Throughout the years of late-prehistory, A.D. 1400s – 1700s, and through much of the 1800s, transportation and communication within the Hawaiian kingdom was by canoe and by major trail systems.
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.
Over time, as needs and technology changed, the trails evolved to address these changes.
Various archaeologists note the following evolution of Hawai‘i trails:
- Pre-contact/Early historical … Single-file footpath … Follow contours of coast
- 1820-1840 … Widened for one horse … Coastal – curbstones added
- 1820-1840 … Built in straight lines, inland
- 1841-1918 … Widened for two horses … Straight, leveled
- Late-1800s-early 1900s … Widened for horse cart … Straight, leveled
Bridges also became necessary. Perhaps the first was a footbridge across the Wailuku River in Hilo, described in 1825. The first important span on O‘ahu was the Beretania Street bridge built over Nu‘uanu Stream in 1840.
By the 1830s, King Kamehameha III initiated a program of island-wide improvements on the ala loa, and in 1847, a formal program for development of the alanui aupuni (government roads) was initiated.
Sidewalks were constructed, usually of wood, as early as 1838. The first sidewalk made of brick was laid down in 1857 by watchmaker Samuel Tawson in front of his shop on Merchant Street.
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.
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.
This system of roadwork, supervised by district overseers, and funded through government appropriations – with labor by prisoners and individuals unable to pay taxes in another way – evolved over the next 40 years.
Paved streets were unknown until 1881. In that year, Fort Street was macadamized (a paving process using aggregate layers of stone with a cementing agent binder – a process named after Scotsman John Loudon McAdam,) followed by Nu‘uanu Avenue.
In 1892, Queen Lili‘uokalani and the Legislature of the Kingdom of Hawai‘i signed into law an “Act Defining Highways, and Defining and Establishing Certain Routes and Duties in Connection Therewith,” to be known as “The Highways Act, 1892.”
Through this act, all roads, alleys, streets, ways, lanes, courts, places, trails and bridges in the Hawaiian Islands, whether laid out or built by the Government or by private parties were declared to be public highways; ownership was placed in the Government (typically, under the control of the Department of Land and Natural Resources.)
Today, trails serve more as recreational features, rather than transportation links. While I was at DLNR, we oversaw “Na Ala Hele,” the State of Hawai‘i’s Trail and Access Program, administered by DLNR’s Division of Forestry and Wildlife.
It was established in 1988 in response to public concern about the loss of public access to certain trails and the threat to historic trails from development pressure.
The goal of the Na Ala Hele Program is to provide public outdoor recreation opportunities for hiking, biking, hunting, camping, equestrian and off-highway vehicle use.
Na Ala Hele has become increasingly engaged in trail management and regulatory issues due to both public and commercial recreational activities and emerging legal issues.
In addition, Na Ala Hele is charged with locating and determining whether a historic road or ancient trail falls under the Highways Act of 1892.
Likewise, the program is responsible for the inventory, and documenting ownership of specific historic trails and non-vehicular old government roads for public use where it is feasible and culturally appropriate.
Throughout the years of AD 1400s – 1700s, and through much of the 1800s, the canoe was a principal means of travel in ancient Hawaiʻi. Canoes were used for interisland and inter-village coastal travel.
Most permanent villages initially were near the ocean and at sheltered beaches, which provided access to good fishing grounds, as well as facilitating convenient canoe travel.
Royal Centers were where the aliʻi resided; aliʻi often moved between several residences throughout the year. The Royal Centers were selected for their abundance of resources and recreation opportunities, with good surfing and canoe-landing sites being favored.
The canoes “have the bottom for the most part formed of a single piece or log of wood, hollowed out to the thickness of an inch, or an inch and a half, and brought to a point at each end.”
“The sides consist of three boards, each about an inch thick, and neatly fitted and lashed to the bottom part. The extremities, both at head and stern, are a little raised, and both are made sharp, somewhat like a wedge, but they flatten more abruptly, so that the two side-boards join each other side by side for more than a foot.”
“They are rowed by paddles, such as we had generally met with; and some of them have a light triangular sail, like those of the Friendly Islands, extended to a mast and boom. The ropes used for their boats, and the smaller cords for their fishing-tackle, are strong and well made.” (Captain Cook’s Journal)
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 (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.
