It’s always at least a little breezy at Lapakahi State Historical Park, and the day I was there, it was so windy that my younger daughter almost got blown off her feet. This is on the dry, leeward side of Hawaii’s Big Island, up north past all the luxury hotels that line South Kohala Coast.
The strong wind was clearly a deterrent for many travelers to this part of the Big Island; besides my family, I saw only five other people while there (and two were scurrying back to their car, hands firmly holding their sun hats to their heads).
I lost the rest of my family quickly. First one daughter, then the other, hustled back to our rental car to get out of the wind. My spouse lasted perhaps five minutes, then he, too, retired to the safety of the car.
Left with only the sound of wind whipping past boulders and gnarled, weather-toughened trees, I felt excited and a bit intrepid — it’s not the first time my family left me alone to wander during a trip. Here, at Lapakahi State Historical Park, it felt appropriate to be alone. This is an isolated, lonely place to be.
The state park protects an ancient fishing village, estimated to be 800 years old. Lapakahi was once thriving in its own hardscrabble way, with fishermen and farmers alike working hard to provide for their ohana.
Now, south of this tip of The Big (Hawaii) Island is lovely, and seasonally packed to the gills with holiday travelers. Most of them, with leisure on their minds, never make the 30-45 minute drive up from South Kohala or Kona.
But Hawaiian history and culture is evidenced all around this wide open space. It’s a wonderful experience to be able to walk slowly through these structures and be reminded that Hawaii was once home to many, much more intrepid people than I, before it became one of the most sought-after US tourist destinations.
There’s a one-mile footpath, a loop that requires a little dexterity and mild physical exertion on less windy days. Today, the wind whips tropical palm fronds (and my hair!) with impunity.
I hold onto a boulder now and then to ensure I remain upright. First, a hale, or house site, next to a rock-filled platform that was once used for multiple burials.
Next, a rock shelter, used by the earliest settlers here while constructing their traditional thatched roof hales. Painted stones act as markers, but it’s impossible to get lost on the rock-lined path.
With no one else in sight, the open ocean in front of me and the small parking lot hidden behind, standing at this spot feels like I’ve reached the end of the Earth.
The sloping footpath leads me down to Koai’e Cove, and around several partially standing structures. One is a canoe halau; only the boulders remain of what was once a thatched structure to house a canoe.
Fishing nets would be cast from canoes to catch opah, mahi mahi, and other local fish. There is a complex of hale ruins north of the cove here, and a small garden is still tended to today.
Yes, that’s the taro plant, used for poi. Fish from the sea, and poi from the ground made up most of the diet of the villagers long ago.
It can take as little as half an hour for photo-opportunity oriented tourists to walk the footpath, take a few shots of the vista, and prepare to return to their hotels.
Should you come here, there will be probably only a few other people present, if any, so consider slowing down to explore the site. Take an hour to experience the ancient village.
Near the canoe halau, find the ko’a, a small fishing shrine. Down by Koai’e Cove, the ocean waves crash relentlessly against the untenable shoreline, just as they did 800 years ago.
A lot can happen in 800 years; the stone structures have to be maintained by the Department of Land & Natural Resources here, but their touch is light. The village ruins look lost in time, as does this stretch of shoreline and lava rock-strewn ground.
A weathered, long-fallen tree silhouettes against the bright blue sky. Perhaps eight centuries ago, that old fallen tree was young, and grew facing the surf.
Maybe children climbed it, or collected its leaves and branches for fire. You can almost see those children, and hear their laughter in the wind.
Sitting on a rock along the path, feeling the sun on your face and looking out at the open water, it’s easy to feel the timelessness of this part of the Big Island.
Finally picking my way back to the small visitors’ parking lot, I soon found myself enclosed in our little rental car. The girls were laughing and boisterous in the back seat, the radio was tuned to pop music, and my spouse greeted me loudly while crinkling a map open.
Reentering my raucous family space meant reentering my own time and space. A piece of me, however, is left forever at the Lapakahi State Historical Park, quietly wandering the windy grounds.
If you want to take a break from drinking poolside mai tais on the Big Island, consider taking an hour or two to explore this special place. And if you have long hair, don’t forget to take a hair band.
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