Moʻokini Heiau

North Kohala

It's off the beaten path, but this heiau (temple), near ʻUpolu Point at Hawaiʻi's northernmost tip, is among the oldest (c AD 480) and most historically significant Hawaiian sites. Measuring about 250ft by 125ft, with walls 6ft high, the massive stone ruins sit brooding on a wind-rustled grassy plain. The sheer isolation of this spot adds to its stark appeal. The hike out here is a lonely, sometimes eerie trek along gorgeous isolated coastline.

According to legend, the heiau was built in one night by up to 18,000 menehune (mythical little people) passing water-worn basalt stones in complete silence from Pololu Valley (14 miles away) under the supervision of Kuamoʻo Moʻokini. It was a 'closed' temple, reserved only for aliʻi nui (high chiefs).

Five hundred years later Paʻao, a priest from Samoa, raised the walls to 30ft and rebuilt the altar as his hoʻokupu (offering) to the gods. He initiated human sacrifice, making this the first luakini, or sacrificial, heiau. Outside the main heiau is a large boulder next to an upturned stone, where sacrificial victims were skinned, deboned and turned into fishing implements and other tools.

Moʻokini Heiau was designated as Hawaii's first registered National Historic Landmark by the National Park Service in 1963. In 1978 Leimomi Moʻokini Lum, the seventh high priestess of the Moʻokini bloodline to serve the temple, lifted the kapu (taboo) that restricted access to the site, opening it to visitors.

To get here, drive toward ʻUpolu Airport, past a cluster of wind farms, then turn south onto the gutted coastal road, which is impassable after rains. You'll either have to walk around 3.5 miles to get here, or use a 4WD. Along the way, you'll pass a plaque marking the site of Kamehameha's birth.

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