I was so excited to drive across the Island of Hawai’i, visit Hilo, and explore the waterfalls and other attractions in the area, but not only was it gray, cloudy, and rainy, it was Sunday and most everything was closed! Also a couple of the restaurants and things to do in Hilo that I found online didn’t even exist anymore! ugh.
Luckily we did have an absolutely spectacular first half of the day, visiting Rainbow Falls, Pe’epe’e Falls, and the bubbling Boiling Pots in the Wailuku River State Park, checking out Wai’ale Falls, and exploring the lava tubes at Kaumana Caves State Park.
When planning the trip we considered staying a couple nights in Hilo, but after visiting the city, I am happy we kept Hilo as a day trip and stayed the first half of the trip at the Hilton Waikoloa Village and the second half of the trip at Volcano House in Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park.
While driving through Hilo, we saw a giant statue shining in a tiny sliver of sun and drove into a beautiful community park. The statue was of King Kamehameha The Great. Natalie and I hopped out, braving the wind and rain, to check it out and read the interpretive displays.
This is a popular stop for tour buses and guides explaining the history of King Kamehameha I. Just as we were finishing up, a tour bus pulled in the parking lot and hoards of people unloaded, which meant we were onto our next Hawaiian adventure ‘Akaka Falls State Park!
King Kamehameha I
Kamehameha The Great was born in the 1750s and after proving his strength and right to rule by lifting the Naha Stone at Pinao Heiau in Pi’ihonua, rose to become one of the most important figures in Hawaiian History. He lived during a period of great transition in Hawaiian society, having witnessed the arrival of the first Westerners when he was in his early twenties.
Kamehameha was a fierce warrior and able leader who conquered Maui in 1790 and Oahu in 1794, and successfully consolidated control over all the islands by 1810.
Kamehameha was a frequent visitor and resident of Hilo. From 1796-1801, he oversaw the construction of his great Peleleu Fleet from the shores of Hilo Bay. The fleet consisted of more than 1,000 canoes and included massive war canoes capable of carrying over 100 warriors each. Many of the great peleleu canoes were made from Koa Trees harvested from the forests of Mauna Kea. The fleet was provisioned from the rich natural resources of the Hilo area.
Kamehameha, who died in 1819, is remembered for the Mamalahoe Kanawai, the Law of the Splintered Paddle, which in times of battle, protects the human rights of non-combatants. The statue of King Kamehameha I in Hilo stands 14 feet tall
Upon his death, the body was hidden and the grave location is still unknown today. His statue in Hilo, cast in red bronze and gold leaf, is 14 feet tall and the most impressive of Hawaii’s King Kamehameha I statues.
Controversy Around The Statue
The King Kamehameha I statue, entitled The Conqueror, was sculpted by R. Sandrin at the Fracaro Foundry in Vicenza, Italy in 1963. Originally commissioned by the Princeville Corporation for their Kaua’i resort, the statue cost $125,000.
But the statue never stood in Kaua’i.
Residents rejected the statue, not wanting it erected on the island because Kamehameha never actually conquered Kaua’i — King Kaumualii, the king of Kaua’i, peacefully surrendered to Kamehameha to prevent invasions of his island.
The statue sat in storage until 1997, when the Princeville Corporation donated it to the Kamehameha Schools Alumni Association, Mamalahoe Chapter and to the people of Hawai’i. It was then installed in downtown Hilo, a political center for King Kamehameha The Great.
Know Before You Go
- The King Kamehameha I statue stands in the Wailoa River Recreation Area just east of Pauahi Street on Kamehameha Avenue, Hilo Hawaii 96720.
- This statue is one of several King Kamehameha I statues. The other statues are in Kohala also on the Island of Hawaii, in Honolulu on the Island of Oahu, in Wailea at the Grand Wailea on the Island of Maui, and in Statuary Hall in Washington, DC.
- The statue is 14 feet tall, making it the largest of all Kamehameha statues.
- In Hawaii, June 11 is a state holiday known as King Kamehameha Day. On this day, flower lei are draped over this statue and the other Kamehameha statues, and ceremonial parades and cultural observances are held.