Puu Loa Petroglyphs: A Peek Into The Hill of Long Life

Located on the southern flank of Kilauea is one of the largest petroglyph fields in the state. Puu Loa, or, “hill of long life,” contains over 23,000 petroglyph images. Michelle and I decided to check out the petroglyph field after a visit to the end of Chain of Craters Road and the Holei Sea Arch. The hike in is about a one-mile trek on uneven, rocky terrain. However, once you reach the wooden planks at the end of the trail, you are awarded with a unique opportunity to view ancient Hawaiian petroglyphs carved hundred of years ago.

Puu Loa Trailhead. Photo by Coty Gonzales.

Puu Loa Trailhead. Photo by Coty Gonzales.

1-mile in to see the petroglyphs. Photo by Coty Gonzales.

1-mile in to see the petroglyphs. Photo by Coty Gonzales.

It's unlawful to deface petroglyphs. Photo by Coty Gonzales.

It’s unlawful to deface petroglyphs. Photo by Coty Gonzales.

Although not particularly difficult to hike, Puu Loa does offer a wonderful reward for those willing to be scorched by the heat of the sun. That reward being the largest petroglyph field in the State of Hawaii. You’ll know that you’ve reached the petroglyphs when you see the large wooden boardwalk, created for visitors to walk on and to prevent damage to the ancient petroglyphs. The last time we visited the Big Island, we made it a point to visit Puako Petroglyph Archaeological District in Kona. Puu Loa is much grandeur. The 23,000+ petroglyphs even extend beyond the boardwalk (though the National Park Services request that you stay on the boardwalk to help preserve the petroglyphs). The earlierst written observation of Puu Loa was by Reverend William Ellis in 1823. In 1914, anthropologist Martha Beckwith noted about Puu Loa:

 “July 1, 1914. Rode out to Puuloa on the line between Kealakomo and Apuki. Here is a large pahoehoe mound used as a depository for the umbilical cord at the birth of a child. A hole is made in the hard crust, the cord is put in and as stone is placed over it. In the morning the cord has disappeared; there is no trace of it. This insures long life for the child. Mrs. Kama, born in 1862, was a native of Kamoamoa. Her mother brought her cord there. She had 15 children and for each one at birth the visit was made to Puuloa. Another mound, on the southern boundary of Apukiu., called Puumanawalea, was similarly used….Puuloa is especially rich. There are holes, pictures, initials chiseled into the rock.”

To the ancient Hawaiians, these petroglyphs were not only aesthetic, but also served a higher, more spiritual purpose for human longevity and well being. Umbilical cords would be left on these markings, with the hope that it would bring long life to a newborn child. I guess that better than umbilical cord art.

A view of the boardwalk. Photo by Coty Gonzales.

A view of the boardwalk. Photo by Coty Gonzales.

Boardwalk surrounded by petroglyphs. Photo by Coty Gonzales.

Boardwalk surrounded by petroglyphs. Photo by Coty Gonzales.

Man and circles. Photo by Coty Gonzales.

Man and circles. Photo by Coty Gonzales.

Lots of petroglyph men. Photo by Coty Gonzales.

Lots of petroglyph men. Photo by Coty Gonzales.

Dots and ridges. Photo by Coty Gonzales.

Dots and ridges. Photo by Coty Gonzales.

Dots. Photo by Coty Gonzales.

Dots. Photo by Coty Gonzales.

Tall petroglyph. Photo by Coty Gonzales.

Tall petroglyph. Photo by Coty Gonzales.

Umbilical placeholders? Photo by Michelle Sagucio.

Umbilical placeholders? Photo by Michelle Sagucio.

Explorers: Coty Gonzales and Michelle Sagucio.

Total Time: 1.5 hours roundtrip.

Total Distance: 2 miles roundtrip.

Puu Loa Petroglyphs Tips:

  • DO NOT make rubbings of the real petroglyphs at Puu Loa.
  • Come prepared with enough water for this hike because it is a scorcher under the hot sun.
  • Because of the aforementioned sun, remember to bring sunscreen!
  • This is a state and national historic site, so please treat it with respect.

Directions to Puu Loa Petroglyphs: On Chain of Craters Road, the Puu Loa trailhead is located near mile marker 16.

About Coty

Founder of Exploration: Hawaii. Adventure, Minimalism, Vinyl, Typography, and Coffee + Matcha. A single space after a period, please.

2 comments

  1. Cody,

    Now that you saw the Big Island petroglyphs, you must see the sites of Olawalu in West Maui and Luahiwa on Lanai. They do not have as many petroglyphs as Puu Loa but they both contain some of the largest specimens I have ever seen. Both sites contain petroglyphs that appear to be about 12″ or greater in length. The ones on Luahiwa can be viewed up close but the Olawalu ones must be viewed from a distance. A telephoto lens is needed. As always please view with extreme caution.

    • Baron, Hopefully I will be able to make it out to Lanai sometime this year. I’d love to check out the Luahiwa petroglyphs. I’ve never even heard of the Olawalu site in West Maui, must check out next time I am there. By the way, let me know the next time you go check out the petroglyphs on the Kaiwi Shoreline. Would love to join!

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