Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Places we love: Pu'uhonua O Honaunau and Two Step

The other morning my son’s preschool had their final class at Pu’uhonua o Honaunau in the water by Two Step.  Pu’uhonua o Honaunau, otherwise known as the City of Refuge, is a “must see” tourist destination in our neighborhood.  It is a historically important site, but also a stunningly beautiful national park.

The park is divided into three main areas.  First, there’s the main visitor area.  This is where the main historic sites and rangers are (if you happen to be there when ranger Charlie is, hit him up for historical info because he’s a fantastic local resource).  This is where the Wednesday evening talks take place, as well as the cultural festival in June.  If you continue down the dirt road at the back of the parking area you’ll arrive at the picnic area which runs along the rocky coast, an excellent place to explore tide pools and watch the sun set.  There’s a lovely short trail (the 1871 trail) that you can follow along the shore at the back of the picnic area.  It apparently stretches all the way to Hookena Beach, but only the part within the park is maintained.  The third spot to note is “Two Step” which is on the northern boundary of the park.  So, if you park in the parking lot and walk back out, follow the residential side street down to the water, you’ll get to one of the top two (the Captain Cook monument being the other) snorkeling spots on the Big Island.

The other day when I was there the preschoolers were playing in the shallow, sandy boat-launch area next to Two Step.  The sun was shining brightly and it was very hot, as it often is down there.  Although the park is only four miles south of the Inn, it is noticeably warmer and dryer.  This day, vog was visible up mauka skirting the hill tops, but the sky over the park was clear and blue.  I played in the water with the kids for a little while and cooled off, then was offered a massage by another mother.  We walked over to a shaded area under a large kukui nut tree where she’d set up her table.  As I lay there and relaxed and heard the kids’ laughter in the background and felt the ocean breeze on my bare back, I slipped into the beach-coma I often get at that park.

Pu’uhonua is certainly a special place.  It’s very peaceful, and I am seduced by its beauty each time I go.  The alii (Hawaiian royalty) definitely knew what they were doing in choosing such a fine spot to live.  If I were a visitor here, I would give this park at least one full afternoon.  If you plan on snorkeling at Two Step and exploring the park, you could easily give it more time.  Some visitors prefer Two Step to the Captain Cook monument for snorkeling.  For one, it’s easier to get to – you just drive up and jump in.  Second, because it’s immediately deep, it’s actually a little safer than a place like Manini (which is shallow and sometimes has a bit of a break) for the novice snorkeler.  It has all the same species of reef fish that you see throughout Kealakekua Bay (whether at the monument, Manini, or Keei beach), but arguably more varieties of coral.  There are more turtles in this area, and the local dolphins, eels, rays, young reef sharks, and occasionally an octopus or monk seal also sometimes make an appearance.

Besides getting in the water here, I am a fan of the 1871 trail.  I often used to take my dog along this trail, until he got too old and arthritic to handle the heat and the rocks.  The trail runs right along the shore, up along cliffs part of the way, and across lava.  It’s very quiet, and the views are spectacular.  The water is so consistently clear here that you can look down into it from the cliffs and see the coral.  The shades of water are unendingly varied and striking, and the view of the coastline is dramatic.  It takes only about twenty minutes each way to walk this short portion of the trail.  Footing is somewhat rough.  Walking is easy, running is more of a challenge. 

When I returned home the other day, I carried the warmth of the park with me throughout the rest of my work day.  You have to be careful down there at that beautiful park; you will soak up so much sun and warmth and peace that it may be hard to want to do anything else the rest of the day but lie around the lanai gazing at the ocean and slowly sipping a cool drink…

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