June 21, 1803 marked an important day in the history of Hawaiʻi land transportation and other uses when the Lelia Byrd, an American ship under Captain William Shaler (with commercial officer Richard Cleveland,) arrived at Kealakekua Bay with two mares and a stallion on board.
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.
By the early 1850s, specific criteria were developed for realigning trails and roadways, including the straightening of alignments and development of causeways and bridges. On August 30, 1850, the Privy Council first named Hawaiʻi’s streets; there were 35-streets that received official names that day (29 were in Downtown Honolulu, the others nearby).
To get around people walked, or rode horses or used personal carts/buggies. It wasn’t until 1868, that horse-drawn carts became the first public transit service in the Hawaiian Islands, operated by the Pioneer Omnibus Line.
Nuʻuanu Valley was the first of the valleys to undergo residential development because it was convenient to the town (when most people walked from town up into the valley).
In 1888, the animal-powered tramcar service of Hawaiian Tramways ran track from downtown to Waikīkī. In 1900, the Tramway was taken over by the Honolulu Rapid Transit & Land Co (HRT).
That year, an electric trolley (tram line) was put into operation in Honolulu, and then in 1902, a tram line was built to connect Waikīkī and downtown Honolulu. The electric trolley replaced the horse/mule-driven tram cars.
“In those days – there were only four automobiles on Oahu in 1901 – you lived downtown because you worked downtown, you couldn’t live in Kaimuki or in Manoa.” (star-bulletin) The tram helped change that.
“The company’s service extends to Waikiki beach, the famous and popular resort of the Hawaiian and tourist, and where the aquarium, the property of the company, is one of the great objects of attraction. Kapiʻolani Park, the Bishop Museum, the Kahauki Military Post, the Royal Mausoleum, Oʻahu College and the Mānoa and Nuʻuanu valleys are reached by the lines of this company.” (Overland Monthly, 1909)
The streetcars were replaced completely by buses (first gasoline and later diesel buses). Bus service was inaugurated by HRT in 1915, initially using locally built bodies and later buses from the Mainland (acquired in 1928).
Trolley buses operated on a number of HRT routes from January 1938 to the spring of 1958. Electric street cars, first used by HRT on August 31, 1901, were withdrawn early in the morning of July 1, 1941. (Schmitt)
In 1888, the legislature gave Dillingham an exclusive franchise “for construction and operation on the Island of O‘ahu a steam railroad … for the carriage of passengers and freight.”
Ultimately OR&L sublet land, partnered on several sugar operations and/or hauled cane from Ewa Plantation Company, Honolulu Sugar Company in ‘Aiea, O‘ahu Sugar in Waipahu, Waianae Sugar Company, Waialua Agriculture Company and Kahuku Plantation Company, as well as pineapples for Dole.
Likewise, OR&L hauled various stages in the pineapple harvesting/production, including the canning components, fresh pineapple to the cannery, ending up hauling the cased products to the docks.
By 1895 the rail line reached Waianae. It then rounded Kaʻena Point to Mokuleʻia, eventually extending to Kahuku. Another line was constructed through central O‘ahu to Wahiawa.
Passenger travel was an add-on opportunity that not only included train rides, they also operated a bus system. However, the hauling for the agricultural ventures was the most lucrative.
They even included a “Kodak Camera Train” (associated with the Hula Show) for Sunday trips to Haleiwa for picture-taking. During the war years, they served the military.
Repeatedly evidenced in the early years of rail across the continent, railroads looked to expand their passenger business by operating hotels and attractions at the ends of the lines.
Once a railroad was being built to a new location, the land speculators would prepare for cashing in on their investment. A hotel would typically be in place by the time the railroad service began.
Just like the rail programs on the continent, the railroad owned and operated the Haleiwa Hotel and offered city folks a North Shore destination with beaches, boating, golf, tennis and hunting.
On August 5, 1899, as part of the O‘ahu Railway & Land Company (OR&L) rail system, the Hale‘iwa Hotel (“house of the ‘iwa”, or frigate bird) was completed.
The weekend getaway from Honolulu to the Hale‘iwa Hotel became hugely popular with the city affluent who enjoyed a retreat in “the country.”
The Waikīkī Aquarium opened on March 19, 1904; it is the third oldest aquarium in the United States. Its adjacent neighbor on Waikīkī Beach is the Natatorium War Memorial.
