Explore the Waikoloa & Puako Petroglyphs
Along the western side of the Big Island lies two of the most remarkable areas in Hawaii: the Puako and Waikoloa petroglyph fields. With thousands of examples of lava rock carvings created by ancient Hawaiians, it’s a historical playground that shines a distinct light on the early lives of Hawaiian settlers who first journeyed to the island chain more than 1500 years ago. For visitors interested in exploring the early origins of human settlement and how ancient Hawaiians utilized a well-established form of early art to communicate ideas, document their history, and tell stories. Called k’i’i pohaku in Hawaiian, or images in stone, these carvings are simple, but distinct and descriptive, with unknown or obscure meanings, leaving their importance open to interpretation.
There are two areas to see Hawaiian petroglyphs in person on the Big Island.
Puako Petroglyph Archaeological District
N Kaniku Dr
Waimea, HI 96743
The largest concentration of petroglyphs in the Pacific is found in the Puako Petroglyph Archaeological District, with over 3,000 carvings made thousands of years ago. Depicting Hawaiian sailing culture, traditional ceremonies, dance, animals, families, and symbols associated with ancient deities, visitors can experience the incredible carvings via the parking area near Mauna Lani resort or by the Puako beachfront (around utility pole 143). The Puako petroglyph field is a bit of a walk and takes you through a forest area with kiawe trees that have large thorns so hiking shoes are recommended.
Waikoloa Petroglyph Reserve
Waikoloa Village, HI 96738
A short walking trail near a residential community, the Waikoloa Village Petroglyph Reserve is one of the best-preserved sites to experience petroglyphs from ancient Hawaiian culture. Scattered throughout the area much like modern graffiti, the petroglyphs here depict both familiar images of humans, bird, and canoes and more cryptic graphics that include dots and lines. There’s also signs of more modern artwork showing European influence on the island, with horses and some English characters on a few of the lava rocks. You can visit the petroglyph area on your own or there is a free guided tour of the area that sets out from the nearby Kings Shops on Thursday and Friday mornings at 9:30.
A Hawaiian phrase meaning “take care of the land,” we must stress that these ancient petroglyph fields are among the only in the world and should be treated with respect so that all visitors can enjoy them long into the future. Stay on marked trails and be sure not to step on carvings. Making rubbings can severely damage the petroglyphs, so please do not touch them or make rubbings.
What to Know
Both of these historic areas require walking across uneven surfaces so be sure to wear good shoes. The tropical sun can be very harsh out on the open lava fields so be sure to wear sunscreen, a hat, and bring water.