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King Kamehameha Hotel, Kailua-Kona, HI (hotel)

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Name:King Kamehameha Hotel
Street:75-5660 Palani Road

At Bigbro's suggestion, I decided to start this post for the King Kamehameha Hotel located in Kailua-Kona.

Here is a nice early artist conception of the hotel grounds.

And the historical Ahu'ena Heiau, a temple dedicated to Lono who was the Hawaiian God of peace, agriculture and prosperity resides there.

Photo of the Heiau with its Tikis.

I also have these postcards of the great old rooms at the hotel.

Some history of the hotel:

The Kona, Hawaii, hotel is on one of the most historic sites in all of Hawaii. King Kamehameha the Great established his royal residence adjacent to the current site of his namesake hotel. During his reign he rebuilt Ahu'ena Heiau, a temple dedicated to Lono who was the Hawaiian God of peace, agriculture and prosperity. Here, on The Big Island, Kamehameha the Great lived and conducted matters of government, until his passing on May 8, 1819. Indeed, our Big Island hotel owes quite a debt to our island's rich history and culture.

King Kamehameha's residence included all of Kamakahonu, the bay around which the hotel is focused. Besides homes, his residence also had numerous fishponds and gardens.

The hotel is filled with many exquisite and historic artifacts and depictions of 18th Century Hawaiian life. Among many of King Kamehameha's Kona Beach Hotel's treasures are a fascinating mural, portraits of Hawaiian royalty, Ahu'ula (treasured feather cape), Mahi'ole (feather helmet), Lei Hulu (feather wreaths), Lei Nio Palaoa (whales tooth pendant), war weapons, ancient Hula instruments, and displays of domestic and agricultural artifacts.

Ahu'ena Heiau

Reconstructed by King Kamehameha the Great between 1812-1813, the Ahu'ena Heiau is on the register of National Historic Landmarks as one of the most important of Hawaii's historic sites. In the heiau or ancient temple, the dominant temple image was of Kalaemoku, a chief deified for his healing of acute diseases. Carved upon Kalaemoku's helmet was a perched bird. Other images in the heiau were of ancestral gods with whom Kamehameha maintained close rapport for the benefit of his kingdom.

Members of Kamehameha's council frequently met with him at the Ahu'ena Heiau for ritual prayers and to instruct Kamehameha's young heir in the ways of wise government. Click here to learn more.

Hawaiian Mural

Prominently displayed in the lobby area of the King Kamehameha hotel in Kona, Hawaii, is a large and compelling mural painted by renowned artist Herb Kane. The mural depicts Kamehameha, dressed in a simple kapa wrap, in conversation with his son Liholiho, heir apparent who ruled as Kamehameha II.

In the painting to the left sits Ka'ahumanu, a favorite wife of Kamehameha and champion of the missionaries. Without her assistance in the guise of Christianity, the missionaries would not have landed in Hawaii and been allowed to stay. A formidable person, she became the most prominent woman in politics and was named Kuhinanui, or Esteemed Regent, to Kamehameha II and Kamehameha III. Embodied with much power in her own right, Ka'ahumanu successfully maneuvered to acquire even more power. Her leadership capacities were outstanding.

Portraits of Hawaiian Royalty

In addition to portraits of King Kamehameha I, the Big Island hotel boasts 20 beautiful paintings of other Hawaiian royalty including Queen Ka'ahumanu (his favorite wife), King Kamehameha II and his wife Queen Kamamalu, King Kamehameha III and his wife Queen Kalama, King Kamehameha IV and his wife Queen Emma, and the bachelor king Kamehameha V.

Now if we could just get some tourist photos.


Heh heh...FIRST is this vintage postcard, which shows the hotel and the heiau in its early stages:

This is indubitably the motif of this ever-favorite matchbook:

...of which I published the yellow version in Tiki Modern.
Here's a photo of the heiau with some modern examples of ancient water vessels in front:

And here the sign on the beach referring to its history:

(You can find this old depiction of the temple in the Book of Tiki also). The temple's tapa-clad oracle tower...

..was perhaps the inspiration for this American Tiki temple:

Here is the lobby mural by Herb Kane that is mentioned in DC's post above:

It is probably based on this old print from 1816:

Here is another Herb Kane painting that I love which depicts the Heiau:

The Hotel must have had a special relationship to Herb Kane. There is a (permanent?) exhibit of his paintings in the huge hallway of the hotel, with many pieces I had not seen before. I love Kane's art for being pictorial in an old-fashioned youth story book, National Geographic style. These kind of illustrations inspired young people to dig further into history, as they were based on historic facts and events, but dramatized them in an exciting manner:

Herb Kane's work ranged from landscape/architectural motifs...

...to hippie-esque romantic...

...or New Age...

