Horses in Waipi’o Valley on the Big Island’s Hamakua Coast. Photograph by Ted Soqui.
Into the Ancient
Bound for a stay at historic Puakea Ranch in North Kohala, we stop at Hale I’a, aka Da Fish House, to see what fishermen in Kawaihae Harbor have brought in today.
Kanoe Peck, the always-patient owner, smiles when I ask her for a recommendation. “Well, it’s all good,” Peck says as we look at fillets of opah and ono, ahi, monchong, and mahimahi. “They had a good morning out there. But try the mahi. Cook it up with coconut oil to bring out the sweetness.”
With a pound stashed in a cooler, Becky and I follow the highway as the landscape transitions to a Hawaiian green near Hawi and Kapaau. They’re former sugarcane towns now filled with galleries that are popular with travelers destined for black-sand Polulu Beach at the island’s northern tip.
In Kapaau you’ll see a Kamehameha statue that, not unlike the man himself, has its own epic story. Cast in Paris in 1880, the nine-foot-tall monument spent time on the bottom of the ocean near the Falkland Islands after the ship transporting it sank. Once salvaged, according to one account, the statue did a stint as a cigar store Indian of sorts in front of a Falklands shop, before a Portuguese sea captain brought it to Hawaii with a cargo of cane field-workers.
Off the highway we park at tiny Upolu Airport. From there we hike a rough road along cliffs and through windswept pastures to Kamehameha’s birthplace and the remains of a 1,500-year-old temple, Mo’okini Heiau, where walls of stacked, lichen-frosted stones enclose a central courtyard. Considering Kamehameha’s prominence and Mo’okini’s age, there’s little explanation (in Kawaihae, Pu’ukohola Heiau National Historic Site offers a fuller look at Kamehameha), just weathered wood signs and a National Historic Register plaque on which someone has scratched out “United States.”
Even lacking any explanation, you might feel the haunting sense that something serious went down here. At the heiau (still used for ceremonies), a flat, hollowed-out stone and a standing rock used to strip flesh from bodies mark the site where thousands of human sacrifices occurred following a Tahitian high priest’s ascension to power around 1370.
After the return hike, we settle into Cowboy House, one of four bungalows scattered around Puakea Ranch. The building was a bunkhouse for Hawaiian cowboys, known as paniolos, who lived on the property when it was a cattle ranch. Befitting a structure that dates to 1890, the floors creak, and no doubt a sash-and-door guy would kill to update the windows.
But there’s a working Wedgewood stove and pictures of paniolos, a long lanai for watching ocean sunsets and a mango tree with a rope swing in front, plus a private wood-and-stone bathhouse with a rain shower out back. We are our own room service, foraging a salad from the ranch’s garden to go with the mahi and plucking eggs from the chicken coop for breakfast.