From the Puu Manamana Trail, you can see the freshwater and salt water intermingle. Photo courtesy of Elizabeth Sterling & Catherine Summers
Kahana Bay and remains of the stone seawall. Photo courtesy of Joel Bradshaw
Shorter and more narrow, the 500 foot stonewall still hugs the Huilua Fishpond today. Photo courtesy of Nate Yuen.
Backstory and Context
Huilua is one of six fishponds to survive of a total of about 97 that once provided to the tribes on the coast of O’ahu. At one point there was a 500-foot rock wall hand-built to enclose the pond, nearly seven acres. The wall was built to stand four feet above high tide and had gates to allow fish to swim freely in and out of the pond. Once the fish grew too large to leave the gate, they were trapped and ready for harvest. The Polynesian Hawaiians advanced in their aquafarming with this kind of “tide-dependent fish trapping” and were considered some of the most successful Pacific fish hunters. Not to mention, the fishpond is strategically joined with the Kahana Stream and other freshwater springs that flow into the sea. This mixed environment makes for a perfectly thriving home for mullets and fingerlings. In addition the local fish, tora (kalo) was a vital crop to the Native’s culture, providing not only nutrition but is thought to be sacred.
Huilua is located on the east side of the bay within one of O’ahu’s most wet valleys. The exact age of the fishpond remains a mystery. Though, legend has it that the dwarf-like natives, Menehune, built and resided by the pond, suggesting that it could be 1,000 years or more old. The stonewall border of the pond still stands to provide fish to the locals; however it is much smaller now than historically intended. The stones were reconstructed with additional materials in 1993 to slow down deterioration. The community of ‘O Kahana State Park works to maintain the condition the wall as well.
Two major tsunamis have struck Huilua Fishpond, once in 1947 and another in 1960. Plants like mangrove trees and bulrushes sprouted from the waters. You will also find Koa trees and colourful pōhuehue flowers. You can learn more this Native Fishpond at the park’s visitor center. While you’re there, take advantage of the rest of the park as well! Ahupua’a ‘O Kahana State Park features hiking trails, picnicking areas, camping, scenic views of the Fishpond and tons of other eye-gripping beauty. Best of all, there are NO entrance fees! Enjoy.