Welina Mai! Greetings!
The National Park Service welcomes you to the Ala Kahakai National Historic Trail (NHT).
The Ala Kahakai NHT celebrates the ways ancient and indigenous peoples worldwide have created and used trails. From Eurasia's Silk Roads, to the trade trails of Mesoamerica and North America, to the great ocean roads sailed by Polynesians throughout the Pacific, these ancient routes have brought people, cultures, traditions and knowledge together from across the world for millennia.
Located on one of the world's most remote island chains, the trails of the Ala Kahakai NHT are part of the Pacific trails of the human diaspora. The trails recount stories of oceanic migrations, settlement, and adaptation.
Established in 2000, Ala Kahakai (a modern name, meaning "trail by the sea") is a 175-mile coastal network of ancient, historic, and modern trails. The Ala Kahakai NHT corridor extends from the northern tip of the Island of Hawai'i, along its western and southern coasts, to the eastern boundary of Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park.
The Ala Kahakai NHT's mandate is to preserve, protect, interpret, reestablish as necessary, and maintain the trail system. Ala Kahakai NHT works with governmental and non-governmental partners to encourage descendant-led stewardship of trails and resources.
The sound of saltwater slapping the windward hull of the massive wa'a kaulua (double hulled voyaging canoe) eases as it sails into the deep bay. This protected beach sits at the foot of a long, sloping mountain, its flank streaked in black lava flows and top veiled in clouds. Shimmering black sand fractures., softly giving way under the hull's weight. A person steps out, creating a single footprint. What fortune at finding this verdant island, this sheltered bay! In the distance, a ring of green foliage rising above a jagged 'a'ā landscape, indicating life giving wai (fresh water). A new journey begins, and the first Hawaiian land trail is forged.
Early ancestors of today's Polynesians migrated out of Southeast Asia into the islands of the western Pacific Ocean. They ventured successively outward, into easterly trade winds, refining their vessels as they went.
Over 1,000 years ago voyaging canoe migrations departed the central South Pacific in search of what's known today as the Hawaiian archipelago. Their mastery in seafaring and navigation initiated an era of voyaging from 800 C.E. to 1300 C.E. between Hawai'i and other Pacific islands.
Polynesian settlers were well trained in assessing a landscape's habitability from their voyaging canoes.
Explorations throughout the archipelago found welcoming living conditions. Polynesians settled and spread, creating island-wide trail networks.
Just as arteries transport life-sustaining blood throughout the body, the trails sustain the movement of people, goods, and information throughout the land.
Fishermen exchanged i'a (fish and other seafood) and pa'akai (salt) with farmers for staples like kalo (taro) and 'uala (sweet potato) from the vast agricultural complexes of the valleys and uplands. Trail networks sustained economic and social interaction across the entire island.
One of the final acts passed by Hawai'i's last reigning monarch, Queen Lili'uokalani, prior to the overthrow of the Hawaiian Kingdom, was the Highways Act of 1892. It stated that "All roads, alleys, streets, ways, lanes, courts, places, trails and bridges in the Hawaiian Islands, whether now or hereafter opened, laid out or built by the Government, or by private parties, and dedicated or abandoned to the public as a highway, are hereby declared to be public highways." The Act, which provides for public ownership of "highways" was carried through into State of Hawai'i law (HRS 264-1 (b)). This law applies even if the trail is not physically on the ground as with instances where trail segments have been destroyed over time due to various land uses or natural processes.
It's a Kākou Thing
"Kākou" is the collective "we", inclusive of everyone. Trails pass through public and private property, although trails and access are protected by law, land surrounding the trail may be private property.
A successful trail network requires us all to have mutual respect for that which belongs to the individual, and that which belongs to the public. Being good hosts and good guests is a "kākou thing".
Historic Land Protection: Kauleolī
In 2016, at the request of the South Kona community, Ala Kahakai NHT acquired a 59-acre parcel in the ahupua'a of Kauleolī. The coastal parcel is adjacent to Pu'uhonua o Hōnaunau NHP, and includes a section of well preserved Ala Nui Aupuni (Hawaiian Kingdom Trail). Ala Kahakai NHT is working with descendants, community members, and others to manage the land.
Hawai'i Island Trails
Hawai'i's first trails followed the natural contours of the land. Major prehistoric trails, or ala loa, connected networks of shorter coastal trails (ala hele or ala lihi kai), and intersected mauka-makai (mountain-ocean) trails known as ala pi'i mauna or ala pi'i uka. Some trails followed streams or cliff edges, and some were boundaries between neighboring ahupua'a (land divisions). Often, many trails radiated out of population centers, like the spokes of a wheel.
Trails exhibit a variety of construction methods and materials, based on terrain, intended use and mode of transportation. Trail names also varied by place and through time, based on specific location or community/family tradition. For instance, the Ala Nui Aupuni, is also the Māmalahoa, and the Kīholo-Puakō Trail. Hawaiian trail systems are, and will always remain dynamic.
Jeep Trails & Modern Roads
Open Trail Segments
The trail segments below are open to the public.
