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Places On Oahu: The Ulupo Heiau

Basic Information

Picture from Ulupo Heiau

Narrative

Over the Thanksgiving weekend it had been very rainy here in Hawaii.  However, during a pause in the rain showers I decided to take my kids for a walk since they had been stuck inside for so long.  Where I decided to take them to was the Ulupo Heiau outside of Kailua.  Finding the heiau can be a little challenging since it is tucked inside a neighborhood just outside of Kailua and hidden behind a local YMCA building:

When traveling down Kailua Road to Kailua turn left on to Uluoa Street.  Once on Uluoa Street take a right and drive through the neighborhood.  At the end of the road to the right is the driveway into the local YMCA.  At the entrance to the driveway a Ulupo Heiau sign can be seen:

Picture from Ulupo Heiau

I parked at the YMCA and my kids and I then proceeded to walk behind it towards the temple:

Picture from Ulupo Heiau

Directly behind the YMCA a large Ulupo Heiau State Historical Site sign can be seen:

Picture from Ulupo Heiau

At the heiau there is a marker that provides a brief history about Ulupo which is Hawaiian for “right inspiration”:

Picture from Ulupo Heiau

The marker explained how the temple was believed to be built by the “menehunes” who were people who lived in Hawaii before the arrival of the Tahitians.  The temple’s walls measured 140 x 180 feet and were 30 feet tall:

Picture from Ulupo Heiau

I looked online to determine how old the temple was, but the best I could find was that the temple could be up to a 1,000 years old if the menehune did build it.  Here is a panorama of the heiau I took standing in front of the marker:

Picture from Ulupo Heiau

Next to the marker there is also three signboards that provide a much more detailed history of the heiau:

Picture from Ulupo Heiau

According to the book Ancient Sites of Oahu this heiau was likely an agricultural temple due to its proximity to rich farmland.  The book also explains that the heiau may have been the center of political power for the Oahu chief Kuali’i in the 1600s.  In the 1700’s Oahu chief Kakuhihewa and maybe even Maui chief Kahekili may have used the heiau as a center of political power as well.  Another interesting note is that it is believed that Ulupo was built from rocks about 10 miles north of the temple which meant the Hawaiians at the time had to hand carry all the rocks to this location.  This would be similar to how the Pu’ukohola Heiau on the Big Island was constructed which Ulupo actually seems somewhat similar in size to.  Here is what Ulupo is believed to have looked like back in 1750:

Picture from Ulupo Heiau

Below the hill that Ulupo stands on is the Kawainui or “Great Fresh Water” marsh:

Picture from Ulupo Heiau

Long ago the marsh was actually a fish pond constructed by ancient Hawaiians:

Picture from Ulupo Heiau

Due to changes made in modern times the fish pond has become a large marsh instead:

Picture from Ulupo Heiau

After checking out the signboards I walked along the edge of the temple to see if there was a path that would lead down the hill:

Picture from Ulupo Heiau

I found a small trail known as the “Menehune Pathway” that led down the hill to the agricultural terraces below the temple:

Picture from Ulupo Heiau

Once at the agricultural terraces I spotted this sign that said kuleana which is Hawaiian for “one’s personal sense of responsibility” which refers to caring for the land.  The website on the sign is for a group that promotes conservation of native eco-systems:

Picture from Ulupo Heiau

From below, the heiau definitely looks more impressive:

Picture from Ulupo Heiau

The Pu’u O Mahuka Heiau on Oahu’s North Shore may be the largest temple on the island, but Ulupo Heiau is definitely built much higher.  Here is a picture of the temple with my kids standing in front of it which provides some perspective of how high it is:

Picture from Ulupo Heiau

From below the heiau we then walked around to its side to look for a natural spring that one of the signboards had described:

Picture from Ulupo Heiau

We ended up finding the spring where the fresh water could be seen bubbling up to the surface and being irrigated towards the adjacent agricultural terraces:

Picture from Ulupo Heiau

These agricultural terraces rebuilt by local groups are located directly in front of the temple:

Picture from Ulupo Heiau

The main crop planted was taro which was the dietary staple of ancient Hawaiians:

Picture from Ulupo Heiau

Here is a panorama view I took using my iPhone 5S of the agricultural terraces which were really quite beautiful:

Picture from Ulupo Heiau

Here is an even wider panorama view of the agricultural terraces and the heiau pictured on the far right:

Picture from Ulupo Heiau

After checking out the temple and the agricultural terraces my kids and I next followed another path we saw that entered into the adjacent forest:

Picture from Ulupo Heiau

The path ended up going around the agricultural terraces:

Picture from Ulupo Heiau

After a short distance the trail popped out of the forest and from a clearing on the hill we were able to look down on the Kawainui Marsh:

Picture from Ulupo Heiau

Here is a wider panorama view of the marsh:

Picture from Ulupo Heiau

We next followed the trail down the hill towards the marsh:

Picture from Ulupo Heiau

Here is a very noticeable tree we saw as we walked down the hill:

Picture from Ulupo Heiau

As we walked down the hill I could see the remains of what once would have been agricultural terraces extending down the hill:

Picture from Ulupo Heiau

I don’t know if local groups have plans to restore these terraces, but for some reason they had old bathtubs sitting in this area that were odd to see:

Picture from Ulupo Heiau

There was also a sign we spotted that stated Malama Aina which means “to care and nurture the land”:

Picture from Ulupo Heiau

I have to say that the groups maintaining the area around Ulupo Heiau have definitely done a good job of showing malama aina since it really is a beautiful location.  Here is a view looking back up the hill from the marsh:

Picture from Ulupo Heiau

From the bottom of the hill the Kawainui Marsh was really quite impressive in size:

Picture from Ulupo Heiau

It felt strange to see this much open land not covered in thick forest or urban sprawl which tends to dominate many areas of Oahu:

Picture from Ulupo Heiau

In the water of the marsh my kids had fun spotting the small fish they saw swimming around:

Picture from Ulupo Heiau

Conclusion

Overall the Ulupo Heiau I thought was the best temple I have visited yet on Oahu.  The large rock base of the heiau was impressive to see and the beautifully restored agricultural terraces were an added bonus to check out.  My kids and I further enjoyed the walk down to the Kawainui Marsh.  As nice as this place is it is not highly trafficked.  On a weekend my kids and I were the only people at the heiau for the hour and a half we spent visiting the site.  So for anyone looking for a quiet location to take their family to visit with an interesting cultural history and beautiful views the Ulupo Heiau in Kailua is well worth checking out.

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