Exploring Indigenous Hawaiian Heritage
Adventurer & Photographer
Below we have created a guide to exploring Indigenous Hawaiian heritage. It’s important to learn before you travel, participate respectfully and ask permission, support local Indigenous communities, and continue to educate yourself when traveling through Indigenous communities and landscapes. For a more thorough prelude to traveling through Indigenous lands, check out our introduction. Please make sure to travel using Leave No Trace practices in order to keep these sacred places safe and protected for future generations.
We realize that there are many National Monuments and State Parks which have significant Indigenous history and heritage. We have focused on the National Parks in this series for simplicity’s sake.
Disclaimer: We would like to urge all our readers to exercise caution and reconsider travel plans to Maui, Hawai’i, in light of the recent devastating wildfire that has significantly impacted the local community. The safety and well-being of the residents and their environment must be our top priority. The aftermath of such events often places additional strain on local resources and infrastructure, affecting the island’s ability to accommodate tourists. This is a time for solidarity and support, rather than tourism.
If you are interested in helping the Maui community during this challenging period, we encourage you to consider donating to the non-profit organization, Hawai’i Community Foundation, at hawaiicommunityfoundation.org or visit mauinuistrong.info for other verified support groups. Your contributions can make a significant difference in assisting the affected residents and aiding the recovery efforts.
As travelers, we must approach destinations with respect, empathy, and sustainability in mind. Let us stand together with the people of Maui and support them in their time of need. Please stay updated on the situation and travel advisories before making any travel plans to Maui. Your understanding and support are greatly appreciated.
A Brief History of the Hawaiian People
The history of Native Hawaiians began with the settlement of the Hawaiian Islands by Polynesians, believed to have occurred between 1000 to 1200 AD. These Polynesian voyagers traveled more than 2,400 miles of open ocean using the sun, stars, wind and currents. They brought with them their language, culture, and social structure, which laid the foundation for Hawaiian civilization.
Captain Cook’s arrival in 1778 initiated increased Western contact. In the 19th century, Kamehameha I united the islands and Western influences grew. The Hawaiian monarchy was overthrown in 1893, leading to United States annexation in 1898. Cultural suppression followed, but a Hawaiian Renaissance in the 1970s sparked revitalization efforts. Native Hawaiians gained recognition as an Indigenous people, leading to the establishment of the Office of Hawaiian Affairs. Today, Native Hawaiians strive to preserve their culture, address socioeconomic disparities, and pursue self-governance.
Hawai’i National Parks
Haleakalā National Park
Located on the island of Maui, Haleakalā National Park extends from the 10,023 foot summit of Haleakalā down the southeast flank of the mountain to the Kīpahulu coast near Hana. The intense isolation of the Hawaiian islands has created ecosystems completely unique on planet earth. This national park has hundreds of endemic bird and plant species and is a truly special place. In Native Hawaiian culture, land has great significance and Haleakalā is considered a sacred place. It is very important to practice Leave No Trace practices when visiting Haleakalā or any other location on the islands. The volcanic rocks found at Haleakalā are not just clusters of minerals created over millions of years by lava. To the Hawaiians, these rocks are the physical form of one of the most respected goddesses in Hawaiian culture, the volcano goddess Pele. Please leave volcanic rocks and cinder where you found them in the park and anywhere else in Hawai’i as well.
Along with respecting the landscape and the Indigenous Hawaiian heritage and culture, you can be a responsible visitor of Hawai’i by supporting local Hawaiian owned businesses. On the island of Maui, there are plenty of opportunities to do just that! We recommend going to Aloha Ocean Adventures for some incredible surfing lessons. Reach out to Aloha Missions for an authentic cultural experience like learning the art of lei-making or traditional Hawaiian farming. In you are interested in driving the Road to Hana, do it with a cultural tour from Mana’o Tours. There are also lots of Native Hawaiian restaurants serving local foods, and galleries and shops full of Indigenous artwork and goods. We recommend visiting Native Intelligence for an ever-evolving retail space full of traditional Hawaiian craftsmanship and showcasing local artisans and creatives.
Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park
Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park on the Island of Hawai’i includes the summits of two of the world’s most active volcanoes – Kīlauea and Mauna Loa. The park also protects some of the most unique geological and biological landscapes in the world (and some of the most culturally sacred as well). Hawai’i Volcanoes is a designated International Biosphere Reserve as well as a UNESCO World Heritage site. We highly recommend visiting the Pu’uloa Petroglyphs and the Fossilized Footprints while you are at the park. They are sacred sites with the largest field of petroglyphs in the state of Hawai’i and fossilized human footprints possibly from a 1790 volcanic eruption. Both are true cultural experiences and testaments to the Native Hawaiian’s endurance, strength, and creativity. As with all archaeological sites, please take only photographs and be respectful.