Pu'ukoholā Heiau National Historic Site
Pu'ukoholā Heiau was completed in 1791 by Kamehameha I and played a crucial role in his establishment of the Hawaiian Kingdom. A self-guided walking tour of the park begins at the Visitor Center and continues south as Nā Ala Hele's Ala Kahakai Trail.
Amenities: Parking, restrooms and water. Camping available by permit at the adjacent Spencer County Beach Park.
Nā Ala Hele's Ala Kahakai Trail
This trail section is part of the State of Hawai'i's Nā Ala Hele Trail and Access Program. Extending from the southern boundary of Pu'ukoholā Heiau National Historic Site to 'Anaeho'omalu Bay, this section of trail passes through public and private lands and provides access to numerous beaches and resorts. Check Nā Ala Hele's website for details: www.hawaiitrails.org
Amenities: Parking, restrooms, and water are available at most locations.
Kaloko-Honokōhau National Historical Park
Kaloko-Honokōhau National Historical Park is an excellent example of Hawaiian ingenuity, culture, and natural resources. Traditional Hawaiian fishponds, a fishtrap, and dryland farming complexes were built here to feed their communities. A system of trails connect these extraordinary sites.
Amenities: Parking, restrooms, water, and picnic area.
Pu'uhonua o Hōnaunau National Historic Park
A pu'uhonua is a safe place, a place of refuge for the sick, the despised, and for wrongdoers who broke the kapu (the system of sacred and forbidden behaviors) or kanawai (laws). The Pu'uhonua o Hōnaunau complex includes heiau (temples), a hale poki (mausoleum), and a royal kauhale (compound). A section of the Ala Nui Aupuni, or Hawaiian Kingdom Government Road runs through the park and continues to the south.
Amenities: Parking, restrooms, picnic area.
Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park
Over 150 miles of trail stretch through the Park, ranging from short day hikes to overnight backcountry hiking. Along with active volcanoes and geology, the Park and surrounding region are full of mo'olelo (stories, history) that tell of the goddess Pelehonuamea (Pele) and her family. The unique ecosystems that developed here are important to both Hawaiian indigenous and Western science.
Amenities: Parking, restrooms, water, gas station, food service, camping, lodging and picnic areas.
Hawai'i's coast is generally sunny and hot. Please prepare and take precautions:
Sun Protection: Hat, reef-safe sunscreen, sunglasses, and long sleeves
Water: Minimum 2 liters of water per person per day for short hikes
Weather: Before you go, check weather forecasts and follow all warnings and advisories.
Most coasts have no lifeguard on duty. Make informed decisions in choosing a shoreline destination appropriate to your personal ocean skill level.
Before you go: Check weather and ocean safety advisories, and heed all warnings.
High Surf & Strong Currents: Moderate to high surf is common in Hawai'i. Expect strong breaking waves, shore break, and currents to make swimming difficult and dangerous. When in doubt, don't go out!
Stream Crossings: Some trail sections cross stream beds that may flash flood during heavy rains. Always use caution near streams.
For Emergencies Call 911
The purpose and vision for the trail were crafted through many meetings with community members, descendants, landowners, and other stakeholders. Their mana'o (thought, ideas) led to Ala Kahakai NHTs descendant-led, community-based approach to trail management. This means that the community plays an active role in Trail management, helping to develop Hawaiian values-based policies, creating management guidelines, and applying them in the day-to-day care of the Trail.
Community stewardship ensures
• families whose genealogies tie them to the trail are able to maintain and
pass on those ties, and benefit directly from their stewardship
Check our website www.nps.gov/alka for more information on current community-based management efforts along the Trail as well as links to our partner sites.
Caring for trails and trail communities is successful when government and community organizations partner together. The expertise and the regulation provided by different entities means that trail actions are informed, lawful, and appropriate.
Commitment to collaboration. Repair of the historic Kīholo-Puakō trail was rooted in a strong partnership between lineal descendants, community members, and many departments within County, State, and Federal agencies.
The Ala Kahakai Trail Association (ATA) is a Hawai'i Island based 501(c)(3) non-profit organization with board members consisting of descendants hailing from each moku (districts) of the island. ATA works in close partnership with the Ala Kahakai NHT to maintain the shared vision of cultural preservation and community engagement. www.alakahakaitrail.org
E Mau Nā Ala Hele is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization, established in 1979, devoted to preserving and perpetuating the historic trails of Hawai'i. Between 1980-2000, the organization was instrumental in the creation of both the State's Nā Ala Hele Trail and Access System, and the Ala Kahakai National Historic Trail. www.emaunaalahele.org
Source: NPS Brochure (2018)
Brochures ◆ Site Bulletins ◆ Trading Cards
A Cultural History of Three Traditional Hawaiian Sites on the West Coast of Hawai'i Island (Linda Wedel Greene, September 1993)
Junior Ranger Adventure Book, Hawai'i Island National Parks (Date Unknown)
Handbooks ◆ Books
Last Updated: 01-May-2021