The Hawaiian petroglyphs are a great enigma of the Pacific—no one knows who made them or why. They appear at 135 different sites on six inhabited islands, but most are found on the Big Island, including images of dancers and paddlers, fishermen and chiefs, and tools of daily life such as fish hooks and canoes. The most common representations are family groups, while some petroglyphs depict post–European contact objects such as ships, anchors, horses, and guns. Simple circles with dots were used to mark the puka, or holes, where parents would place their child’s umbilical cord (piko).

The largest concentration of these stone symbols in the Pacific lies within the 233-acre Puako Petroglyph Archaeological Preserve, near the Mauna Lani Resort. A total of 3,000 designs have been identified. The 1.5-mile Malama Trail through a kiawe field to the large, reddish lava field starts north of the Fairmont Orchid Hawaii in the Mauna Lani Resort. Take Highway 19 to the resort turnoff and drive toward the coast on North Kaniku Drive, which ends at the Holoholokai Beach parking lot; the trailhead on your right is marked by a sign and interpretive kiosk. Go in the early morning or late afternoon, when it’s cooler, take water, wear shoes with sturdy soles (to avoid kiawe thorns), and stay on the trail.

A free 1-hour tour of the surrounding petroglyphs, led by expert Kalei’ula Kaneau, is offered Thursday and Friday at 9:30am by the Kings’ Shops ([tel] 808/886-8811) at the Waikoloa Beach Resort. Just show up at the shopping center’s Center Stage by 9:30am. You can also follow the signs to the trail through the petroglyph field on your own, but be aware that the trail is exposed, uneven, and rough; wear closed-toe shoes, a hat, and sunscreen.

Note: The petroglyphs are thousands of years old and easily destroyed. Do not walk on them or take rubbings (the Puako preserve has a replica petroglyph you may use instead). The best way to capture a petroglyph is with a photo in the late afternoon, when the shadows are long.