Another great way to learn about Indigenous Hawaiian heritage and culture while at the park is to practice some simple phrases in the Indigenous language of Hawai’i, ʻŌlelo Hawaiʻi, with the park rangers and learn the traditional pronunciation of Hawaiian place names. For centuries ʻŌlelo Hawaiʻi has been the language of Kānaka ʻŌiwi, the Native Hawaiian people. This beautiful language is having a resurgence and being revitalized after being banned by the United States territorial government in 1896.
Kaloko-Honokōhau National Historical Park
Another park on the Island of Hawai’i (commonly known as the Big Island), Kaloko-Honokōhau National Historical Park, provides a center for preservation, interpretation, and perpetuation of traditional native Hawaiian activities and culture. The park also demonstrates historic land use patterns as well as provides a needed resource for the education, enjoyment, and appreciation of such traditional native Hawaiian activities and culture by local residents and visitors. Kaloko-Honokōhau also has a stunning white-sand beach, hiking trails, and fantastic wildlife watching opportunities.
In the park is an ancient Hawaiian settlement where you can see how Native Hawaiians used Indigenous fishing and agricultural practices. You can also visit kahua (house platform sites), ki‘i pōhaku (petroglyphs), heiau (temples), graves and historic trails. This park truly shows every part of the ancient community that lived here and how connected the Indigenous Hawaiian people were to the tangible and intangible resources of the area. The Hawaiian spirit is nurtured here in this beautiful spot, and the park is a special place for both visitors and Native Hawaiians.
Pu’uhonua o Hōnaunau National Historical Park
Puʻuhonua o Hōnaunau National Historical Park is also on the Island of Hawai’i. The park is an important ceremonial site where Hawaiians could go when seeking refuge. It is still an active religious site used by Native Hawaiians today and is a great place to learn about Indigenous Hawaiian heritage. Although many pu’uhonua existed in ancient Hawaiʻi, Pu’uhonua o Hōnaunau is the best preserved. You can take a self-guided tour of the Royal Grounds and the Pu’uhonua and enjoy hiking and fishing in the park. Snorkeling is permitted just outside of the park boundary. We would highly recommend participating in a cultural demonstration while visiting. Check the parks calendar for the most up-to-date events and demonstrations.
Ready to explore some native-owned business on the Island of Hawai’i? If you are looking for some more adventure after visiting the national parks we recommend doing a manta ray night snorkeling tour with Anelakai Adventures, a tour company based in Kona. After all the adventuring, be sure to check out some delicious food at Ippy’s Hawaiian BBQ and consider staying at the Kona Seaside Hotel for some relaxing accommodations with a great location.
Other Opportunities to Support Native Hawaiian-Owned Businesses
We realize that we have only highlighted a handful of businesses from Maui and the Island of Hawai’i in this article. As mentioned above, this is just a brief overview of how to begin to explore Indigenous Hawaiian heritage when visiting the Hawaiian Islands, focusing most on the Hawaiian National Parks. We’ve pulled together some of our favorite Native Hawaiian-owned businesses from the other Hawaiian islands below:
Kaua’i tends to be a more laid-back and relaxed island – get ready for lots of mind-blowing fresh fruit, stunning mountains with great hiking and peaceful coastlines. If you are visiting Kaua’i, we’d recommend taking a tour of the Nepali Coast with Makana Charters and Tours and catching a wave with the Titus Kinimaka’s Hawaiian School of Surfing. Afterward, grab a fresh and delicious smoothie from Kalalea Juice Hale (we are getting hungry just thinking about it) and stay in a cabin at Kōke’e Lodge. Shop for gifts and souvenirs at local farmers markets or Keālia Organics for all-natural Hawaiian soap and bodycare.
With the capital of Hawai’i and two-thirds of the Hawaiian population living on this island, you can expect more luxury accommodations, and lots of opportunities for shopping after spending time at the beach. We’d recommend the Kalani Surf School for high-quality surfing lessons and the Kahala Hotel & Resort for luxury accommodations. Bubbly and Bleu is a fantastic cheese shop just made for indulging all of your charcuterie dreams and Nā Mea Hawai’i is a shop that features the work of local Native Hawaiian artists and crafters.
Moloka’i is a quiet and rural island with less development than O’ahu or Maui. This island is known for its pristine landscapes and laid-back lifestyle. When visiting small communities with limited resources, please remember to be respectful of the locals and the environment during your stay. A great tour company for snorkeling and scuba diving is Moloka’i Fish and Dive. When eating out, we recommend grabbing some hot bread from Kanemitsu Bakery and a plate of food from Manae Goods and Grindz (try the local fish!).
Lana’i is the smallest inhabited island among the Hawaiian islands, and travelers visit here for a luxurious and secluded experience. We recommend you visit the Lāna’i Culture & Heritage Center to learn about and celebrate Lāna’i’s Hawaiian heritage, its cultures and ranching and agricultural era histories. For surfing lessons, try out Lana’i Surf School and Surf Safari.