are a magnificent species that needs our help to survive on the Kona coast. Visitors can help by enjoying the turtles from a safe distance and taking pictures without approaching the animals.


Stop #9 – The Great Wall

This wall separates the royal grounds from the pu'uhonua. It was constructed without any mortar or cement. Large blocks of lava were stacked to make the wall, and it is held together by the friction between the stones. This wall is 17 feet thick and 10 feet high. An opening exists so visitors can walk through the wall between the royal gounds and the pu'uhonua. The Great Wall has stood here since the mid 1500s. Today, some parts of it are unstable and need to be managed by the park.

Passage through the Great Wall

At the opening of the Great Wall from the royal grounds and looking into the pu'uhonua, the wall is nearly 17 feet thick and 10 feet tall.

Historically, there was no gate in this wall to provide entrance into the pu'uhonua. Those seeking entrance to the place of refuge would often have to swim or run great distances and pass through numerous obstacles while being pursued before they reached the safety of the pu'uhonua.

Managing the Great Wall

Resource managers at the park receive help from volunteers in the Youth Conservation Corps to mark sections of the Great Wall that have become unstable over time. The resource magagers will have to devise and carry out a plan to maintain the structure so that is does not pose a hazard to visitors.


Stop #10 – Heleipala

These fishponds are filled naturally by a mixture of seawater and fresh spring water welling up from below the sand. When the royal grounds were inhabited, the ponds were stocked with fish to be eaten by the ali'i.


Stop #11 – Halau

The structures, called halau, shown here were working areas. In them, canoes, tools, weapons, and other necessary things were made. In Hawaiian culture, like many other cultures, there were specific families that specialized in certain trades. Canoe building was one such trade. A master canoe builder would spend most of his life learning his trade, building canoes, and teaching his son or another apprentice the trade.

Halau #1

This structure may have been used to build canoes and other tools for catching fish. Click on the image on the left to see inside. A traditional method of fishing called hukilau was used by ancient Hawaiins. Ti leaves were hung and dried, and then tied along a rope. This leafy rope, shown below, was strung across a bay and then pulled toward shore by several men. The leaves in the water scared the fish into shallow areas close to the shore where they could easily be caught. This method was eventually abandoned.

Halau #2

This halau was built with a wooden frame, and thatched with pili grasses. Inside, a man is demonstrating the master trade of Hawaiian canoe-building.




About the Park

Royal Grounds (Current location)


1871 Trail


Views of the National Park