Kealakekua Bay State Historical Park

Big Island Captain Cook

As you can probably guess from the name, this area is steeped in history both Hawaiian and European. It is also the site where those two societies tragically collided. When you exit the park head north on Pu'uhonua Road until you reach a parking lot for Napo'opo'o Beach and Kealakekua Bay.

You may encounter some unofficial parking guides who appear to be maximizing space in the lot. Due to the nature of the area, do not leave valuables visible in your car or visit after dark. From here you can peer across the blue waters of Kealakekua Bay to a bright white monument on the other shore. This obelisk was built in 1878 by the British to honor the explorer Captain James Cook who died only a few feet from that spot. Cook, believed to be the first European explorer to discover the islands, was killed during a scuffle with the Hawaiians in 1779. The cove surrounding the monument is called Ka'awaloa Cove which also has great snorkeling (more on that below). This gorgeous bay is the site of a great controversy over the enjoyment of its waters versus the preservation of the land and species that call it home. For a long time (and sadly still today) kayaking was a popular activity among visitors who could take tours or rent kayaks on their own and make the journey across the bay to the monument. A variety of reasons led to the restrictions on this activity. One of the most important was damage to coral as kayakers and snorkelers would beach their kayaks on the fragile coral or stand on them. The bay was also home to spinner dolphins which would use its waters to play and rest, activities which were disturbed.

Now by law, despite any kayak rental signs you may see, it is forbidden to kayak in the bay unless you are with one of the few companies which are permitted to guide tours there. There are also several snorkeling companies which bring their boats to the bay. They minimize damage by not allowing any snorkelers on shore. Fair-Wind Big Island Ocean Guides is a company that we suggest you book your Kealakekua Bay snorkeling adventures with. This bay is a precious resource, and while the state and county have permitted some companies to take visitors to Ka'awaloa Cove, it is important to consider the frequent burden visitation can take on this area. There are many wonderful places to snorkel on the Big Island (for example, Two Step is just down the road). Please weigh these options carefully when deciding to visit Kealakekua Bay. Under no circumstances should you attempt to kayak the bay on your own. When you exit the parking lot turn left down the one lane road that leads to Napo'opo'o Beach. Once you reach the parking lot, look to your right, and you should see a stone structure. This is Hikiau Heiau, a temple dedicated to the god of Lono. This is a sacred spot so please don't disturb the rocks. Fortunately, or perhaps, unfortunately, Capt. Cook arrived at Kealakekua Bay during a celebration and time of peace for Lono. Some historians surmise this white-haired man in his massive ship was believed to be the manifestation of Lono and was treated as such. Until he was killed, that is. Although, even following his death, the Hawaiians still honored him as a great man by hiding some of his bones in the burial caves which dimple the cliffs surrounding the bay. The beach here is mostly rocks and is often used by snorkelers. There is a worn 4-wheel drive road only suitable for hiking which leads down the hill and to the monument. It's an hour-long, sweat-drenched hike two miles both ways. Your descent is over 1,300 ft, which means the hike back up will seem twice as long. Bring plenty of water, especially for the climb back out. Once you reach the bottom, you'll find the Captain Cook monument with entry to the bay near the concrete ramp. Behind the monument are the ruins of the old Ka'awaloa Village. If you don't want to make the trek on your own, there are a few companies that offer guided hikes and horseback tours along the trail. You can find the trailhead near the intersection of Highway 11 and Napo'opo'o Road near telephone pole #4, not the chained concrete road nearly pole #5. At this point, Napo'opo'o Road is your only way back up and to Highway 11. It's a very pleasant drive despite the fact the road can be narrow and windy in places. There are several coffee farms along this stretch which offer tours and samples. Take a few minutes and stop by one that strikes your fancy. It's sure to be a unique experience.

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