It was also a practical objective of using the Aquarium as a means of enticing passengers to ride to the end of the new trolley line in Kapiʻolani Park, where the Aquarium was located. (The trolley terminus was across Kalākaua Avenue from the Aquarium, near the current tennis courts.)
Honolulu resident HP Baldwin is credited with having the first automobile back in October 1899 (it was steam-powered). The first gasoline-powered automobile arrived in the Islands in 1900.
Fast-forward a half-century of road building, growth in the number of automobiles and the associated traffic.
Interstate H-1 was first authorized in as a result of the Statehood Act of 1960. Work was completed on the first segment of the new H-1 Interstate, spanning 1-mile – from Koko Head Avenue to 1st Avenue, on June 21, 1965.
A temporary westbound exit to Harding and a temporary eastbound entrance from Kapahulu Avenue allowed motorists to access the new freeway until the Kapiʻolani Interchange was completed in October 1967.
Each island was divided into several moku (districts,) of which there are six in the island of Hawaiʻi, and the same number in Oʻahu. There is a district called Kona on the lee side and one called Koʻolau on the windward side of almost every island. (Alexander) The moku of Hawaiʻi Island are: Kona, Kohala, Hāmākua, Hilo, Puna and Kaʻū.
The Polynesians who came to the Hawaiian Islands were quick to consider the sunny, sheltered Kona district of Hawaiʻi, rising gently to fertile, cloud-covered slopes, as an environment suited to their needs.
It was ideal for food crops such as taro, breadfruit, banana, sweet potatoes and sugar cane they brought with them. Its clear, calm waters offered excellent near- and off-shore fishing. This coast became the most densely populated area in the islands and the coveted land of the chiefs.
In the centuries prior to 1778, seven large and densely-populated Royal Centers were located in Kona along the shoreline between Kailua and Hōnaunau. These included Kamakahonu at Kailua Bay, Hōlualoa, Kahaluʻu, Keauhou, Kaʻawaloa, Kealakekua and Hōnaunau.
The compounds were areas selected by the aliʻi for their residences; aliʻi often moved between several residences throughout the year. The Royal Centers were selected for their abundance of resources and recreation opportunities, with good surfing and canoe-landing sites being favored.
Structures associated with the Royal Centers include heiau (religious structures) and sacred areas, house sites for the aliʻi and the entourage of family and kahuna (priests), and activity areas for burial, bathing, games, recreation and crafts and often a puʻuhonua (refuge area.)
The small but deeply indented Hōnaunau Bay, with a sandy cove where canoes could be easily beached, was a favorite residence for the king. (Emory)
The grounds of the Royal Center was centered around the small embayment known as Keoneʻele Cove. Cup holes, which may have held kapu sticks, are noted to the north, east and southern boundaries of this area. It is believed that these kapu sticks demarcated the boundary of the royal area.
In pre-contact times, the royal grounds contained several chiefly residences and ceremonial-related structures. Other highlighted sites used by royalty included the Heleipālala fishponds and Keoneʻele Cove canoe landing.
“When first seen by Europeans, the district was composed of scattered coastal settlements of thatched houses with two nodes large enough to be called villages: Hōnaunau at the north end and Kiʻilae at the south.” (NPS)
“Hōnaunau, we found, was formerly a place of considerable importance, having been the frequent residence of the kings of Hawaii, for several successive generations.” The town contained 147-houses. (Ellis, 1823)
“We arrived in the afternoon at a village by the seaside called Hōnaunau, about two leagues (4-miles) to the southward of Kealakekua Bay. … They took us to a large house which was tabooed for the king, with a number of smaller houses contiguous to it for sleeping in and for his attendants when he comes to the village.”
“We were told that he has a set of houses kept for him in the same way in every village he is likely to stop at round the Island, which; when he once occupies or eats in, cannot afterwards be used by any other.” (Menzies, 1793)
A feature found at Royal Centers were fishponds. Cartographer Henry Kekahuna called the Honaunau ponds Heleipālala. These were a number of fish ponds inland from the shore and containing a mixture of fresh and ocean waters.
They were probably stocked with fish (most likely ʻamaʻama (mullet) and awa (milkfish.)) Given their location within the royal grounds, an area inhabited and used by aliʻi, the Heleipālala ponds were most likely kapu (prohibited) to commoners.