...but always stunning illustrations of Hawaiian history:

Next to the Herb Kane exhibit was this giant outrigger canoe:

But I gotta go to work now. NEXT: Some of the display cases in the hotel



Supplemental to the information already posted by DC, I came across this description of the hotel lobby mural in an online publication, Tiki Fine Art compiled by DjF du Marais...

Herb Kane lived in Kona not far from the hotel. Bob Van Dorpe, the first Mai-Kai General Manager, brought Herb Kane into many of his design projects across Polynesia. Bob and his wife, Puanani or Pua as she is known (aka “Greta”, former Mai-Kai entertainer), remained close friends of Kane through the years. Bob and Herb both encouraged Pua in her pursuit to resurrect the lost ancient Polynesian art of kapa or bark cloth making. After years of experimenting, she succeeded in making kapa indistinguishable from the finest museum specimens, and, in 1990, Pua Van Dorpe was named a “Living Treasure of Hawai’i.” I refer you to Swanky for any additional details.

Herb Kane did a painting of Pua Van Dorpe making kapa cloth...


Tom - Mahalo for the Herb Kane info and the Bob Van Dorpe connection. These people were true Polynesiacs, indeed.

Another feature that endears the King Kam Hotel to me are the several museum-style display cases in its hallways on the ground floor that must have been there since it was built:

...this one has a model of the Ahu'ena Heiau in it:

This form of showcase is very un-modern, more like old Natural History Museums.

I wonder how they have escaped any renovation efforts. The guests and tourists don't seem to pay much attention to them. As a building, the hotel does not give any inkling of being a keeper of Hawaiian tradition. On the outside, it looks like a pretty unspectacular budget package hotel, like dozens of others on the islands. But the pop archeologist can find hidden treasures.

Now back to the Ahu'ena heiau:
Since I used the antique rendering of it in the BOT, I was well familiar with its features...

and when I first beheld its replica in the hotel lagoon (and photographed my son with it):

...I thought: 'How silly, they copied the bird on top of the Tiki in the rendering onto the actual carving!'
Well, silly me - it seems the bird was indeed part of the carving:

From the book Ancient Sites of Hawai’i by Van James:

“The name Aheu’ena means “hill of fire” or “red hot heap” and it is the site of a fifteenth century heiau luakini....The restored heiau has a hard hale mana (place of psiritual powers), a wicker lele (alter), an ‘anu’u tower and several wooden ki’i (carved figures). The carved image with the plover bird on its head is the god of war. A sacred drum called Apahou, decorated with human teeth, was housed here at Ahu”ene. Pigs, bananas, coconuts, and men were offered as sacrifices at luankini heiau. ”

Great photos, Sven!

According to Ahu’ena Heiau Inc., the hotel and heiau were damaged by a tsunami generated by the March 2011 earthquake in Japan. This online article from Big Island News Center indicates the damage to the heiau has since been repaired.

For the history geeks among us, Henry E.P. Kekahuna did a survey of Ahu’ena Heiau in 1950. Here are several excerpts from his map of the area, courtesy of the Bishop Museum...

And here is a 1950 photo of Henry Kekahuna taken by Theodore Kelsey, a noted Hawaiian language scholar of the time, who assisted Henry in his survey of heiau...

Henry Kekahuna was a native Hawaiian born in Maui about 1881. That’s no optical illusion in the photo, as he lost a leg through an accident as a young man. It’s incredible that he accomplished so much as a gifted surveyor, mapping and exploring both on Kaua’i and Hawai’i. Henry passed away in 1969. His daughter, Ida Kamakahukilani Lee, lived to the age of 98 years, recently passing away in April of 2011.


[ Edited by: tikitomd 2012-11-16 03:13 ]

I like this thread, as it represents the three factors I like most about Tiki culture: Art, History, and exploration. It should have a close up of the Tikis at the Heiau:

And here is the best description of the oracle tower I could find:

"lananuumamao, or 'anu'u —a wooden framework obelisk that served as an oracle tower. It was usually more than twenty feet tall and contained three platforms. The lowest symbolized the earth, the abode of humans, and was where offerings were placed; the middle was viewed as the space of birds and clouds and was where the high priest and his attendants conducted services; the highest platform symbolized the heavens — dwelling place of the gods — and could only be ascended by the high priest and the king. This was where the high priest received inspiration and acted as intermediary with the gods. The entire structure was covered with bleached kapa. It was a highly visible component of the temple platform area and contained within a refuse or bone pit where decayed offerings and bones of victims were cast (lua pa'u)."

And here a little anecdote in the spirit of exploration:

The True KAPU SITE next to the Hotel King Kamehameha:

When staying at the King Kam hotel with my son in the mid-2000s, our room had a view onto the property next door to the hotel. This little "village" had its own harbor, and several 50s bungalows grouped together. I never saw a human being around. When I tried to get there from the Hotel's Luau grounds next to Ahuena heiau, I found a high lava rock wall preventing any access.

