The cliffs rising
above Kealakekua Bay are the Big Islands signature seascape. This
is where Captain James Cook took his last breath, and where youll
find some of the best snorkeling in the islands.
Take Hwy. 11 south
from Kailua-Kona. Veer right toward Kealakekua Bay, on Napoopoo
Rd., which is at mm111. For Captain Cook Monument: Park immediately on
the left after veering from the highway. Youll see a turnout big
enough for several cars. For all other activities: Continue on Napoopoo
Rd. for about 5 mi. At the bottom, youll come to stop sign and a
T-intersection, directly across from which is Napoopoo Wharf.
HIKE: Captain Cook Monument (4.25 mi., 1,325 ft.); Manini Beach Park
(up to .5-mi.); Keei 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 #4not the driveway with a stop sign and chain at pole #5 that
is next to it. Youll know youre 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 trails only switchback, an aa
lava perch that overlooks Kaawaloa 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 Cooks last stand, on February 14,
1779. During low tide youll see it on a rock, under the curling
horizontal branches of a large tree. Monumental ironies surround Captain
James Cooks 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
Walk over to the monument itself. The 28-foot white spire was erected
by some of Cooks 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, youll find numerous remains of Kaawaloa
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 oclock.
Manini Beach Park is one of the most dramatically scenic spots on the
island. Its easy to miss. Go left at the Napoopoo 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. Youll
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.
Keei 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 Napoopoo 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 Keeis attractions is the grotto on the
smooth lava bluff at the waters edge near this parking place. Groaning
waves wash into three, land-locked caverns formed by large collapsed lava
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 Keei
Beach. Palemano Point is beyond the beach, on the low, pahoehoe lava fields.
Youll see a 4-foot-high upright pipe that marks the spotthe
south mouth of Kealakekua Bay. Across a mile of water is the Cook Monument,
and the white Kaawaloa 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 Napoopoo 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 Napoopoo Wharf and drive a short distance
to roads end. If you sense crowds, park at the wharf. Walk to the
right of the seawall in front of the heiau to the coveand if you
dont 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
isnt where you want to spend the whole day, but youll 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 Cooks 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
ships 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 ships dories was stolen for its iron nails,
the local chief Kalaniopuu was taken hostage. The crisis ended with
Cooks killing and the death of several Hawaiians on the shores of
the bay where the monument now stands.
Though wave action
commonly makes snorkeling Napoopoo 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
wharfs 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 learners 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. Keei
Beach is a status surfing spot with a rich traditionand 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.