Waikīkī was once a vast marshland whose boundaries encompassed more than 2,000-acres (as compared to its present 500-acres we call Waikīkī, today).
The name Waikīkī, which means “water spurting from many sources,” was well adapted to the character of the swampy land of ancient Waikīkī, where water from the upland valleys would gush forth from underground.
Three main valleys Makiki, Mānoa, and Pālolo are mauka of Waikīkī and through them their respective streams (and springs in Mānoa (Punahou and Kānewai)) watered the marshland below.
As they entered the flat Waikīkī Plain, the names of the streams changed; the Mānoa became the Kālia and the Pālolo became the Pāhoa (they joined near Hamohamo (now an area mauka of the Kapahulu Library.))
While at the upper elevations, the streams have the ahupuaʻa names, at lower elevations, after merging/dividing, they have different names, as they enter the ocean, Pi‘inaio, ‘Āpuakēhau and Kuekaunahi.
The Pi‘inaio (Makiki) entered the sea at Kālia (near what is now Fort DeRussy as a wide delta (kahawai,) the ‘Āpuakēhau (Mānoa and Kālia,) also called the Muliwai o Kawehewehe (“the stream that opens the way” on some maps,) emptied in the ocean at Helumoa (between the Royal Hawaiian and Moana Hotels).
The Kuekaunahi (Pālolo) once emptied into the sea at Hamohamo (near the intersection of ‘Ōhua and Kalākaua Avenues.) The land between these three streams was called Waikolu, meaning “three waters.”
The early Hawaiian settlers gradually transformed the marsh into hundreds of taro fields, fish ponds and gardens. Waikiki was once one of the most productive agricultural areas in old Hawai‘i.
Beginning in the 1400s, a vast system of irrigated taro fields and fish ponds were constructed. This field system took advantage of streams descending from Makiki, Mānoa and Pālolo valleys which also provided ample fresh water for the Hawaiians living in the ahupua‘a.
From ancient times, Waikīkī has been a popular surfing spot. Indeed, this is one of the reasons why the chiefs of old make their homes and headquarters in Waikīkī for hundreds of years.
Waikīkī, by the time of the arrival of Europeans in the Hawaiian Islands during the late eighteenth century, had long been a center of population and political power on O‘ahu.
The preeminence of Waikīkī continued into the eighteenth century and is illustrated by Kamehameha’s decision to reside there after taking control of O‘ahu by defeating the island’s chief, Kalanikūpule.
Helumoa, in Waikīkī, became a favorite retreat and home for Ali‘i throughout the ages.
Mā‘ilikūkahi, an O‘ahu Ali‘i who moved the center of government from the Ewa plains on O‘ahu to Waikīkī in the 1400s, is said to have been one of the first to reside there.
Ali‘i nui Kalamakuaakaipuholua, who ruled in the early 1500s, is credited for his major work in establishing lo‘i kalo (wetland taro ponds) in the area, as well as for encouraging cultivation throughout the land.
One story of how Helumoa got its name involves Kākuhihewa, Mā‘ililkūkahi’s descendent six generations later, ruling chief of O‘ahu from 1640 to 1660.
It is said that the supernatural chicken, Ka‘auhelemoa, one day flew down from his home in Ka‘au Crater, in Pālolo, and landed at Helumoa.
Furiously scratching into the earth, the impressive rooster then vanished. Kākuhihewa took this as an omen and planted niu (coconuts) at that very spot.
Helumoa (meaning “chicken scratch”) was the name he bestowed on that niu planting that would multiply into a grove of reportedly 10,000 coconut trees.
This is the same coconut grove that would later be called the King’s Grove, or the Royal Grove, and would be cited in numerous historical accounts for its pleasantness and lush surroundings.
Kamehameha the Great and his warriors camped near here, when they began their conquest of O‘ahu in 1795.
Later, he would return and build a Western style stone house for himself, as well as residences for his wives and retainers in an area known as Pua‘ali‘ili‘i.
Kamehameha I resided at Helumoa periodically from 1795 to 1809. He ended Waikīkī’s nearly 400-year reign as O‘ahu’s capital when he moved the royal headquarters to Honolulu (known then as Kou) in 1808 (to Pākākā.)
King Kamehameha III, son of King Kamehameha I lived at Helumoa during the 1830s. King Kamehameha V, grandson of King Kamehameha I, also lived at Helumoa in a summer residence, in which he periodically lived.
In the 1880s, Helumoa was inherited by Kamehameha I’s great-granddaughter, Princess Bernice Pauahi Bishop.
Princess Bernice Pauahi Bishop, in 1884, wrote the final codicils (amendments) of her will at Helumoa, in which she bequeathed her land to the Bishop Estate for the establishment of the Kamehameha Schools.
In the last days of her battle with breast cancer, Pauahi returned to Helumoa. Although the Princess could have gone anywhere to recuperate, she chose Helumoa, for the fond memories it recalled and the tranquility it provided.
The tallest coconut palms in this area, today, date back to the 1930s.
Sheraton Waikīkī, Royal Hawaiian Hotel and Royal Hawaiian Shopping Center now stand on the land known as Helumoa.
Kamehameha Schools owns the Royal Hawaiian Shopping Center. In the center of it is ‘The Royal Grove,’ a 30,000-square-foot landscaped garden inspired by Waikīkī’s Helumoa coconut grove.
As one of the largest green spaces in Waikīkī, The Royal Grove is a centerpiece for entertainment and cultural gatherings with local hula halau and other performances.