Day three began with a visit to Pu’ukohole Heiau. This temple was built in 1790 by King Kamehameha, the monarch who unified the Hawaiian islands. All heiau are still considered sacred sites so visitors are not permitted to enter, with the kapu (forbidden, or taboo) area marked with crossed sticks.
Next stop was the Mauna Kea resort beach for snorkelling, which we sadly had to abandon as the water was too choppy – it was very pleasant to swim in the sea though, and the beach was lovely, we could see why it was a popular weekend spot for locals and tourists alike (arriving around 10am we snagged the last parking space). A quick coffee and snack from Bodhi Tree again, and we were ready to drive about 30 minutes south to the town of Kailua-Kona.
Kona was a favourite spot for Hawaiian royalty, and several generations spent their vacations at the Hulihe’e Palace. Built in the first decades of the 1800s, the house is compact and charming, with glorious ocean views from every room. Now run as a museum, it contains interesting Hawaiian artefacts, photographs of members of the royal family, and a surprising amount of Victorian furniture.
Opposite the palace stands Mokuaikaua church, Hawaii’s first Christian church, constructed from lava rock and coral.
After taking in the sights, we had a little wander around the souvenir shops in the Kona Inn shopping village, and ate lunch at Splashers Grill.
Strolling further along the bay, we came across ‘Ahu’ena Heiau, built by Kamehameha I in 1812. Unlike Pu’ukohole, which was constructed in honour of his family war god, ‘Ahu’ena was intended as a temple of peace and prosperity.
Having admired the heiau from an appropriate distance, we were delighted to notice a variety of tropical fish swimming around the rocks in the bay, and it was hard to tear Tom away from their colourful charms.
The rest of the afternoon was spent driving up to the visitor centre on Mauna Kea. At 9,200 ft elevation, the centre is reached along a steep and winding road up the mountain. You can press on further to the observatories at the summit (14,000 ft), but apparently the road gets much worse, and there isn’t really anything to do when you get there, apart from look at the exterior of the enormous telescopes along with a bunch of other tourists, so we decided to give it a miss.
Having also eschewed staying on Mauna Kea for nightfall and the reportedly excellent stargazing, we thought we should at least try to look at some stars. The hotel beach was certainly dark enough for some great views, but it was also extremely windy that night, so a few brief seconds sufficed before we retreated for cocktails at the bar.