The oceanside tourist town of Kailua-Kona, located at the base of 8,271-foot Hualalai Volcano and known for its sport fishing, is also one of Hawaii’s most significant historic sites. It was here in 1812 that Kamehameha I established the capital of the Kingdom of Hawaii, after his 1785—1810 campaign to unite the islands. At Kamakahonu, a sacred spot at the tip of Kailua Bay, he restored the centuries-old temple Ahu’ena Heiau and dedicated it to Lono, the god of peace and prosperity. Today the compound, on the grounds of the King Kamehameha Kona Beaeh Hotel, measures just a third of its original size but still features an imposing ‘anu’u (oracle tower) clad in white tapa cloth and several ki’i akua, carved representations of temple gods.
The year after Kamehameha’s death in 1819, the compound witnessed a momentous event: The late king’s son Liholiho sat down to dine with his mother, Kamehameha’s principal queen, breaking not just the карu that forbade women and men to eat together, but the entire kapu system of restrictions that had governed religious and social life for centuries. Into the resulting spiritual void sailed Christian missionaries. Liholiho welcomed them and in the generous spirit that came to define Hawaiian culture, gave the strangers land next to his own sacred compound. There they built Hawaii’s first Christian church, Mokuaikaua Church, which today still stands about 100 yards from the Ahu’ena Heiau; its 112-foot steeple is the tallest man-made structure in Kailua-Kona.
Across the street from Mokuaikaua Church, Hulihe’e Palace, built in 1838 and used for years as a summer residence for royally, occupies a site overlooking the bay. Now run by the Daughters of Hawaii, the regal mansion offers a window on the lifestyle of Hawaii’s ruling classes.