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  TREK EXCERPT from Hawaii Big Island Trailblazer    


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The cliffs rising above Kealakekua Bay are the Big Island’s signature seascape. This is where Captain James Cook took his last breath, and where you’ll find some of the best snorkeling in the islands.

Take Hwy. 11 south from Kailua-Kona. Veer right toward Kealakekua Bay, on Napo‘opo‘o Rd., which is at mm111. For Captain Cook Monument: Park immediately on the left after veering from the highway. You’ll see a turnout big enough for several cars. For all other activities: Continue on Napo‘opo‘o Rd. for about 5 mi. At the bottom, you’ll come to stop sign and a T-intersection, directly across from which is Napo‘opo‘o Wharf.

Captain Cook Monument (4.25 mi., 1,325 ft.); Manini Beach Park (up to .5-mi.); Ke‘ei Village to: Palemano Point (1.5 mi.) and Mokuohai Bay (3 mi.)

The hike and snorkel to Captain Cook Monument is a two-punch knockout, not to be missed by Big Island adventure seekers. From the parking spot, cross the road, walk down a couple hundred feet, and take a wide path that is right at telephone pole #4—not the driveway with a stop sign and chain at pole #5 that is next to it. You’ll know you’re on the right path when you pass a dirt drive that veers to the right a minute or two into the hike. The trail then descends through seed cane, under big mango trees. You pound down on a steady, straight grade for the first mile. The vegetation becomes scarce as you approach the trail’s only switchback, an a‘a lava perch that overlooks Ka‘awaloa Point. Hang the left here and take another long ramp to the bottom.

At the bottom, the wall-lined path heads under the shade of big kiawes straight to the water, where kayaks often land. Although the monument is a short distance to the left, you may wish to go straight to see the plaque that marks the spot of Cook’s last stand, on February 14, 1779. During low tide you’ll see it on a rock, under the curling horizontal branches of a large tree. Monumental ironies surround Captain James Cook’s death, not the least of which was that this man, among the greatest of all seafaring navigators, could not swim to the safety of a rowboat that rescued other members of his party from these slippery rocks.

Walk over to the monument itself. The 28-foot white spire was erected by some of Cook’s countrymen in 1874 and is actually British sovereign soil. Not many people explore the backshore of this northern mouth of the bay. If you do, you’ll find numerous remains of Ka‘awaloa Village, including several heiaus. Puhina O Lono Heiau, where the bones of the English faux Lono were interred, is off the trail on the way down, just north of the switchback. (Cook arrived during the Makahiki festival and the Hawaiians first thought him to be an incarnation of their god of peace and fertility, Lono.) Be Aware: Conditioned hikers will have no trouble with this walk, but bring plenty of water and sun protection. A good strategy is to leave very early and do your snorkeling before the tour guys and kayakers arrive, around 10 o’clock.

Manini Beach Park is one of the most dramatically scenic spots on the island. It’s easy to miss. Go left at the Napo‘opo‘o Wharf, continue about .25-mile and turn right on narrow Manini Beach Road. Park where the beach road curves left, by a house that sits on the water. You’ll see a short beach access trail leading to the little beach park, with its row of palms and view across the bay to the cliffs of Kealakekua. You can continue out the seaward end of the park to see the storm-washed point. If you keep hooking left, for less than .25-mile, you reach locals’ coral cove, tiny Kahauloa Bay.

Ke‘ei Village, with its lava walls surrounding weathered cottages, blue-tarp awnings, and eclectic outdoor furniture, is a quiet corner tucked away from touristville. On nice surfing weekends the place will be jumpin’. At noon on Wednesdays you might not scare up a cat. To get there, turn left at Napo‘opo‘o Wharf and continue less than .5-mile to open lava fields. Turn right on unsigned, unpaved Keawaiki Road, which is the last right on the way out of Kealakekua Bay. Another bumpy dirt road joins from the right after .25-mile, and you may wish to park here. To do so will add about a half-mile to the round-trip hiking distances. Or continue driving until the rocky road turns left and reaches the first buildings. Park on the right across from the first house, making sure not to block the driveways. One of Ke‘ei’s attractions is the grotto on the smooth lava bluff at the water’s edge near this parking place. Groaning waves wash into three, land-locked caverns formed by large collapsed lava tubes.

