Hawaii is the only U.S. state located outside of North America and the one that’s an island in the tropics. It has a unique living reef ecosystem often called the “rainforest of the sea.” Thanks to its isolation, the coral reefs in the region are home to over 1,250 unique species of marine life.
Visitors to the Big Island can explore five national parks, including one National Historic Trail and four official parks. The following list highlights all five parks in the order that they were established.
Hawaii Volcanoes National Park was established in 1916. This enormous wild space spans 505 square miles. It is nearly impossible to see it all in just a day or two.
This region is home to one of Hawaii’s most notable natural features: volcanoes. These include the world’s biggest volcano, Mauna Loa, which measures 13,677 feet. The second is Kilauea, which stands 4,091 feet.
It may be the smaller of the two, but Kilauea is no less notable. The volcano has been erupting continuously since 1983. Sometimes, its molten lava drifts its way into residential communities along the coast from the Puu Oo vent in the southeast. Kilauea’s plume of steam and ash is a sight to behold, along with the glow of lava from its summit crater Halemaumau.
Visitors who travel to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park will find rugged lava fields, ash-covered desert, alpine tundra, and lush rainforests.
Puuhonua o Honaunau National Historic Park was established in 1955. The name means “place of refuge at Honaunau.” It was once used as a refuge prior to the abolishment of the kapu system in 1819. The kapu system was an ancient Hawaiian code of conduct that dictated lifestyle, religion, politics, and gender roles.
The site spans 420 acres and contains a rich collection of archaeological finds as well as a palm grove. There are reminders of coastal settlements, places of worship, and canoe landings.
Puukohola Heiau National Historic Site was established in 1972. This park is home to one of the last major sacred structures on the island. It can be seen when looking uphill from Kawaihae Bay. Its construction was ordered by Kamehameha the Great, who believed a prophecy that said he would conquer all of the islands if he built a large heiau on Puukohola honoring Ku the war god
Over 1,000 laborers formed a 25-mile-long human chain across the Kohala mountain range to transport lava rocks by hand to the site. The project took just one year, resulting in the 224 foot by 100-foot temple with 16 to 20-foot tall walls.
Kaloko-Honokohau National Park was established in 1978. It covers 1,100 acres and is home to native wildlife like the Hawaiian stilt and honu or green sea turtles. The land-based part of the park is essential to preserving and restoring the coastal areas that contain ancient ahupuaa or sea-to-mountain land divisions. Hundreds of Hawaiians once used this area to fish and farm.
Ala Kahakai National Historic Trail was established in 2000, making it the youngest of the five Hawaii parks. Hikers can enjoy the sounds of the seashore while traversing 175-miles of coastline paths. These trails are well-worn and once served as roadways for early Hawaiians.
Ala Kahakai contains Ka Lae (South Point) and stretches to the east where it meets the border of Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.
Travelers and nature lovers will discover much to see and do in Hawaii’s national parks.