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Places on Oahu: The Kaniakapupu Ruins

Basic Information

  • Name: Kaniakapupu Ruins
  • Where: Honolulu, Hawaii
  • Built: 1845
  • Distance: .5 mile round-trip hike
  • More Information: Ancient Sites of Oahu

Picture from the Kaniakapupu Ruins

Narrative

I like visiting the various locations on Oahu that were once royal residences.  My kids and I have previously visited Iolani Palace, the Queen Emma Summer Palace, as well as the location at the entrance of Pearl Harbor where Queen Emma once kept a vacation residence.  The next location we checked out was the King Kamehameha III Summer Palace also known as the Kaniakapupu Ruins.  The ruins are easily accessed off of the Nuuanu Pali Drive just north of downtown Honolulu.  The short drive up the treelined road is highly recommended even if you are not visiting the ruins:

Picture from the Kaniakapupu Ruins

Unlike the other royal locations accessing the Kaniakapupu Ruins is a bit controversial.  Due to prior vandalism it is technically trespassing to visit the ruins.  Because of this I am not giving directions to the ruins other than to say that it is located along Nuuanu Pali Drive.  Everyone will need to make their own decision on whether they want to visit the ruins and risk a trespassing citation.  I actually found the ruins myself by parking at the trailhead for the Lulumahu Falls Trail and then walking down Nuuanu Pali Drive and exploring the various trails along the road.  Considering the amount of rubbish and beer bottles I found along the road it is understandable why the Kaniakapupu Ruins have had access restricted:

Picture from the Kaniakapupu Ruins

Once I found the right trail it was a nice short walk through the rainforest:

Picture from the Kaniakapupu Ruins

The hike up the trail is about a quarter mile before it reaches a stone wall which is the first indicator that the palace is near:

Picture from the Kaniakapupu Ruins

Just passed the stone wall I had my first view of the Kaniakapupu Ruins:

Kaniakapupu Ruins

According to the book, Ancient Sites of Oahu before the construction of the palace a Hawaiian temple called Kaniakapupu Heiau was constructed here.  Kaniakapupu was Hawaiian for “singing shells”.  The name comes from Hawaiian tree snails that were once common in the area.  The temple was dedicated to the agricultural god Lono.  The area around the temple called Luakaha or “place of relaxation”.  This is because at the temple, travelers would stop and rest and make offerings to ensure safe passage before following the trail over the Ko’olau Range to the windward side of the island.  However, King Kamehameha II over threw the traditional Hawaiian religion and destroyed the heiaus.

King Kamehameha III

This meant that the land that Luakaha once stood became crown lands that King Kamehameha III took advantage of to build a summer palace.

King’s Summer House (1853), lithograph from Wikipedia.

Near the entrance way into the palace there is a marker that explains how Kaniakapupu was constructed in 1845 and was where King Kamehameha III liked to hold parties to include a luau that drew an estimated 10,000 people:

Picture from the Kaniakapupu Ruins

Below the plaque some people have left offerings possibly because this was an old heiau site.  Or maybe they were offerings in honor of the huge parties that were held here?  😉  :

Picture from the Kaniakapupu Ruins

As I walked into the palace I noticed that the inside of it was not very big which showed how this was more of a summer residence than a palace:

Picture from the Kaniakapupu Ruins

Walking around the palace I noticed how thick the jungle was.  For 10,000 people to once have had a luau here, the jungle must have been mostly cut down compared to the thick jungle that surrounds Kaniakapupu today:

Picture from the Kaniakapupu Ruins

The walls of the palace appeared to be constructed of lava rock and stone held together with concrete:

Picture from the Kaniakapupu Ruins

Picture from the Kaniakapupu Ruins

Outside of the main palace there were other structures such as the kitchen that have decayed over time like the rest of the palace:

Picture from the Kaniakapupu Ruins

Besides parties Kaniakapupu was also used by the Hawaiian royalty to meet with other Hawaiian nobles.  The palace in Honolulu was used to hold court in a western way while Kaniakapupu was a place to hold court in the traditional Hawaiian way.  That is why Kaniakapupu was where King Kamehameha IV was trained in the ways of being a Hawaiian chief.  King Kamehameha IV would end up having his own summer palace in the Nuuanu Valley now called the Queen Emma Summer Palace:

Places on Oahu: The Queen Emma Summer Palace

King Kamehameha IV’s building of his own summer palace closer to Honolulu may explain why Kaniakapupu went into ruins.  According to the book, Ancient Sites of Oahu an 1874 map listed the area as ruins:

Picture from the Kaniakapupu Ruins

Conclusion

The Kaniakapupu Ruins are interesting to visit for anyone who has a deep interest in Hawaiian history.  For anyone else visiting the site may be boring and waste of time considering the other cool things to see in the area.  However, if you do decide to visit the ruins despite the trespassing concerns please be respectful.  The area was once a religious site and a place for Hawaiian royalty and thus held in high regard by the Native Hawaiian people.

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