View of Waimea Bay and Valley, looking west from the cliff where the heiau stands.

Pu'u o Mahuka Heiau

A Rich History

Pu'u o Mahuka is the largest heiau (religious site or temple) on O'ahu, covering almost two acres. The name is translated as "hill of escape", and it is a little-visited site of remarkable peace and seclusion. Tourists don't normally find out about it, and many maps don't show it. Native Hawaiians and kama'aina alike still bring offerings of fruit to the small living altar.

Undoubtedly, this heiau played an important role in the social, political and religious system of Waimea Valley, which was a major center of O'ahu in the pre-contact period.

The village may have been constructed in the 1600's. Built as a series of three walled enclosures, the stacked rock walls ranged from three to six feet in height and the interior surface was paved with stone. It would have been built by the maka'ainana (commoners) under the direction of the ali'i nui (high ruling chief) and his kahuna (priests).

In the 1770's, high priest Ka'opulupulu under O'ahu chief Kahahana oversaw this heiau. It was a time of political upheaval, and it is likely that it was used as a luakini heiau (sacrifical temple), perhaps marking success in war.

In 1795, when Kamehameha I conquered O'ahu, his high priest Hewahewa conducted religious ceremonies here, until the traditional religion was abolished in 1819.

Situated on a ridge with a commanding view of Waimea Valley, signal fires from this heiau were used to provide visual communications with another heiau at Wailua on the island of Kaua'i, nearly 100 miles away.

In 1792, Captain George Vancouver anchored his ship, the Daedalus, off Waimea and sent a party ashore to collect water. A skirmish ensued with the Hawaiians, and three of Vancouver's men were killed. Some have suggested that they were taken up to Pu'u o Mahuka for sacrifice.

Later, Russians and Alaskan Aleuts based fishing and whaling activities out of Waimea Valley. Many descendants of the original residents of Pu'u o Mahuka live in nearby North Shore communities, and a smaller village, with reconstructed Hawaiian arts and cultural events, is located below in the heiau in the valley.


Looking north along the main heiau walls, from the midpoint of the structure;
this lower section is likely where the maka'ainana (commoners) lived and worked.

Archeological Findings

Recent archeological research has indicated several changes in the structure over time. Initially, the heiau consisted of the upper enclosure paved with a floor of basalt and coral boulders. Later, a paving of smaller stones known as 'ili'ili was laid over the boulders.

The altar area at the east probably held the anu'u (oracle) tower, ki'i images, and tele altar; a small version remains today, where offerings are still left. Religious services were conducted at the oracle tower, and the gods spoke to the kahuna and ali'i. The original structure measured 20 feet or more in height.

National Monument

Pu'u o Mahuka Heiau was declared a National Historic Monument in 1962, in recognition of its importance to Hawaiian culture and history. The 4-acre property was placed under the jurisdiction of Hawaii State Parks.

Tours of other Hawaiian sites, including authentic homes and temples, are conducted by the resident archeologist, a native Hawaiian, at the Waimea Valley Park below the heiau cliffs. The site offers momentous views of the sunset on clear evenings.

To get to the "Hill of Escape", drive to the top of the main hill on Pupukea Road, just east of Waimea Bay. A small sign indicates the direction to the heiau, which is about 1/2 mile from the main road.


Some information on this page based on a pamphlet from the State of Hawai'i, Department of Land and Natural Resources.
Compiled and photographed by Michael North, local resident.


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