Captain Cook memorial


In some ways Kealakekua Bay has changed remarkably little over the years. Boats bob gently in the still waters while their human cargo enjoys the warm waters that have long attracted curious visitors to this attractive stretch of coast on the west of Hawaii’s Big Island. While dozens of snorkels poke out from the crystal clear water, only a few folks pause to take in the white obelisk on the shore that commemorates one of the world’s most famous explorers.




It was here in Kealakekua Bay that Captain Cook met his end on the 14th February 1779. The memorial erected in his name rather skirts the truth when it informs us that Cook ‘fell’ at this spot; the truth is altogether less benign. At first treated as gods, Cook and his men had gradually revealed their human frailties to the native people (with one of the crew making the fatal mistake of dying). When Cook had been forced to turn his ship the Resolution back to Kealakekua Bay after only a week at sea due to bad weather, his halo had well and truly lost its shine.  Rocks were thrown, a small vessel stolen; things got out of hand. One thing led to another, a failed attempt was made to kidnap the local King and in the melee Cook was struck on the head and then stabbed to death in the shallow waters of the bay.




The land around the spot where Cook died was bought by the British government in the late 19th century and the simple memorial erected. Technically this little corner of Hawaii remains the property of the Crown and passing British ships occasionally help maintain the monument. Unlike most places of interest in the US, you can’t reach Kealakekua Bay by car. The 2.5 mile hike down from the town of Captain Cook (despite stabbing him in the back it appears the local people retained a soft spot for him) is a tough one hour descent over rough rocks; the climb back up is murderous in the midday heat – make sure you bring plenty of water.




More popular is the approach by water, with several local operators renting kayaks to willing visitors in an unregulated free-for-all. Kayaks can be moored close to the monument although there are some strong currents and novices may find coming ashore a tricky task. With several accidents and many near-misses (alcohol and kayaking are eagerly mixed despite being a potentially lethal combination), a local tour operator told me that a ban on all kayaks in the bay is about to come into force. This has created a wave of anger among the local businesses that have sprung up to take advantage of the crowds of adventure tourists coming their way.  More than two centuries since James Cook sailed into trouble at Kealakekua, the waters of this pretty bay are not as calm as they first appear.

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