Geckos and Birds at the Painted Church

There is a humble tourist attraction on Hawaii’s Big Island called the Painted Church. It is one of my favorite Hawaiian spots with its quiet presence and tropical landscape, on a hill overlooking the Pacific Ocean.


When we visited last month, a house finch and gecko were together in this papaya tree on the church grounds.


This bright and exotic gecko lives on three of the Hawaiian Islands. Gold Dust Day Gecko. 

Gold Dust Day Gecko, Hawaii

This is not a pair you usually see together, but it was easy to see why.

House Finch, Hawaii

The house finch had found a lusciously ripe papaya and had used his strong bill to open the fruit. The gecko was taking advantage of the opened fruit, called in the gang.


Geckos feed on fruit, nectar, and insects, and you can see the smorgasbord they were enjoying that day.


Six Geckos, Hawaii

There are 1,500 species of geckos in the world. This particular species, Phelsuma laticauda laticauda, is diurnal, active during the day. They are native to Northern Madagascar.


Papaya Tree, Hawaii


Many birds came into the papaya trees that day.


Saffron Finch in Papaya Tree, Hawaii

There are always many butterflies and birds visiting the fruit trees and flowering plants at The Painted Church. I have never seen a lot of tourists visit the church–it’s out of the way–and those who do visit go inside the church, stay five minutes, and drive away.


It is so named for the interior that is painted with a unique combination of biblical and Hawaiian themes.

Painted Church interior, Hawaii

The church is more formally named St. Benedict’s Catholic Church, built in 1899. Belgian Catholic missionary Father John Velghe painted the frescoes. They still hold regular Sunday services here.


The adjacent cemetery shows the black lava that is so prevalent on this volcanic island. Every time I visit, it is dancing with butterflies.

Painted Church cemetery, Hawaii. Pacific Ocean on horizon.


This juvenile gecko in the cemetery was the length of my thumb.

Juvenile Gecko, Hawaii

For over a hundred years people and butterflies and birds have been visiting this tranquil spot on the hill. Thousands of people have stood on the lava sidewalk looking out over the Pacific Ocean. I’m glad to be one of them.


Written by Jet Eliot.

Photos by Athena Alexander.

Yellow-billed Cardinal on Papaya Tree, Hawaii


77 thoughts on “Geckos and Birds at the Painted Church

  1. Lovely photo-story by you both, Jet and Alexander. I especially love the ones of the Finches and the adorable Geckos. Glad you had such a lovely time there.

  2. I loved the interior of the painted church. All too often the interiors of churches are dark and “serious” and the worship in them is equally rigid. The bright colors and motifs encourage, I believe, worship to be a joyful celebration. As for the wildlife, I am always blown away by the brightness of the colors in the tropics. The image with the six geckos was fun and I really liked the final photo of the multi-colored cardinal. Thanks again, Jet and Athena, for sharing your adventures with us all.

    • It is a joy to share the Painted Church and its environs with you, Mike. I appreciate your enjoyment of the post, from the inside of the church to the wildlife surrounding it. Tropical places always seem to be bursting with color, whether it’s the birds, lizards or man-made structures. That’s one of the many things I like so much about visiting the tropics. Always a pleasure to hear from you, thank you.

      • I have wonderful childhood memories of National Geographic photos of red-eyed tree frogs and somehow those images pop into my mind whenever I think of the tropics. Your wonderful postings always remind me of the cool subjects that can be found throughout the world–so much world to see and so little time. 🙂

      • I used my babysitting money to buy a subscription to NG, Mike, and I, too, spent many hours paging through the magical places in their magazines. I’m delighted to share the places we have travelled to, but you are so right: so much to see and never enough time. I have never been to Paris, so imagine how much fun I had with your recent visit. 🙂

      • I’m really biased, having majored in French and spent my junior year of college in Paris, but it is definitely worth a visit. In fact, I am contemplating a return trip, perhaps as early as this year. 🙂 As you know well, one of the basic dilemmas of travel is deciding if you want to visit multiple places or stay in a single place for an extended period. Obviously there are advantages and disadvantages to each approach and personality and temperament may push a person to favor one style over the other.

