Kauai Vacation Attractions – Wailua River’s Sacred Sites

Kauai History and Culture Resonates in Wailua Valley

In ancient times the valley of Wailua on Kauai’s east side was home to Hawaiian royalty and chiefs, known as Ali’i. Today there are various preserved cultural sites with informational signs for visitors providing an insight into the lives of Hawaiians in ancient times.

As a political and religious center, the sacred valley of Wailua was also the location of many important heiau, the Hawaiians’ sacred places of worship and refuge.

Series of Religious Sites Extends To Top of Island

A trail from the sea at the Wailua rivermouth to the top of the island at Mt. Waialeale included six different heiau sites along the way, including one on a plateau at the summit of the extinct volcano.

This summit heiau was called Kaawako (The kava drawn along) and dedicated to the god Kane who was considered the lord of the forests and the spirit of the water.

Hikinaakala Oriented to the North Star

At the mouth of the Wailua River near the sea is the heiau called Hauloa (Dew of Life) where a puuhonua, or place of refuge was located. Also at Hauloa was a huge stone enclosure called Hikinaakala, which means “Rising of the sun.” This east side location is the place where sunlight first touches Kauai each morning.

Measuring more than 60 feet wide and about 395 feet long, Hikinaakala is thought to have been constructed about 1,200 years ago with an orientation aligned to the North Star, which the Hawaiians knew as Hokupa’a (Immovable star).

Other Heiau Near the Ocean at Wailua

Also near the rivermouth is Malae Heiau which was a huge stone structure measuring hundreds of feet both long and wide with walls up to thirteen feet thick and ten feet high.

On the northern side of the river Holoholoku Heiau measured only about forty by twenty feet but was a luakini, the site of human sacrifices. On the western edge of the site is a pohaku hanau, a birthstone where royalty were born.

Cultural Sites Upland From the Sea

Just up from Holoholoku Heiau alongside Kuamo’o Road is Poliahu Heiau. Set beneath the scenic peak of Maunakapu (Sacred mountain) and Kalepa Ridge, Poliahu measured 165 feet wide by 242 feet long and was used for Hawaiian religious ceremonies. Structures included a lele (raised alter platform) and a three story anu’u, or oracle tower.

Nearby to Poliahu is a pohaku kani (bellstone) that was sounded when a royal birth occurred. The bellstone is also thought to have been used to warn of invasions since this site could view the distant coastline where canoes would arrive.

Today some of the heaiu of Wailua have been preserved and may be viewed from viewing area where informative signs describe the uses of the particular site. Please respect these important cultural areas and never move any rocks.

Visiting the sacred heiau sites of Wailua Valley provide a unique cultural experience that allows a glimpse into the Hawaiians of ancient times.