I had been travelling all day along route 11 from Punalu'u around the southern part of Big Island heading towards Kona. By the time I reached the part of the highway that hugs the coastline south of Kona, the dusk light was fading as nightfall settled upon the land. I could not see the coastline that was to my left, but as the road wound around the coastal foothills of Mauna Loa, I got the sense that I would wake up and see a very scenic and spectacular part of the island.
I managed to find suitable accommodation for the night just south of Captain Cook town. The area seemed to be popular for snorkelling and boating with the many rental places in the quaint little towns dotted along the coast. It had been recommended to me to get up early and seek out the dolphins that play in Kealakekau Bay.
Route 160 - Napoopoo Rd - from the town of Captain Cook to the bay was fairly steep and curvy, following a ridge along the foothills of Mauna Loa and there were extensive views of the coastline. The roadsides were lined with a parade of bougainvillea flowers of every colour and many kinds of plumeria. I had never seen so many varieties of this symbolic flower of Hawaii. I stopped to breathe in the scent of a bright pink one and it was heavenly sweet, its delicate fragrance seemed to contain the essence of the islands. Closer to the ocean the streets were terraced with rock walls made entirely of black lava. Plumeria trees grew out of the lava rock, extending their flowers to the sky with their explosion of color.
Upon arriving, the scenery at Big Island's largest sheltered natural bay was breathtaking. Crystal clear ocean surged and waves crashed onto the black lava rock-lined beach. The morning sunlight glistened on the jet-black shiny boulders. The brilliant waters were filled with coral and schools of tropical fish. I walked along the rocks and was greeted by an older Hawaiian man who was navigating the rocks with the assistance of a cane. He said "It's all changed here. This used to be a black sand beach. The tsunamis washed all of these rocks onto the beach. Now we only have a few black sand beaches left on Big Island". His eyes glazed as he appeared to be reminiscing about another era that had long since passed.
The bay is encircled by steep green hills and an enormous heiau (sacred temple) that stands almost right at the water's edge, it's black rock walls poised proudly symbolising an era past, the energy of which is still palpable. The large platform of volcanic rock was originally over 16 feet and stands now at merely 6 or 7 feet. The sheer cliff face called Pali Kapu O Keōua overlooking the bay was the burial place of Hawaiian royalty. The cultural legacy that still lives on in the Hawaiian islands is to be admired and respected.
I sat and felt the energy of the sacred temple - Hikiau Heiau. This area was the focus of extensive celebrations in honor of the god Lono who was associated with fertility, agriculture, rainfall, and music. I pondered how, to ancient cultures like the Hawaiians, ceremony and ritual was such an important part of life and yet in Western culture we do so little in comparison to honor the cycles of life.
Across the bay stands a different kind of shrine. A contrast indeed to the energy of the heiau but no less significant - this is the place where Captain Cook took his last breath and his monument stands on the other side of the bay and can only be visited by those who are willing to hike in or to paddle across the bay - an easy venture on a calm day. He met his death when mistaken by the local people for the god Lono as he sailed into the bay with his white hair and other-worldly sailing ship. I could sense the depth of history in the place and the things that had occurred there. Kealakekua Bay - a place where two very different cultures have collided.
I gazed into the bright blue water hoping to see the spinner dolphins that frequent the bay but I had not arrived early enough in the morning - perhaps they were already frolicking further out to sea. I vowed to return and visit earlier next time. The serene yet powerful energy of the bay so steeped in history and culture had really made an impact on me. Kealakekua Bay was definitely a highlight of my visit to Big Island.