Rich in stream-fed agricultural land, fishing grounds and protected canoe landings, Kailua was an ancient economic center that supported at least three temples. Ulupo – once bordered by 400 acres of cultivated fishponds and taro fields, which are now encompassed by Kawai Nui Marsh – is the only heiau (ancient stone temple) left to visit. It measures 140ft by 180ft, with walls up to 30ft high.
Construction of this imposing platform temple was traditionally attributed to menehune, the ʻlittle people’ who legend says created much of Hawaii’s impressive stonework, finishing each project in one night. It’s thought the temple’s final use may have been as a luakini, a place for human sacrifice dedicated to the war god Ku. Good interpretive panels provide an artist’s rendition of the site as it probably looked in the 18th century. The tiny, tree-shaded parking area feels suitably hidden and melancholy. The heiau is a mile southwest of downtown Kailua, tucked away behind the YMCA at 1200 Kailua Rd. Use the access road off the main highway.