  3. I always love traveling vicariously with you and Athena, Jet. You always share about such fascinating places and Athena‘s photos are wonderful! I love the saga of these little geckos and these gorgeously colorful birds!! Who wouldn’t want to live in Hawaii with these luscious delights? I’ve only been in Hawaii once but I’m glad to have learned about this church and its surroundings.

    • Our favorite island of the Hawaiian archipelago is the Big Island, where these photos were taken. Less touristy, less glitzy, and loaded with wildlife. So I’m glad you came along for the visit, BJ, it was a joy.

  4. Enjoyed your write up on the painted Church and the resident gecko. Such a wonderful and peaceful setting. One of our geckos took up residence in our water hose. Unfortunately, we only found out when we turned the water on☹

    • I have met your resident geckos, Bill, and am witness to the pains you go to to save those wily little beauties. The garden hose is not such a good hiding place, unfortunately, as s(he) found out. Glad you enjoyed this post on the Painted Church. You and Nan would like it there.

  5. I learned something. I always thought papaya was a vine type plant like a melon. Very interesting. Also was that church in the old John Wayne film, Donovan’s Reef?” I suppose it could have been a back lot set in those days.

    • How fun to introduce you to the papaya structure, Craig. In the landscape they are very prominent, and there are many. Donovan’s Reef, which I had never heard of in spite of being an old movie buff and John Wayne fan, was filmed in Kauai, a neighboring Hawaiian island. So we both learned something today. Always fun to hear from you, thank you, Craig.

    • Yes, this is a very inviting spot, Eliza. And those photos were taken in December. It was so hot (90s) we kept heading for the shade. I’m glad I could take you to one of my favorite Hawaiian places, and I hope just the thought of it today keeps you warm. Many thanks, as always.

    • It is definitely a pleasant surprise to come upon this little gem on the hill. I’m really glad you’ve had the pleasure of visiting the Painted Church, T. Thanks for your visit and input.

  6. This colourful and contemplative post was very welcome on another wet morning! What a wonderful location, with birds, geckos and fruit trees to delight the eyes. The building is a beauty, and if you’re so inclined, it must be a lovely thought for a local person that they might be laid to rest in a lava field with dancing butterflies overlooking the Pacific.
    Thanks, Jet, for sharing this portion of your trip – just the thing this morning!

    • I, too, have been enjoying the memories of a hot, tropical December week in Hawaii during these winter days, pc. I’m happy you enjoyed the post and, as always, really enjoyed and appreciated your visit today.

  7. Hi Jet, I enjoyed seeing the “gang” of geckos and birds feasting on the papayas. Great photos! 🦎🐦 The church is painted beautifully on the inside but the view is what caught my eye. It looks like a lovely place to visit. Thank you for sharing. ❤️

    • Yes, I like it when the working relationships between wildlife creatures shows itself, too, Anneli. And how wonderful that you learned in a very enjoyable way here. Much appreciated, as always.

  8. Your post beautifully conveyed the peace of this place. Thanks for sharing your words and Athena’s photos. Have a lovely weekend!

    • Yes, it is a delightfully peaceful place, Nan, I am glad you felt the peace. You would like it here. We stayed for about 1.5 hours, sat under shade trees, watched birds, photographed, walked around.

  9. Gorgeous photos! So lovely to see all of this beautiful green on a cold and rainy Friday. I’m longing for spring! I love geckos, Jet. We’ve had a couple pay a visit inside our home on occasion…boy are they fast!

    • I love all kinds of lizards, and this colorful gecko is one of the prettiest of all. I’m glad I could bring the tropics to you on your cold and rainy winter day, Jill. Thanks so much for visiting today.

