Kaniakapupu Ruins – Honolulu, Hawaii - Atlas Obscura
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Honolulu, Hawaii

Kaniakapupu Ruins

The remains of the summer palace of King Kamehameha III. 

Kamehameha III ruled the Kingdom of Hawaii from 1825 to 1854. During his reign, the pressure to “modernize” and thus protect Hawaii’s sovereignty from Pacific colonial powers was set against the need to keep the nation intact internally and ensure that this Western influence did not separate him from his chiefs and his people. Kaniakapupu was an important site for achieving the latter goal.

Completed in 1845, Kaniakapupu was built in the Nu’uanu Valley on Oahu. The palace was situated on a parcel of crown lands called Luakaha, meaning roughly “place of relaxation.” The palace itself was a fairly straightforward structure in the traditional style, consisting of four stone walls enclosing one large room and surrounded by a porch on all sides. The grounds also included a stone perimeter wall, a detached kitchen house, a garden, and a Lono heiau (i.e., a temple or house dedicated to Lono, the Hawaiian god of agriculture, fertility, peace, and music) for which the palace was named Kaniakapupu, which means “the singing of the land shells.”

Built as a place where the king and his court could escape the summer heat, it was also a place where they could retreat from Western influence, shedding their Western clothing and discussing matters of politics and governance with Hawaiian chiefs, providing refreshment and entertainment to the Hawaiian people, and entertaining foreign dignitaries in Hawaiian style. A luau held in honor of Hawaiian Restoration Day at Kaniakapupu in 1847 reportedly had 10,000 people in attendance.

For unclear reasons, Kaniakapupu makes precious few appearances in the historical record after 1847; by 1874, the site appears on a map labelled simply as an “old ruin.” Why the palace fell out of disuse and into disrepair so quickly is unknown.

Today, this “old ruin” can be visited via a light trek starting from a trailhead that is marked only by a narrow gap in a roadside stand of bamboo. Bear in mind that these are the remains of a royal residence and thus kapu (forbidden/sacred/holy/that kind of thing), so treat the site with respect. The area apparently experiences a high incidence of break-ins, so visitors are advised against leaving valuables in their car.

Update September, 2016: As the Kaniakapupu Ruins have recently suffered vandalism, the Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources has determined the site hat off limits to public visitation.

Know Before You Go

The Kaniakapupu Ruins are part of the Lulumahu Hiking Trail in Nu’uanu Valley. A small hike through bamboo is required to get to the palace and surrounding grounds.