Hike-in Required
ADA accessible
Guided tours
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Located on the island of O'ahu, Ulupo is a beautifully restored Heiau, or traditional Hawaiian place of worship, refuge and ceremony. Sitting above the eastern shore of the Kawainui marsh in the town of Kailua, the site is considered ancient by even Hawaiian standards. The early sections of the structure could date to before 400 A.D. The Kawainui marsh gave the town of Kailua fresh water to grow large amounts of taro, (kalo), sweet potato (u'wala), sugarcane (ko), and breadfruit (ulu) in addition to building fish ponds. Fresh water is the most valuable thing on an island surrounded by salt water, and Kailua became a rich and powerful city because of it. Another rare treat is a sweetwater spring located at the base of the Heiau. It is quite possible the location became sacred for this reason alone, marking the spot where such a treasured resource sits.

Rocks stacked up to 30 feet high form a large mound with a platform located at the top where the ceremonies were performed. According to legend, the Heiau at Ulupo was inhabited originally by the Menehune and was built in a single night. The Menehune are a mythical, small race of early inhabitants of the Hawaiian Islands who were known to cause mischief much like the stories of elves or dwarfs in Europe. The first purpose of the Heiau was apparently as a site for agricultural ceremonies, but it was later inhabited by the high chiefs (Ali'i) of O'ahu. The temple began to take on the role of celebrating war victories and other more political purposes. The high vantage point and location allowed the chief and his kahuna, or priest, to survey their precious land and 400-acre fish pond from atop the ceremonial platform.

Everyone in the area carried the biggest stones they were able to during construction, including woman, children and the old. These locations were sometimes used as places of refuge for anyone who broke kapu, or the law. The site has been restored with great effort over the last 15 years. A traditional Hawaiian farm sits just below the temple, and people are currently growing many varieties of fruits, vegetables, herbs, and spices. Named kuleana, this is one of many examples of native and non-native Hawaiian residents taking a renewed interest in the traditional ways.

Logistics + Planning

Preferable season(s)




Parking Pass

Not Required


Easy to explore. Free. Educational.



Pets allowed

Allowed with Restrictions


Big vistas
Geologically significant



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