    • The yellow-billed cardinals were commonly seen on this island this time. They aren’t always, but this time we lucked out. I agree with you, Donna, they are really special. The Big Island has three cardinal species, none of them native: the yellow-billed, the northern, and the red-crested. Quite a treat. Thanks so much, Donna, always great to “see” you.

    • It was really great fun to come upon the gecko and finch feast, Sylvia. I’m happy I could share the whole scene with you, including the beauty of the church. Thanks for your visit, much appreciated.

    • I’m glad you enjoyed the interior of the Painted Church, Sheryl. Not only are the frescoes interesting and artful, but there is a real sense of sweetness and ease inside. All the windows are open and there’s a gentle tropical breeze, you can hear birdsong, and feel peace. Thank you for your visit.

  10. Been to the big island numerous times and have never heard of the painted church. Love it and would like to see it. I pulled it up on Google Maps…can’t tell you how many times I have been near it….ugh…next time! As always beautiful pics and great post!

    • How wonderful that this post inspired you to want to visit the Painted Church, Kirt. I’m really glad you enjoyed this vicarious visit, and I know you will enjoy it when you do go. Many thanks, Kirt.

  11. Now that is one vibrant gecko party going on in the papaya! I’d call my friends as well at such an opportunity. What a gorgeous location for the church. Who could possibly concentrate on mass wit that beautiful ceiling above. Every bit of this article makes me smile.

    • How very rewarding to hear that the church and geckos made you smile, Sue. It is always so much fun to frolic around on their peaceful grounds, with colorful birds and butterflies, peace, and fruit trees. I’m glad I could transport you there with us. Thanks so much for your visits today, much appreciated.

  12. What a great church Jet – thanks for taking us there. I’ve never seen a papaya tree before! It looks almost overwhelmed with fruit, amazing. And those geckos and finches, they’re as colourful as the church 😊 Difinitely a good place to be for colour, contrasted with the black lava as it is. Thank you.

    • Oh so fun to share the beauty of a papaya tree with you, Alastair. I almost didn’t put that photo in, and then I thought of you and my friends who don’t see the tropics, and realized it would be interesting to see this tree if never seen before. Wonderful to share the tropics and Hawaii with you, and always a treat to have you stop by, thank you.

  13. Another place I would love to visit. The church is so beautiful..and I love the paintings. Also as a fan of geckos…I really enjoyed the photographs. Thank you Jet for introducing us to all these wonderful places. Janet 🙂

  14. What a great shot of the papaya with all the geckos, also nice to see how close together papayas grow. The interior of the church is most surprising and fun, and it gives a happy feeling.

  15. This is such a wonderful post! I confess I’m yearning for papaya now. When I lived in Liberia, they came in all sizes and colors, from yellow to deep red. We often would use a large one as the base for fruit salad, much as people here in the States do with watermelon. I enjoyed seeing the house finch, too. I’ve put up a couple of bird feeders outside my new apartment, and little by little, the birds are coming. I have two pair of house finches now, and the males are beautiful.

    My favorite is the church, though. I have a post in draft that’s focused on a group of painted churches here in Texas; the heritage is Czech, Polish, and German, and the artistry is gorgeous. I’ve been waiting for spring to finish taking photographs, as I’d like to be able to show some of the wonderful wildflowers that surround them. Thanks for reminding me that it’s almost time to get busy, and get that little project finished up. Spring waits for no one!

    • I so enjoyed hearing from you, Linda, thank you. Liked hearing about the papayas in Liberia in all those sizes and colors. Glad too, that you have house finches coming to your feeders in your new apartment. Once a few come in, they’ll all be congregating in no time. Fun to hear about your painted churches project…and thank goodness spring waits for no one. Many thanks, my friend.

  16. Pingback: Geckos and Birds at the Painted Church | "Making this World a better place from my little corner of this Earth."Author/Photographer Matthew C Seufer 2020

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