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February 01, 2018


An oasis within an oasis, Kalahuipua'a Fishponds of Mauna Lani Resort are the essence and spiritual center of the resort. Predating even the earliest Western contact, the loko (ponds), I'a (fish) are a tangible reminder of the days when the land and sea supported the ali'i (royalty) and fishermen (lawai'a) who were the original inhabitants of the land that is now Mauna Lani.

The seven ponds - Kalahuipua'a, Kahinawao, Waipuhi, Waipuhi Iki, Hope'ala, Milokukahi and Manoku -were created by ancient Hawaiians who used them to raise fish and supplement their ocean fishing efforts. The ponds have a combined water surface area of 15 acres and are still home to countless fish. Bottom samples taken from the ponds date the ancient aquaculture system to as far back as 250 B.C. of the fishponds.

Utilizing natural anchialine (brackish) pools, most of the fishponds were created by walling off the pools' natural access to the ocean. Makaha (sluice gates) were incorporated in the walls to allow for circulation of sea water, essential for maintaining healthy fish. The ponds were used to raise mullet, 'awa (milkfish), shrimp and other sea life strictly for the consumption of ali'i and other persons of rank. Commoners who ate these fish were punished by death.

Before his death in 1990 Kupuna Sam Hook shared memories of his tutu man (grandfather) explaining how he followed traditional methods to help gather mullet and awa pua from the sea. The fish fry were so tiny that tutu couldn't tell what kind of fish they were. "So they put the pua in Milokukahi Pond," Sam said, "until they grew big enough" to distinguish the species from one another. The fingerlings were then transferred into a makaha and fed taro, breadfruit and sweet potato.

As they grew, they became accustomed to being fed there. When the young fish were strong enough to flourish, they were released into the pond itself, but still returned to the makaha to be fed every day. "So when came time to harvest," Sam pointed out, "you could catch 'em easy." Caretakers simply harvested at feeding time when fish were in the makaha by closing off access and picking out the best and biggest with little effort.

Continuing the tradition of stewardship and husbandry of the fishponds, Mauna Lani Resort focuses considerable energy on caring for the ancient complex. The ponds are scrupulously maintained and stocked, and the schools of mullet and awa are moved from pond to pond to feed in different stages of development, much like prized cattle are moved from pasture to pasture. Mauna Lani Resort has also planted a variety of ancient Hawaiian plants in an effort to return the ponds to their natural state, edify visitors and preserve a dwindling resource.

Over half a century ago, the late Francis H. I'i Brown, a sportsman and socialite with royal Hawaiian lineage, acquired the fishponds and surrounding lands from the family of Eva Parker Woods, a descendant of John Palmer Parker, who founded Hawaii's Parker Ranch.

A man equally at home in the worlds of black tie and fast cars, or bare feet and fishing canoes, Brown treasured Kalahuipua'a as a retreat from the demands of urban life: a place to fish, talk story; a place where he could reach back to the simpler lifestyle of his royal Hawaiian ancestors.

It was here, amongst the palms and fishponds that Brown set to work refurbishing the fishponds and creating his interpretation of a traditional Hawaiian compound with separate eating, sleeping, cooking, and living structures. His favorite was the Sleep House, where he spent the most time with his sweetheart, Winona Love, the acclaimed Hawaiian hula dancer and beauty.

Today, the ponds embody the romance and history of their past. Situated at the heart of Mauna Lani Resort, they form part of an historic preserve that covers the ancient and more modern history of the area. Following the red cinder trails, guests and visitors can not only tour the natural beauty of the ponds, but also step inside caves used by ancient Hawaiians for shelter, worship, and burial, examine the site of ancient tool manufacturing, or puzzle out meanings from enigmatic petroglyphs.

Returning to a more recent era, explorers can examine Keawanui Landing, the site of a canoe landing and village belonging to King Kamehameha the Great, who unified the Hawaiian Islands. History buffs will enjoy the Eva Parker Woods Cottage Museum, built during the 1920's for the use of Eva Parker Woods and her husband during their stays at Kalahuipua'a. Today it houses a modest but unique exhibit that opens a window into the past inhabitants of the area.

In a combination of old and new, the Kalahuipua'a fishponds blend traditional and contemporary aquaculture techniques, the romance of an ancient culture, and the science of modern preservation in a setting of natural beauty perfect for lovers, joggers, historians, artists and camera buffs, or those who, like Brown, seek an escape from the tempo of the modern world. 

Kalahuipua'a Today

Kalahuipua'a, the piko of Hawaii's five great volcanoes, has great spiritual powers. A place revered and cherished by the ali'i, it was also a place to come to rejuvenate one's health and spirit. In 1985, Mauna Lani Resort created historic tours for those fascinated by the historical significance of the area. Daniel Akaka, Mauna Lani's Hawaiian historian, has guided over 20,000 people on these tours.  Individually tailored to each group, Akaka educates on the importance of the area and the culture within the vision of Mauna Lani.

A Walk Through Hawaiian History

Like a stroll into a living museum, each tour provides a deeper understanding of Hawaiian history, legends, beliefs as well as typical Hawaiian words, which translates into a deeper appreciation and respect for the Hawaiian people, land, values, and culture.

As Akaka walks around the fishponds, he tells the story of how Hawaiians greeted each other nose-to-nose, in an exchange of ha, breath. Aloha is rooted in two words describing that familiar greeting: alo, being in the presence of, and ha, breath of life.  Thus, aloha means "in the presence of breath, our life force." In connection with the word origin of aloha, there is another exchange of ha at the fishpond makaha, a passageway where the exchange of "breath of life" between the fishpond and the ocean takes place. These sluice gates, allowing for circulation and refreshment of the pond waters, are a source of life for the pond and those who inhabit in the area.

Nearing the sea walls of the fishponds, Akaka describes how Hawaiians showed ho'okipa with family as well as their community. Akaka says, "an arduous task of building a sea wall around the chief’s fishpond turned into a community effort." Akaka describes that descendants who touch the stones of the sea wall can feel their ancestor's mana, the mana they exerted to build these fishponds.

Much like how Kalahuipua'a is the piko of the five great volcanoes, these loko i'a, aquaculture ponds, are the piko of Mauna Lani Resort.

Akaka hope to impress on the guests that the early pioneers of Hawaii were extremely resourceful. Kalahuipua'a was a dry, desert-like area, so it was difficult to grow plants for medicinal or nutritional purposes. Always respectful of wherever they lived, Hawaiians were able to survive in these dry areas through the use and appreciation of what they did have, such as their proximity to the ocean.

The tour takes guests to nearby lava tubes or shelter caves used by ancient Hawaiians for living and working, areas with petroglyphs, including one depicting a helmeted warrior, areas where tools were made using pahoehoe lava, and rare and unique plants and trees on the property. Akaka introduce guests to Uncle Francis I'i Brown, who bought the land around 1930 for exactly $3,700. Beloved by the Hawaiian people, Uncle Francis helped develop the area around the resort. The tour also showcases trails created by Kamehameha the Great and a replica of a canoe hale built near the canoe landing at Keawanui Bay, where Kamehameha I landed in the late 1700s.

About Mauna Lani

Mauna Lani Bay Hotel & Bungalows sits oceanfront on the Kohala Coast, Island of Hawaii. Located 23 miles north of the Kona International Airport the hotel is located at the Mauna Lani Resort which features the Mauna Lani Bay Hotel & Bungalows, Mauna Lani Spa and Mauna Lani's North & South Golf Courses. For reservations call (800) 367-2323 or visit