The Puako Petroglyph Park is a small but remarkably intact collection of petroglyphs (kii pohaku) carved into lava flows by ancient Hawaiians. This field is one of the largest in Hawaii, with about 1200 of the nearly 3000 designs visible (and surprisingly approachable) for visitors.
This hike begins at the parking lot for the Holoholokai Beach Park at a clearly marked trailhead for the Malama Trail. Right near the trailhead, a small pavilion of recreations of some of the petroglyphs are on display for those who don’t wish to make the journey to the actual field.
Some tips and notes before you get going: Although this is a short hike, it is very exposed and mostly on top of black lava rock, which means this might be hotter than the ambient temperature of the nearby beaches and resorts. Bring sunscreen and more water than you think you’d need and close-toed shoes, because volcanic rock can be really sharp and you definitely don’t want to stub your toes on this stuff.
For viewing, try to time your hike when the sun is at a lower angle for better views of the petroglyphs. And please respect the land — don’t cross fences or boundaries, leave the established trail, touch the petroglyphs, or try to take rubbings. Many of these markings are from the 16th century and they won’t last (nor will our access to them last) if tourists keep sticking their greasy sunscreened fingers all over them.
The Malama Trail leaves the circular pavilion on a well-defined gravel path, which immediately dives into a rugged, gnarled forest that looks like it belongs more in a Brothers Grimm etching than next to a fancy seaside golf course.
The trail is fairly straightforward and easy going, if it does occasionally make you duck under branches and squeeze between boulders.
Be sure, as you’re trying to not get your head clocked by a branch, that you also keep your eyes peeled for those petroglyphs — because they’re all over the place!
The trail crosses a dirt access road at about 0.3 mile, then continues until it reaches the main petroglyph field. Trust me, you’ll know when you get there.
Be sure to stay behind the fence and on the established trail here, and definitely do NOT walk out onto the field to get a closer look at the glyphs.
When you’re done, return back the way you came and consider taking a side trip to the beach or walking along the 0.4 mile connector trail to the Fairmont Orchid Resort, where you can catch sea turtle and rays in the dusk hours — not to mention some great cultural shows.
The trail is established but surprisingly rugged. The route from the Fairmont Orchid is clean and easy to navigate, but the actual Puako Petroglyph Trail meanders through dense trees that may require some ducking-and-covering.
From HI-19, head east on Mauna Lani Drive, then north on Kaniku Drive at the roundabout. Turn right onto Holoholokai Beach Park Road and park at the end of the road near the clearly marked trailhead. This trail can also be reached from the Fairmont Orchid Resort via a 0.4 mile long connector trail.