To get to the awesome bay view at Palemano Point and continue around to the man-made pool at Mokuohai Bay, start down the village road. Lava walls and tropical trees line the route, and the detail of village life will be too much to take in on one pass. You then walk along a mortared seawall that takes you to the run of sand and coral rubble that is Ke‘ei Beach. Palemano Point is beyond the beach, on the low, pahoehoe lava fields. You’ll see a 4-foot-high upright pipe that marks the spot—the south mouth of Kealakekua Bay. Across a mile of water is the Cook Monument, and the white Ka‘awaloa Lighthouse sits seaward of the monument, looking like its twin. You gotta be there to appreciate this oil-painting view of the bay. Jog inland, but stay on the smooth lava, to continue to Mokuohai Bay. You can spot the place by looking for the large pavilion of Maluhia Camp, fringed by coco palms and a lawn. The cool (literally) thing here is a swimming pool set in the lava reef a few hundred feet offshore of the pavilion. Look for lava wall sections. On the walk back you cut inland behind the pavilion and take a shaded road that leads back to the village.

SNORKEL: Take the plunge off the concrete jetty at the Captain Cook Monument to find snorkeling unsurpassed in the state. By late morning, tour boats normally lay anchor and drop dozens of flipper fiends, who are joined by a fleet of plastic rental kayaks that put in a mile away at Napo‘opo‘o Wharf. Only a few people hike down each day. A multi-species coral reef extends hundreds of feet to the left and right of the monument, boiling downward to blue water 50-feet-deep offshore. If you swim out into the bay you may see some of the 100 or more spinner dolphin who make their home in this 315-acre state underwater park. Oodles of fish swim the reef, so bring your marine ID card.

Snorkeling is also good-to-excellent at the Kealakekua Bay State Historical Park, though a winter shore break can make entry difficult. To reach the park, turn right at the Napo‘opo‘o Wharf and drive a short distance to road’s end. If you sense crowds, park at the wharf. Walk to the right of the seawall in front of the heiau to the cove—and if you don’t like the boulders on the beach, blame Hurricane Dot, which dropped them on top of the sand in 1969. Swim out to the rocks to the left, and keep circling that way to find the best coral and fish. Be Aware: Shore break can knock you down and create unwelcome current, so be mindful. Watch out for body boarders, too.

In spite of new rest rooms and other improvements, the historical park isn’t where you want to spend the whole day, but you’ll want to see Hikiau Heiau. Once adorned with thatched platforms and an array of akua ki (wooden carvings of gods), this 18-foot high fortress was the first thing the crew of the Cook’s Endeavor saw when they sailed into Kealakekua in January of 1779. Also atop the 2,500-square-foot platform were the crossed poles with tapa cloth hanging from them, symbols of the god Lono and the Makahiki peace-and-harvest festival that took place over the winter months. These symbols of Lono mirrored the white sails of the ship’s mast. Thousands of Hawaiians took to their canoes and Cook was welcomed as an incarnation of Lono. Everything was hunky-dory when the British sailors left, but a broken spar forced their return. Makahiki was over. When one of the ship’s dories was stolen for its iron nails, the local chief Kalaniopu‘u was taken hostage. The crisis ended with Cook’s killing and the death of several Hawaiians on the shores of the bay where the monument now stands.

Though wave action commonly makes snorkeling Napo‘opo‘o Wharf a ridiculous notion, during calm periods this is a better spot than the beach park. Go toward the left of the wharf and look for steps that are near the end of the wharf’s concrete bulkhead.

You can also snorkel at Manini Beach Park, although better choices nearby make this a less-popular destination. Look for a narrow sand channel through the reef, to the right just as you enter the park grounds. Shallow and rough water hampers entry. Snorkel to the right, inland.

SURF: Bodyboarding is a big draw at Kealakekua Historical Park, and on normal days this is a decent learner’s beach. The action is usually at the section closest to the seawall, which is also a good spot for watching. Board surfers like the triple-tiered left-break at Manini Beach Park. They paddle out via the sand channel to the right as you enter the park. For a great viewing spot, walk to the coral-and-rubble lava on the point. From here, imagine the 25-foot-high waves of Hurricane Iniki in 1980, breaking in a wall across the entire mouth of the bay. Ke‘ei Beach is a status surfing spot with a rich tradition—and a big offshore break onto a shallow reef. Broken boards and bones are not uncommon. Long rides are the lure. When visiting by canoe in the 1840s, Mark Twain told of a surfer who "would fling his board upon a foamy crest and come whizzing by like a bombshell." Those guys are still doing it. Bring binoculars to get a look.





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