Kamakahonu Royal Center at Kailua Bay was the residential compound of Kamehameha I from 1813 until his death in 1819.
It had previously been the residence of a high chief, and it was undoubtedly a residential area back into the centuries prior to European contact.
Kamakahonu (which literally means eyes of the turtle) was the location of multiple heiau known collectively as Ahu‘ena, originally said to have been built by either Liloa or his son Umi-a-Liloa during the sixteenth century, was reconstructed and rededicated by Kamehameha I in the early nineteenth century.
John Papa ʻĪʻī, attendant of Kamehameha I, to become a companion and personal attendant to Liholiho (later King Kamehameha II,) described Kamakahonu from on board a ship in 1812, “Kamakahonu was a fine cove, with sand along the edge of the sea and islets of pāhoehoe, making it look like a pond, with a grove of kou trees a little inland and a heap of pāhoehoe in the center of the stretch of sand.”
Kamehameha first moved into the former residence of Keawe a Mahi. He then built another house high on stones on the seaward side of that residence, facing directly upland toward the planting fields of Kuahewa.
Like an observation post, this house afforded a view of the farm lands and was also a good vantage from which to see canoes coming from the south.
The royal residence at Kamakahonu was served by a series of anchialine pools, upwellings of fresh and salt water found on young lava fields. These anchialine pools were used to raise bait fish and shrimp for larger catches.
During Kamehameha’s use of this compound, reportedly 11 house structures were present. These included his sleeping house, houses for his wives, a large men’s house, storehouses and Ahuʻena heiau.
Kamehameha also included a battery of cannon and large stone walls to protect the fortress-like enclosure.
Upon Kamehameha’s death, a mortuary house was built, which held his remains until they were taken and hidden away.
After Liholiho’s departure from Hawaiʻi Island in 1820, the high chief Kuakini, who served as Governor of Hawai’i for many years, resided here until 1837, when he had Huliheʻe built and moved there.
By the late-1800s, Kamakahonu was abandoned and in the early-1900s H. Hackfield & Co. purchased the land, and its successor American Factors used the site as a lumberyard and later for the King Kamehameha Hotel.
Today, three remnant structures are present on the seaward beach of the property (all recreated in the 1970s and recently refurbished) – ‘Ahu’ena heiau, the mortuary house’s platform and an additional structural platform.
These structures are set aside in a covenant agreement between the State’s Historic Preservation Division and the current hotel owners.
Kamakahonu became the backdrop for some of the most significant events in the early nineteenth-century history of the Hawaiian Kingdom.
Three momentous events occurred here which established Kamakahonu as one of the most historically significant sites in Hawaiʻi:
- In the early morning hours of May 8, 1819 King Kamehameha I died here.
- A few months after the death of his father, Liholiho (Kamehameha II) broke the ancient kapu system, a highly defined regime of taboos that provided the framework of the traditional Hawaiian socio-economic structure
- The first Christian missionaries from New England were granted permission to come ashore here on April 4, 1820.
The property is now part of King Kamehameha’s Kona Beach Hotel; none of the original houses or walls remain.
Ahuʻena heiau was reconstructed in the 1970s at 2/3-scale and can be viewed, but not entered.
The small sandy beach provides a protected beach for launching canoes and children swimming. The first Hotel was built here in 1950; it was imploded (boy, that was an exciting day in Kona) and the current one constructed in 1975.
Kamakahonu is one of the featured Points of Interest in the Royal Footsteps Along The Kona Coast Scenic Byway. We prepared the Corridor Management Plan for the Scenic Byway.
The image is a portion of a Kekahuna map (Bishop Museum) noting the Kamakahonu Royal Center. In addition, I have placed other images and maps of Kamakahonu in a folder of like name in the Photos section on my Facebook page.