Beyond the boundaries of the royal grounds, around the head of Hōnaunau Bay, lived the chiefly retainers and the commoners. To the south were scattered settlements along the coast and inland under the cliffs of Keanaeʻe. (NPS)
At Hōnaunau was the puʻuhonua, The Place of Refuge, termed the ‘City of Refuge’ by Rev. William Ellis in 1823, with its adjoining chiefly residences and associated with the Royal Center.
Hōnaunau was not the only puʻuhonua in the Islands. Ethno-historical literature, and available physical, cultural, and locational data, note at least 57-sites across the Islands. Puʻuhonua tended to occur in areas of high population and/or in areas frequented by chiefs. (Schoenfelder)
Hale O Keawe, at the northern end of the eastern wing of the Great Wall at Puʻuhonua O Hōnaunau, was named after and either built by or for Keawe around 1700. In ancient times the Heiau served as a royal mausoleum, housing the remains of deified high chiefs.
Historical information indicates that in the area immediately east of the Hale o Keawe was once the location for a ti leaf thatched structure called the “Hale O Lono.” In 1919, archaeologist JFG Stokes was told by elderly Hawaiians that this area was a temple used for the four periods of prayer held monthly for eight months of the year.
The area bordering the east side Keoneʻele Cove was traditionally known as Kauwalomālie. Kauwalomālie is said to have contained a large platform, fronted by an 8-foot high retaining wall. The platform was reportedly the location for a chiefly residence and/or ceremonial area. (NPS)
At about the time of ʻUmi (about the same time Christopher Columbus was crossing the Atlantic,) a significant new form of agriculture was developed in Kona; he is credited with starting this in Kona. Today, archaeologists call the unique method of farming in this area the “Kona Field System.”
This intensive agricultural activity changed farming and agricultural production on the western side of Hawai’i Island; the Kona field system was quite large, extending from Kailua to south of Hōnaunau.
In lower elevations all the way to the shore, informal clearings, mounds and terraces were used to plant sweet potatoes; and on the forest fringe above the walled fields there were clearings, mounds and terraces. Sweet potatoes grew among the breadfruit.
In 1871, a coastal trail that originally extended from Nāpōʻopoʻo 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. (Improved, it was 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 connects the historic 1871 Trail to Kiʻilae Village. Prior to the construction of the ramp (probably in the mid-1800s,) folks used a ladder or rope to get up the slope.
(In 1918 the trail section north of Hōnaunau was improved for wheeled traffic; however, the section south to Hoʻokena was never modified for motorized vehicles.)
In 1891, the lands at Hōnaunau were deeded to the Bishop Estate Trustees and from 1921-1961 the County of Hawaiʻi leased the Bishop Estate-owned lands for a County Park. It is during this time, they constructed a series of seawalls that fronted the eastern and western sides of Keoneʻele Cove. (NPS)
The image shows Keoneʻele Cove and the area known as Kauwalomālie (NPS, 1912.) I have added other images to a folder of like name in the Photos section on my Facebook and Google+ pages.
The canoe was a principal means of travel in ancient Hawaiʻi.
Canoes were used for inter-village coastal and interisland travel, while trails within the ahupuaʻa provided access between the uplands and the coast.
Most permanent villages initially were near the sea and sheltered beaches, which provided access to good fishing grounds as well as facilitating canoe travel between settlements.
At about the same time of Christopher Columbus crossing the Atlantic to America (he was looking for an alternate trade route to the East Indies,) Piʻilani was ruler of Maui.
According to oral tradition, Piʻilani unified the entire island of Maui and ruled in peace and prosperity, bringing together, under one rule, the formerly-competing eastern (Hāna) and western (Wailuku) multi-district kingdoms of the Island.
Piʻilani’s prosperity was exemplified by a boom in agriculture and construction of heiau, fishponds, trails and irrigation systems. Famed for his energy and intelligence, Piʻilani constructed the West Maui phase of the noted Alaloa, or long trail (also known as the King’s Highway.)
Ancient trails facilitated trading between upland and coastal villages and communications between ahupuaʻa and extended families. These trails were usually narrow, following the topography of the land. Sometimes, over ʻaʻā lava, they were paved with waterworn stones (ʻalā or paʻalā).
