Puako Petroglyph Archaeological Preserve | Big Island

petroglyph_101219632The Puako Petroglyph Archaeological Preserve is located on the Kohala Coast (also known by local residents as South Kohala). The entire area stretches across 233 acres of jagged lava fields and Kiawe forests. It sits between the luxurious Mauna Lani Resort and the Fairmont Orchid Hawaii, which is approximately 25 miles from the Kona region that is on the west side of The Big Island.

The area has been well-preserved and protected to ensure this Native Hawaiian history is made available for future generations to understand the ways of their ancestors. The Puako Petroglyph Archaeological Preserve is the largest petroglyph area in Hawaii and is the largest collection of petroglyphs on the island. The only other area that has a smaller collection of petroglyphs is the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.

The petroglyphs are located near the ocean in an area that is mostly hot and sunny all year round. Although near the ocean, you will not get much of a cooling breeze when traveling on the Malama Trail to the petroglyphs, but the beauty of the history that represent the Native Hawaiian culture is worth the trek through the rugged terrain and harsh temperatures.


Petroglyphs, often referred to as “kii pohaku” in the Hawaiian language, literally means “images in stone”. The petroglyphs are carvings in stone made by ancient Native Hawaiians that are found in many different locations in Hawaii. Although the true meaning of Hawaiian petroglyphs is not known, it is thought to be the markings of significance to the Native Hawaiians in that time period. For example, a significant event may be the birth of a child, death, or other events that held great meaning to the Native Hawaiian people. Some of the carvings resemble humans, turtles, families, sails, birds, dancers, tools, fish, dogs, deity, and canoes that were once their only form of transportation between islands. Replications of these petroglyphs can still be seen today in the artwork of many of the local people of Hawaii.


Before heading out to Puako Petroglyph Archaeological Preserve, adequate preparation is necessary for a safe and enjoyable tour. First, ensure that you wear comfortable shoes that have a non-skid sole.  The sole of your shoes should not be thin, as there may be kiawe tree thorns on the path that can pierce through your shoe. It is not advisable to wear flip flops or sandals as these can easily be pierced from the kiawe thorns. There are many loose rocks, sharp lava rocks, dirt, and tree stumps on the trail that you can step on or trip over. As the area is extremely hot and has no shade, cover yourself with sunscreen and wear a hat and sunglasses if you burn easily. In addition, you want to pack lots of water, snacks, a camera, and a first aid kit in an easy to carry backpack that will not put you off balance as you need to watch your footing on the entire trip on the Malama Trail.


You are able to take your own self-guided tour of the Puako Petroglyph Archaeological Preserve. You can park at the beach access parking area that notes public parking for both beach use and petroglyph viewing at the luxury Fairmont Orchid Hawaii. You will then take a quick walk through Holoholokai Beach to the trail leading to the Puako Petroglyph Archaeological Preserve. Or you can park at the luxury Mauna Lani Resort and follow the signs leading to the petroglyphs. Either hotel will offer you the opportunity to access the petroglyph preserve. The trail leads through trees, tree roots, and lava fields that can be uneven at times so it’s important that you remain focused on your surroundings. The hike is not an easy one, although less than a mile in each direction. When returning from your adventure, you can stop at Holoholokai Beach for a picnic or swim. There are also restroom facilities available.


The viewing area of the Puako Petroglyph Archaeological Preserve is very clear and visible as if the petroglyphs were just created yesterday. You may want to consider walking the Malama Trail to the petroglyphs in the early morning hours before the sun hits its peak, or later in the afternoon when the sun is starting to descend. At these times it won’t be very hot and gives you a clearer view of the petroglyphs without the glare from the sun. It can reach the high 90s in this location with no place to seek shade as the path is surrounded with kiawe trees that are known for its strong thorns that may be able to pierce footwear. It is asked that you not touch, scratch, or perform transfer rubbings on the almost 3000 petroglyphs. It is roped off from the public, but can be accessible. Out of respect for the Native Hawaiian history and its ancestors, you are asked to stay off the rocks and just take in the beauty of the petroglyphs from a near distance. Pictures are perfectly welcomed. There are also some petroglyphs that you can see up close in some caves a few feet from where the Malama Trail begins if you are a true adventurer and don’t mind entering a cave.

Shortly off to the side of these petroglyphs is another small trail that is faintly marked, which leads to another set of petroglyphs that can be viewed up close. This area is not roped off. It has been common practice for visitors to take a piece of paper and place it over the petroglyph and use a pencil to rub over the paper to get a real image. It is asked that you do not do this as it will damage the petroglyph after repeated use in that manner. To take a piece of this area with you, there are sample petroglyphs at the beginning of the trail of which you can take a rubbing of. These petroglyph reproductions are identical to the actual petroglyphs that would be seen on the Malama Trail, so if you do not want to venture into the heat or need handicap access, this is where you can visit.