Ghost Tours and Living History
If you listen carefully when you think you’re alone, you’ll hear Menehune giggling behind the palm fronds in Hawaii. You’ll almost, but not quite, see the spirits of ghostly warriors and holy men. They are guarding sacred places, as well as Hawaii’s supernatural and historical landmarks. You’ll stumble upon ancient battlefields and carved thrones. And most of the time, you won’t even realize it.
Anyone who comes to the islands and merely sees aloha shirts, shave ice, boogie boards and hula skirts is missing out on 90% of what makes Hawaii special. To say this land is historically rich is an understatement. It is a place where magic, myth, and legend are almost as tangible as the ocean breeze. Next time you’re visiting the islands, be aware of the local landmarks. Because they’re not just beautiful, but because they’re a part of living history.
The Menehune (also known as Alekoko) Fish Pond is right off the road in the central town of Lihue. It is just five minutes from the airport and near Nawilili Port. You can get close to the pond by car or by kayak, since it’s attached to the Hule’ia River. But the best way to see it is by helicopter. The pond is nearly overrun in places by dense mangrove growths. It is also surrounded by the Hoary Head mountain range and it is nestled below a lookout in the cliffs. Initially, this pond was used to raise fish for food. There are still fish in it today, but no one catches in it. Local school groups have begun restoration projects. They hope to bring this mysterious structure back to its early glory.
The fish pond is a long lava rock wall and at times it measures up to 10 feet high. Some say it was build over a thousand years ago. It looks impossible to build. In fact, no one knows how it was made. According to one local legend, the Menehune (little people) created the entire fishpond overnight by hand for a princess and her brother.
Hawaii’s Supernatural And Historical Landmarks
Another legend says that one day, two children were playing nearby and wanted to see what the Menehune were doing. So they peeked over the cliff. When the Menehune saw, they immediately turned the two children to stone. You can still see the silhouettes of the two children in the rocky outcrop above the fish pond.
Kalaupapa was originally established as a colony for islanders who had contracted Hansen’s Disease (previously known as leprosy) from Asian colonists. It was a dark, hopeless place, full of people who were sick and frightened. people who had been wrenched from their families and left to languish in a tiny corner of Moloka’i. Not surprisingly, almost all the residents turned to alcohol and violence.
The turning point for Kalaupapa was in 1873, with the arrival of Catholic missionary Father Damien. Father Damien really operated on two fronts: the practical/material and the spiritual. On the practical side, he raised funds to expand the church and helped residents procure building materials and resources. He was Kalaupapa’s liaison to the territory of Hawai’i. On the spiritual level, he motivated the people to rise above their physical woes. He educated them, gave them day-to-day support and inspired them. Even when he contracted Hansen’s Disease himself, he never abandoned them. He is currently being canonized for the work he did.
How To Visit This Place
There are three ways to visit this profoundly significant historic site. One is by mule. Make reservations through Molokai Mule Rides. Alternatively, you can hike down. These guided groups are organized through Damien Tours. You can also fly in with the Molokai/Lanai air shuttle. If you do this, you also have to make reservations with Damien Tours as well. This is in order to get the permit required to access the actual historic site. All participants must be over 16.
Truly A Small Town
The town of Kalaupapa is mostly restricted, as there are still 30-odd people living there. Tours mainly focus on the original settlement of Kalawau, which is no longer inhabited.
Anyone can go to Kalaupapa Lookout, which is located in the state park and look down into the peninsula.
Interestingly, another missionary, Mother Marianne, is also being canonized for the work she did in Kalaupapa. She arrived in the colony in 1888, where she ran the newly established Bishop Home for girls. For a time, she also oversaw Father Damien’s Home for Boys. Mother Marianne stayed in Kalaupapa till her death in 1918.
The ancient Hawaiians told stories on rocks. Often simple scenes of daily life, and sometimes things more complex. The cultural or religious origins have been lost, much to the dismay of historians. However, the actual “rock writings,” can be found all over the island of Lana’i. They’re called petroglyphs. One of the major sites is Luahiwa, where petroglyphs are carved in boulders. A major fire up in the mountainside has made is unsafe to climb, but it’s still safe to drive to. Another site nearby is Shipwreck Beach.
Garden of the Gods
Another of Lanai’s unique historical attractions is Keahiakawelo (Garden of the Gods). It is basically an eerie landscape formed of rocks, otherworldly, and desolate. It is mostly frequented by axis deer. Ancient Hawaiian legend said the rocks fell from the sky. However, more modern legends reference the Hawaiian name (“fire of Kawelo”). Legend says that the holy man Kawelo lit a fire in this valley to fulfill a prophecy of plenty for Lana’i. Some contend that when the fire went out, Kawelo threw himself over a cliff and died. Other legends tie this story in with Kawelo’s alleged betrayal of his friend, the prophet Lanikaula of Moloka’i.
Big Island – King Kamehameha Monuments
Hawai’i has had many important warriors, but Kamehameha the Great was perhaps the greatest. He was the first king to unite all the Hawaiian islands together under one rule. Historically, many different chiefs waged constant battles to rule over the islands of Hawai’i. Some chiefs ruled entire islands, while others only ruled certain ahupua’a (districts) of an island. On the Big Island of Hawaii, as many as 10 or 20 chiefs might have ruled at the same time. Kamehameha conquered all the chiefs from the Big Island. He then conquered the other islands to become the first king in 1810.
On the northwest side of the Island of Hawai’i, there are a few monuments to King Kamehameha. Driving north along the Kohala Coast, take Highway 270 to Pu’ukohola National Historic Park. There are three structures in the park. The main one is a Hawaiian temple King Kamehameha built in honor of Ku, his war God. The huge rock structure was built between 1790 and 1791. It was built with rocks from Pololu Valley, which is nearby another important monument.
More To See
Finally, continue up Highway 270 to the north tip of the island, and the town of Kapa’au. Outside the historic courthouse is a statue of Kamehameha. This was the original statue that was intended to go to the island of Oahu. There was a storm at sea, and the ship carrying the statue sank. So a second statue was commissioned. Sometime later, the first statue was recovered. It eventually found a home at Kapa’au.
Looking for a different type of adventure? Check out our guide to Perfect Hawaiian Island Trip