“We walked a mile over a raised macadamized road of uniform width; a road paved with flat stones and exhibiting in its every detail a considerable degree of engineering skill.”
“The stones are worn and smooth, and pushed apart in places, so that the road has the exact appearance of those ancient paved highways leading out of Rome which one sees in pictures.” (Mark Twain, Sacramento Daily Union, September 22, 1866)
Although the canoe was a principal means of travel in ancient Hawai`i, extensive cross-country trail networks enabled gathering of food and water and harvesting of materials for shelter, clothing, medicine, religious observances and other necessities for survival.
Ancient trails, those developed before western contact in 1778, facilitated trading between upland and coastal villages and communications between ahupua‘a and extended families.
These trails were usually narrow, following the topography of the land. Sometimes, over ‘a‘ā lava, they were paved with water-worn stones.
Alahele (trails) and alaloa (regional thoroughfares) were an integral part of the cultural landscape of South Kona and all Hawai‘i. The alahele provided access for local and regional travel, subsistence activities, cultural and religious purposes, and for communication between extended families and communities. Trails were important features of the cultural landscape.
Historical accounts describe at least two primary trails of regional importance in the South Kona region. One trail crossed the makai (near shore) lands, linking coastal communities and resources together. The other major trail of this region is “Kealaʻehu” (The path of Ehu), which passes through the uplands (in the vicinity of the Mamalahoa Highway.) (Rechtman)
Until the 1840s, overland travel was predominantly by foot and followed the traditional trails. By the 1840s, the use of introduced horses, mules and bullocks for transportation was increasing, and many traditional trails – the ala loa and mauka-makai trails within ahupua‘a – were modified by removing the smooth stepping stones that caused the animals to slip.
Eventually, wider, straighter trails were constructed to accommodate horse drawn carts. Unlike the earlier trails, these later trails could not conform to the natural, sometimes steep, terrain.
It was probably Kuakini, Governor of Hawaiʻi Island from 1819 to 1844, who was very aggressive in building roads with prison labor and took the initiative in modifying trails for horse travel. This often involved throwing out the steppingstones and adding curbstones. (Curbstones enabled animals to follow a path without the rider’s constant guidance.) (NPS)
They often by-passed the traditional trails as more remote coastal villages became depopulated due to introduced diseases and the changing economic and social systems.
By the early-1850s, specific criteria were developed for realigning trails and roadways, including the straightening of alignments and development of causeways and bridges.
“The history of road making in this kingdom does not date far back. The first law that we find recorded was enacted in 1840, which as well as the laws of 1846 and 1850 gave to the Governors a general control of the roads, with power to make new roads and employ prisoners in their construction.”
“But no system of road making has ever been introduced, and the whole subject has been left to be executed as chance dictated. In 1852 road supervisors were made elective by the people, at the annual election in January. This change worked no improvement in the roads, as the road supervisors, in order to remain popular, required the least possible amount of labor, and in many districts an hour or two of work in the morning was considered as a compliance with the road law.”
“Under this law the road supervisors were pretty much to themselves, and though accountable to the Minister of the Interior, they considered favor of their constituents of more importance. This law was found productive of more evil than good, and during the last session of the legislature a new road law was passed, which goes in to force on the 1st of January 1857.”
“This new law gives to the Minister of the Interior the appointment of road supervisors throughout the Kingdom, who are subject to such general instructions (we suppose in regard to the construction of roads) as he may issue.” (Pacific Commercial Advertiser, September 25, 1856)
In 1871, a coastal trail that originally extended from Napoʻopoʻo south to Hoʻokena was repaired, and renamed the 1871 Trail. It is a section of the historic coastal Alaloa (regional trail) and was a primary route of travel between communities, royal centers, religious sites and resources. (It was improved as a ‘two-horse trail’ because it was widened to accommodate two horses.)
The Alahaka Ramp, located near the southern end of the Keanaeʻe Cliffs, is a massive stone ramp that ascends the pali from Keokea into Kiʻilae and connects the 1871 trail to Kiʻilae Village.
It is during this time that a series of large-scale government programs were initiated that focused on improvements to public resources, such as roadways.
It is one of the significant road construction events of this period. Prior to the construction of the ramp, folks used a ladder or rope to get up the slope. Alahaka ramp was built to allow horses to continue on the trail.
The 1871 Trail was used as part of a trade route in Hawaii. Having horses meant that people were able to transport more goods to trade, so it was very important that horses could navigate the trail.
In regards to the Alahaka Ramp, the first reference of a ‘constructed ramp’ is found in a letter to the Minister of the Interior dated February 4, 1868. In this letter, George Hardy, the road supervisor at the time, said:
“In South Kona, I have repaired (a very) bad place known by the name of Alahaka in the village of Kiʻilae, a place of great danger where several horses had been kill’d: and where people were in danger of going up and down. I have made it wide and a substantial road.” (NPS)
As noted in a December 31, 1897 letter, the Alahaka Ramp had fallen into a state of disrepair, when road supervisor TH Wright wrote: “Napoʻopoʻo to Hoʻokena beach road in a fearful condition, it needs repair of the worst kind. The Walahaka pali is very dangerous. This road is used every day for the convenience of the public, going and back to these places.” (NPS)
Wheeled vehicles did not enter Honaunau until 1918; travel in that area continuing to be by horses, mules and donkeys, as well as by foot. Although the area remained somewhat isolated due to the lack of a cart road, better trails continued to be built for mounted traffic.
In 1918 the trail section north of Honaunau was improved for wheeled traffic; however, the section south to Hoʻokena was never modified for motorized vehicles.
In 1951, a large earthquake caused an upper section of the ramp to slough off, which over the next ten years, continued to deteriorate. Twelve years later, the newly established National Park, conducted a rebuilding the entire makai (ocean-facing) side with steel rebar, mortar and stones.
A portion of the 1871 Trail, as well as the Alahaka Ramp are situated within the Puʻuhonua O Honaunau National Historical Park and is available to hike – from Honaunau to Hoʻokena. Two trailheads: at the National Historical Park or Hoʻokena Beach Park. (Round trip is about 6.5-miles.)