Big Island History

Historic HawaiiIn 1778, Captain Cook arrived on Kauai, opening the door to an influx of westerners. Only a year later on the Big Island of Hawaii, warriors at Kealakekua Bay killed Cook after a contentious chain of events. Today, a monument stands in this marine life preserve in honor of Captain Cook. The Big Island was also the home to King Kamehameha’s court until it moved to Oahu in 1804. In 1812, Kamehameha the Great returned to his beloved Hawaii Island where he died in 1819. In 1820, the first missionaries arrived in Kailua-Kona. Mokuaikaua Church on Alii Drive in Historic Kailua Village (Kailua-Kona) still stands and is in use today. Other westerners followed, introducing cattle to the island. Sugar plantations also bloomed on the Hilo side in the 20th century. Throughout the Big Island you will find historical sites that cover culture, monuments, museums and other interesting places to visit. Below we highlighted a few places of interest.

Lyman House Memorial Museum, Hilo

Lynn HouseTake a look at what life in Hawaii was like during the missionary era by touring the 1839 missionary home here. Also, browse thru the photo and library archives, which provide an in-depth history of the establishment of the sugar industry, Hawaiian royalty, the immigrant experience and much more. There is also a collection of artifacts of Hawaiian and other major island ethnic groups. 935-5021 or

Pacific Tsunami Museum, Hilo

Tidal waves are fascinating and often deadly. Hawaii has had her share of experience with them, and in addition to scientific information pertaining to these dramatic natural events, there is recorded first-hand testimony from survivors to be found here. The museum is a memorial to those who lost their lives in Hawaiian tsunamis and it hopes to educate people about them in preparation for future occurrences. 935-0926 or

Laupahoehoe Train Museum, Laupahoehoe

Train StationIn the heyday of sugar plantations on the Big Island, the railway was the main way of transporting the crop, and the Hamakua portion of the railway was the most expensive section of railway in America at the time. The museum is housed in the old Laupahoehoe Railway Station, and has photos, memorabilia and tales of the times. It is marked by a RR Xing sign on Hwy. 19 on the Hamakua Coast. 962-6300

Onizuka Center for International Astronomy, Mauna Kea Visitor Center

Mauna Kea ObservatoryThis is a great place to stop on your way up to the Mauna Kea summit. A lot of people stop here to acclimatize for a 1/2 hour or so before heading up to the observatories on the peak (it cuts down on elevation sickness to do so). There are videos and displays about the observatories, astronomy, and the geography and ecology of the mountain. Often in the evenings there is a telescope set up with a helpful ranger or two pointing out features in the night sky. It can be chilly and windy, so we recommend that you take a hooded jacket with you for stargazing. 961-2180 or

Parker Ranch Museum and Historic Homes, Waimea

Get introduced to the Hawaiian cowboy or paniolo, and one of the largest privately owned cattle ranches in North America. Ranching tools of the trade, a ranch history video, historic photos, and furnishings. One of the homes on site was built in the mid-1800's by Parker Ranch founder John Palmer Parker, and features an interior made entirely of rare koa wood. The other home was built by former ranch owner Richard Smart and houses his wonderful international art collection. 885-7311 or

Ellison S. Onizuka Space Center, Kona International Airport

This is an educational facility dedicated to the memory of astronaut Ellison Onizuka, who was born and raised on the Big Island, and who tragically perished in the Challenger Space Shuttle disaster of 1986. It's an interactive museum, where visitors can learn about the forces of gravity, manned space flight programs and more...there's a moon rock, an astronaut suit, and models of spacecraft. 329-3441

Hulihee Palace, Kailua-Kona

Hulihee PalaceThe Palace was a hub of Kailua-Kona when Governor John Adams Kuakini built it in 1838. Among the many things to see inside, there is a fascinating collection of local artifacts, which includes some from the reign of Kamehameha the Great, and some beautiful koa furniture. Outside on the lawn, near the royal fishpond, you may well see hula lessons taking place. Tours are offered. 329-1877

Kona Historical Society Museum, Captain Cook

The historic Greenwell family store, a stone and coral mortar building built in 1875 as a general merchandising store, post office and meeting place, serves as the Museum. Ranching and coffee farming artifacts, photo exhibits, and a book and gift shop featuring locally made crafts. On Hwy. 11, one quarter mile south of Kealakekua. You can also arrange to participate in one of the KHS's historic walking tours of downtown Kailua-Kona by calling 323-3222, or go to

Kona Coffee Living History Farm, Captain Cook

Also run by the Kona Historical Society, the coffee farm, also known as Uchida Coffee Farm, is a working farm in the midst of a coffee plantation, and was built by Japanese immigrants in 1925. Guides are dressed in clothes from the early 20th century, and they show visitors the original farmhouse, the Japanese (furo) bath house, the coffee processing mill and drying platforms, and talk of the immigrant farmworker experience. To reserve a spot on a tour, call 323-2005 or for more info. go to

Thomas A. Jaggar Museum, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park

Place of RefugeBesides an incredible view of Kilauea caldera, visitors can see displays of different types of lava, videos of eruptions, seismographs, and some illustrated Hawaiian legends, especially those relating to Pele, the goddess of the volcano. The mural art was done by wonderful local artist Herb Kane. Located on Chain of Craters Road. 985-6000 or

Place of Refuge

Officially called in Hawaiian, Pu'uhonua o Honaunau, the Place of Refuge is probably the most visited Kona tourist site out of Kailua, which is a National Park. This place was very important to Hawaiians. In the olden days, If you broke a law (kapu) it was very well possible an immediate death sentence was awarded! However, there was an out. If you could paddle your canoe fast enough to reach the place of refuge, then all your sins would be forgiven and you could return to your village life.