Pi‘ilani died at Lāhainā and the kingdom of Maui passed to his son, Lono-a-Piʻilani (Lono.) Pi‘ilani had directed that the kingdom go to Lono, and that Kiha-a-Piʻilani (Kiha – Lono’s brother) serve under him in peace.
In the early years of Lono’s reign all was well … that changed.
Lono became angry, because he felt Kiha was trying to seize the kingdom for himself. Lono sought to kill Kiha; so Kiha fled in secret to Molokaʻi and later to Lānaʻi. When Kiha, with chiefs, warriors and a fleet of war canoes, made their way to attack Lono; Lono trembled with fear of death, and died. (Kamakau)
Kiha assumed power over Maui. Like his father, the reign of Kiha was, “eminently peaceful and prosperous, and his name has been reverently and affectionately handed down to posterity”. (Fornander)
Kiha resumed what his father had started in West Maui. Kiha laid the East Maui section and connected the island. This trail was the only ancient pathway to encircle any Hawaiian island (not only along the coast, but also up the Kaupō Gap and through the summit area and crater of Haleakalā.)
Kiha connected the entire island with a network of trails to aide his people in their travels which gave him quick access to all parts of his kingdom.
Four to six-feet wide and 138-miles long, this rock-paved path facilitated both peace and war. It simplified local and regional travel and communication, and allowed the chief’s messengers to quickly get from one part of the island to another. The trail was used for the annual harvest festival of Makahiki and to collect taxes, promote production, enforce order and move armies.
Missionaries Richards, Andrews and Green noted in 1828, “a pavement said to have been built by Kihapiʻilani, a king … afforded us no inconsiderable assistance in traveling as we ascended and descended a great number of steep and difficult paries (pali.)” (Missionary Herald)
By the middle-1820s, significant changes in the Hawaiian Kingdom were underway. The missionaries, who arrived in April 1820, selected key stations generally coinciding with the traditional Royal Centers, which by this time, were also developing as trade points with foreign vessels. The development of trails to western-style roadways was initiated to facilitate access to mission stations, landings, and key areas of resource collection.
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 ahupuaʻa – 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. 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.
Sometimes, the new corridors were constructed over the alignments of the ancient trails, or totally realigned, thus abandoning – for larger public purposes – the older ala loa. In addition to these modifications in trail location and type due to changing uses, trails were also relocated as a result of natural events such as lava flows, tsunami, and other occurrences. The Hawaiian trail system was and will remain dynamic.
Hoapili is credited with improving the King’s Highway (in early 1800s – portions were called Hoapili Trail, initially built during the reign of Pi‘ilani.) Hoapili commissioned road gangs for the work. The Rev. Henry Cheever noted that these road gangs were largely composed of prisoners who had been convicted of adultery; Cheever called it “the road that sin built.” (Samson)
By the early 1850s, specific criteria were developed for realigning trails and roadways, including the straightening of alignments and development of causeways and bridges. This system of roadwork, supervised by district overseers, and funded through government appropriations – with labor by prisoners and individuals unable to pay taxes in another way – evolved over the next 40 years.
With the passing of time, emphasis was given to areas of substantial populations. Because of the on-going decline of the Hawaiian population, and the near abandonment of isolated communities formerly accessed by the ala loa and earlier alanui aupuni, segments were abandoned.
In the later years of the Hawaiian monarchy, the need to define and protect Hawaiian trails and roadways was recognized, particularly in support of native tenants living in remote locations. Often these native tenants` lands were surrounded by tracts of land held by single, large landowners who challenged rights of access.
In 1892, Queen Liliʻuokalani and the Legislature of the Kingdom of Hawaiʻi signed into law an “Act Defining Highways, and Defining and Establishing Certain Routes and Duties in Connection Therewith,” to be known as The Highways Act, 1892.
“All roads, alleys, streets, ways, lanes, courts, places, trails and bridges in the Hawaiian Islands, whether now or hereafter opened, laid out or built by the Government, or by private parties, and dedicated or abandoned to the public as a highway, are hereby declared to be public highways.”
The image shows a portion of the Kings Highway footpath showing rounded rocks laid into lava bed (LOC.) In addition, I have added other related images in a folder of like name in the Photos section on my Facebook and Google+ pages.