I love learning about history while we’re adventuring and over the years, the kids have developed the same love, looking forward to the glimpses we get of the past. When researching things to do on the Island of Hawaii, I discovered that we could visit historical sites, tour historical state parks, and even see ancient petroglyphs.
There are three ancient petroglyph fields on the Island of Hawaii:
- The Waikoloa Petroglyph Preserve at the Hilton Wailkoloa Village
- The Puakō Petroglyph Archaeological District near the Holoholokai Beach Park
- Pu’u Loa Petroglyphs At Hawaii Volcanoes National Park
The Waikoloa Petroglyph Preserve and the Puakō Petroglyph Archaeological District are both inland off the Kohala Coast and very close to each other, so we decided to visit both on the same day, before hitting Hapuna Beach and Waialea Bay and Beach 69.
We first hiked through the lava fields at the Waikoloa Petroglyph Preserve then headed over to the Holoholokai Beach Park and the Puakō Petroglyph Archaeological District with more than 3,000 ancient lava rock carvings.
Hiking The Malama Trail
We followed the 1.4 mile out-and-back (lollipop) Malama Trail through the Puakō Petroglyph Archaeological District to a fenced petroglyph viewing area.
At the start of the Malama Trail, there are a collection of petroglyphs carved into rocks arranged in a semi-circle. Don’t be fooled! This is not the destination! These are fake replica petroglyphs that you can touch and do rubbings of.
To see the real ancient Hawaiian Puakō petroghyphs, you need to follow the trail.
The Malama Trail starts off as a well-maintained gravel path through a gnarly Kiawe forest. but soon turns into a dirt path that winds through a field of lava in almost full sun. It was very hot and even though the hike is short, we seriously regretted not bringing along water.
To the right of the trail, we passed a small cave surrounded by petroglyphs that you can crawl into it if you want. We were too hot and just admired the carvings. While we did find petroglyph carvings throughout the length of the trail, the main viewing area is at the end of the trail. It is a fenced area with about 1,500 petroglyphs that you can walk all the way around.
If you’re going to do the Malama Trail to Puakō Petroglyph Archaeological District hike, plan for it to take about 30-40 minutes and remember to stay on the trail. Please don’t walk on or over, or make rubbings of any of the ancient petroglyphs. The fence is there for a reason. The carvings have a spiritual and cultural significance in Hawaiian culture, it’s disrespectful, and they could be damaged.
Also remember that it is best to view the petroglyphs when the sun is low in the sky. If the sun is too high, they will be harder to see.
The Puakō Petroglyph Archaeological District
The Puakō Petroglyphs, believed to be around 1,000 years old, are one of the largest concentrations of petroglyphs in Hawaii. They were discovered during the development of the Fairmont Orchid Hotel and preserved through the creation of the Puakō Petroglyph Archaeological District, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
The 233 acre Puakō Petroglyph Archaeological District includes more than 3,000 designs that have been identified, including marchers, dancers, paddlers, canoes, sails, family groups, human forms, deity symbols, tools, birds, fish, turtles, dogs, and chickens. Although the true meaning of these Malama Petroglyphs are unknown, many believe the ancient carvings were records of births and significant events.
Ancient Hawaiians called their rock carvings k’i’i pohaku (images in stone). A large group of about 1,200 visible petroglyphs can be seen by hiking the Malama Trail to a fenced viewing area.
Know Before You Go
- The Puakō Petroglyph Archaeological District and Malama Trail are located on the grounds of the Fairmont Orchid Hotel on Holoholokai Beach Park Road, Waimea, Hawaii 96743.
- To reach the petroglyph preserve, turn off Highway 19 on Mauna Lani Drive (between mile markers 73 and 74), turn right on N Kaniku Drive (first turn on the roundabout), turn right on Holoholokai Beach Park Road, and look for the Holoholokai Beach Park and Puakō Petroglyph parking lot. There is good signage, so it should be pretty easy to find.
- There are restrooms and showers in the parking area, as well as a shaded picnic area.
- Don’t be fooled like most people! The obvious, near-perfect petroglyphs near the parking area are fakes/replicas and meant for those who want to make rubbings etc. The real ancient petroglyphs are down the Malama Trail.
- The Malama Trail is a 1.4 mile out-and-back trail, traveling roughly 0.7 miles to the petroglyph viewing area and 0.7 miles back.
- The Fairmont Orchid offers guided tours of the lava field that points out noteworthy carvings and shares fun facts about the petroglyphs.