Punaluʻu i ke kai kau haʻa a ka malihini
Punaluʻu, where the sea dances for the visitors.
“The coast of Kaoo (Kaʻū) presents a prospect of the most horrid and dreary kind: the whole country appearing to have undergone a total change from the effects of some dreadful convulsion.”
“The ground is every where covered with cinders and intersected in many places with black streaks, which seem to mark the course of a lava that has flowed, not many ages, back, from the mountain Roa [Mauna Loa] to the shore.”
“The southern promontory looks like the mere dregs of a volcano. The projecting headland is composed of broken and craggy rocks, piled irregularly on one another, and terminating in sharp points.” (King Captain Cook’s Journal. 1779)
Henry ʻŌpūkahaʻia was born around 1792 in the area between Punaluʻu and Nīnole. At the age of 16, after his parents had been killed, he boarded a sailing ship anchored in Kealakekua Bay and sailed to the continent. “Memoirs of Henry Obookiah” (the spelling of his name prior to establishment of the formal Hawaiian alphabet, based on its sound) was published.
ʻŌpūkahaʻia, inspired by many young men with proven sincerity and religious fervor of the missionary movement, had wanted to spread the word of Christianity back home in Hawaiʻi; his book, a compilation of his writing, inspired the Pioneer Company of missionaries to sail to Hawaiʻi (October 23, 1819.)
In June 1823, William Ellis joined American Missionaries Asa Thurston, Artemas Bishop and Joseph Goodrich on a tour of the island of Hawaiʻi to investigate suitable sites for mission stations.
Coming from Waiʻōhinu, Ellis noted, “The country appeared more thickly inhabited, than that over which we had travelled in the morning. The villages along the sea-shore were near together, and some of them extensive.”
The following is his perspective on the area at ‘Punaruu’ (Punaluʻu.) “(W)e came to Punaruu, where the people of that and the next village, Wailau, collected together in a large house, and were addressed by one of the company, on the nature and attributes of the true God.”
“We generally preferred speaking to the people in the open air, as we then had more hearers, than when we addressed them in a house. But in the middle of the day, we usually found it too hot to stand so long in the sun. The services, which we held in the morning and evening, were -always out of doors.”
“We now left the road by the sea-side, and directed our course towards the mountains. Our path lay over a rich yellow looking soil of decomposed lava, or over a fine vegetable mould, in which we occasionally saw a few masses of lava partially decomposed.”
“There was but little cultivation, though the ground appeared well adapted to the growth of any of the produce of the islands. After walking up a gentle ascent, about eight miles, we came to a solitary hamlet, called Makaʻaka, containing four or five houses in which three or four families were residing.” (Ellis, 1823)
During the 1830s, Protestant missionaries from Kona and Hilo would make occasional visits into Kaʻū but a permanent missionary presence would not be installed until the early-1840s when Catholic and Protestant missions were established in the district.
In 1842, the Protestant minister John Paris settled in Waiʻōhinu where he founded a church and school. In 1843, Rev. Paris reported that a stone meeting house (church) had been built at Punaluʻu and that the school’s average attendance there was 140. (Paris preached three Sundays each month at Waiʻōhinu and one Sunday at Punaluʻu.) Cultural Surveys)
Chester H Lyman in 1846, coming south from Volcano through the ʻōhiʻa forest of tree ferns and below Kilauea, passed through Kapapala, where he encountered dwellings and canoe-making sheds, the first such to be seen on descending the mountain.
He was impressed with the green hills, the moist state of the soil, the “several horses with cattle and goats” feeding near the chief’s house; and “the fires of Kilauea which shone up magnificently on the clouds like the light of a conflagration at evening.
Punaluʻu village he found “romantically situated on the beach, shut in in part by a rough lava stream.” Continuing along the shore, he passed the black-pebble beach of Nīnole and found “a succession of small villages” whose inhabitants were “extensively engaged in fishing.” (Handy)
While cattle and goats were the focus of commercial agriculture in the region in the 1850s, wheat growing was attempted in Kaʻū; but it proved difficult to co-ordinate the size of the wheat crop with the requirements of the flour mills. The business did not become a permanent one. (Kuykendall)
Life in Kaʻū during the 1860s was disrupted and devastated by the forces of nature. In March of 1868 began a sequence of major earthquakes and eruptions of Mauna Loa, a prelude to an earthquake in early April that precipitated an “earthquake and the tidal wave destroying the villages from Punaluʻu to Kaʻaluʻalu (north-east of South Point.”) (Handy)
Then, sugar changed the regional landscape. Alexander Hutchinson established the Hutchinson Sugar Company (1868) and Hawaiian Agricultural Company, was established in Pāhala (1876,) the latter used Punaluʻu as its port.
The railroad from Punaluʻu to the village of Keaiwa (where the Pāhala Sugar Mill was located) was reported in June 1878 to be “the first railroad in these islands”. Railroads continued to operate in Kaʻū until the 1940s but the Pāhala – Punaluʻu railroad was discontinued in 1929. (Cultural Surveys)
Starting in the late-1800s, to get people and goods around the Islands, folks would catch steamer ships; competitors Wilder Steamship Co (1872) and Inter-Island Steam Navigation Co (1883) ran different routes, rather than engage in head to head competition.
For Inter-Island’s routes, vessels left Honolulu stopping at Lāhainā and Māʻalaea Bay on Maui and then proceeding directly to Kailua-Kona.
From Kailua, the steamer went south stopping at the Kona ports of Nāpoʻopoʻo on Kealakekua Bay, Hoʻokena, Hoʻopuloa, rounding South Point, touching at the Kaʻū port of Honuʻapo and finally arriving at Punaluʻu, Kaʻū, the terminus of the route. (From Punaluʻu, five mile railroad took passengers to Pāhala and then coaches hauled the visitors to the volcano from the Kaʻū side.)
The Punaluʻu Harbor and Landing served the communities of Punaluʻu and Nīnole and the sugar plantation at Pāhala and was considered the “port town for the district in 1880.” (Orr) By the mid-1880s Punaluʻu had storehouses, a restaurant, a store, and numerous homes constructed of lumber. (Cultural Surveys)
C Brewer & Company acquired the sugar interests in the Pāhala to Nīnole-Punaluʻu area that were merged into Kaʻū Sugar (the last harvest was in 1996;) Brewer also went into macadamia nuts and other ventures.
Between 1969-1972, at Nīnole and Punaluʻu, C Brewer Properties, Ltd developed the Sea Mountain 18-hole golf course community, which included the Colony I condominium project, Kalana I single-family residential subdivision, the Aspen Institute Center for Humanistic Studies, the Black Sands Restaurant and the Kaʻū Center for History and Culture.