In this areal shot you can see the hotel on top, and Ahuena Heiau with its sea wall at the opening of the lagoon. To the left is the private harbor and several buildings:

Since seemingly deserted abodes exude a magnetic attraction for me, one day I decided to snorkel with my son out of the King Kam lagoon and around the sea wall into this snug harbor. We successful entered through the mouth of the exotic port, but halfway to the shore, a loudspeaker voice barked: TURN BACK! Do NOT come ashore!

Having come as far as this, I was not gonna turn back, and feigned exhaustion, threatening the voice from nowhere with the possibility of my drowning. My son was already on his way back, but I called to him to go on land with me. As soon as we did, a guard appeared, and very politely lead us past the bungalows through a locked gate to the Hotel side of the wall.

In this shot you can see the lava rock wall separating the Ahuena Heiau area from the private harbor in the foreground, and the seawall we swam around to get past it into the secret harbor:

As I found out later from Hotel employees, the property belongs to Bill Gates. Nobody could tell me if he ever stays there, or if it just sits there as one of the many investment properties he owns around the world.


Wow, those are some awesome Tikis!

This online commentary on Big Island kayaking suggests that the estate adjacent to the King Kam Hotel is or was owned by Paul Allen, Bill Gate's Microsoft co-founding partner. Sven, was the guard you encountered a Filipino named Greg?


Great story! We're staying at the King Kam now and have been wondering what that was next door.

On 2012-11-16 05:36, TikiTomD wrote:
This online commentary on Big Island kayaking suggests that the estate adjacent to the King Kam Hotel is or was owned by Paul Allen, Bill Gate's Microsoft co-founding partner. Sven, was the guard you encountered a Filipino named Greg?

Don't think that was Greg.

Goes to show that local lore is often hearsay, too. Similarly, this beautiful beachfront home further up the Kona coast...

...it most often attributed to hair guru Paul Mitchell, while it was actually built by his business partner John Paul DeJoria, who bought it in Bali and had it reassembled by Indonesian craftsmen on the site.

Unfortunately, the seems to be a bit of a controversy about the ownership of Ahuena Heiau:


This Maoliworld blog gives a Native Hawaiian view on the subject.

King Kamehameha the Great's dying words were quoted in the 1950 Ka Hale Pua Ilima map notes of Henry E.P. Kekahuna...


Ouch! All those ancestral lands were sold by the Thurston missionary family whose descendant Lorrin A. Thurston led a group of American businessmen in the overthrow of the Hawaiian Kingdom?

What a symbolic thorn in the side of the practitioners of the living faith of Hawaii. Not a good situation.

I wonder if the above mentioned family inspired THIS Thurston "Haole":



Perhaps, Sven, as he is a stereotypical wealthy New Englander. However, Thurston Howell III seems a much more benign character. Contrast that relaxed visage with this Thurston...

That one is Lorrin A. Thurston, usurper of the Hawaiian monarchy's executive power.



Here's an informative link.

On 2012-11-23 18:37, Alii Tiki wrote:
Here's an informative link.

Thomas, that link (and info from it) was already posted above by TikiTomD :)

Can you add any additional info or perspective as a local?

Thomas, that link (and info from it) was already posted above by TikiTomD :)

Can you add any additional info or perspective as a local?



Here's a couple of aerial shots of the former Thurston estate now owned by Paul Allen.

Of course there are those in the Hawaiian community that still consider the entire Kingdom to have been stolen through (at times hostile) acts of Imperialism by individuals like Thurston and his cronies.
And as you mentioned in an earlier post - the loss of such a culturally significant area is a thorn in the side among those who know the true history.
It's unfortunate that even among the Hawaiian community there are many who are blind to the reality that has shaped these lands.

On a side note - this week Paul Allen is in residence at this Estate here in Kona and his yacht "Octopus" is anchored offshore.
The ship is impressive at any standard.


And here's a link to the maps of sites in the area from the aforementioned Henry Kekahuna.

Great info, thanks for the additional links. I like being able to learn the history.

Sorry if I'm derailing the thread; I stayed at the hotel a couple weeks ago and thought I'd update. Big Bro pretty much covered photos in his posts, but just to confirm that the large exhibit of Herb Kane paintings is indeed still there, as are the display cases, canoe and other details. It was really cool walking past and exploring all those things everyday.

The room decor is, of course, far less fun than in those early postcards. But they did include a fair amount of Hawaiian touches like some tapa-style prints on the walls and a lava-flow pattern on the carpeting.

They do historic tours of the property a few times a week; unfortunately I didn't notice that until we'd missed the last one during our stay.

Well this has turned out to be a very interesting and informative thread! Here is another old postcard from my collection with a different view of the hotel and the historic grounds.


If you look closely you can see my snorkel peaking out of the water snorkeling past the tip of that lava rock jetty :wink:

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