Kii pohaku—or petroglyphs—are rock drawings etched by Hawaiians to record the world around them. Petroglyphs provide a physical representation of daily life in the islands. They are especially important considering that there was no written language in Hawaii until the arrival of missionaries.
Hawaiians created petroglyphs by rubbing two stones against one another. The earliest forms of kii pohaku depict linear human shapes —or “stick figure” men—in addition to local wildlife like fish, turtles, and birds. Over the years, the “stick figures” took on torsos with distinctly triangular chests. Petroglyph scenes also began to depict Western contact with the etching of sailboats, horses, dogs, and even men with guns. With the advent of books and written language, the practice of carving kii pohaku faded into obscurity, though the drawings etched by their early ancestors remained as stories in stone.
On Lanai, one of the best places to find kii pohaku is on the boulders at Luahiwa—a rocky hillside that’s just minutes removed from the road to Lanai City. Tucked at the base of forested foothills that rise from the Palawai Basin, the Luahiwa Petroglyphs feature close to 1,000 separate drawings that are distributed over two-dozen boulders. While a few unfortunately have modern graffiti (for example, people carving their names), hundreds of drawings are as visible as they have been for hundreds of years.
What makes the Luahiwa Petroglyphs unique is the way that their layering is evidence of use over multiple generations. Many of the drawings are from pre-contact times, though in some cases more modern scenes have been prominently etched over faded figures of older, more basic drawings. The result is a massive storyboard that cryptically tells the human history of life in the Palawai Basin.
To reach the Luahiwa Petrolyphs from Lanai City, drive 1.5 miles on Manele Road in the direction of Manele Small Boat Harbor. Look for a small building on the left side of the road, and you’ll notice a long, narrow dirt road leading back toward the distant hillside. Follow this road for .7 miles before it reaches a Y-junction, where you’ll then turn left and make a sharp right-hand turn after driving for .3 miles. Proceed for another 0.4 miles until you see the rock with the sign that says “Luahiwa” on the front, where you can park in the small dirt pullout area and follow the trail leading back through the bush to find the boulders and drawings. While the road is accessible in a 2WD vehicle, it’s safest to visit with 4WD in case there are puddles or mud.
The Luahiwa Petroglyphs are an important cultural and historical resource. Oils from our skin and hands can also cause the petroglyphs to fade and disappear.
Visitors to the site are therefore asked to respect the area and please not touch the petroglyphs.