British explorer Captain James Cook changed the course of Hawaiian history when he sailed into Waimea Harbor on Kauai in January 1778. His two ships, the Resolution and the Discovery, were the first European vessels ever to moor in Hawaiian waters, and Cook was reportedly the first Westerner to set foot in the territory.
Shortly after his initial arrival, Captain Cook set out to explore the other Hawaiian Islands. He voyaged to the Big Island of Hawaii in early 1779. According to local legend, the locals initially saw him as an incarnation of the god Lono, but later came to revile him when a storm damaged his ship and forced him to delay the departure of his sailors. The "guests'' had overstayed their welcome.
History has it that Cook fell into a dispute over the theft of a longboat. When he and his crew went to retrieve it, a battle with guns, daggers and spears ensued. Cook was mortally wounded, and he died as a result on February 14, 1779.
Several monuments have been erected to commemorate Cook's historic visit to the Islands of Hawaii. For example, the statue located in Hofgaard Park at Waimea is a replica of one that stands in his hometown of Whitby, England, and it resembles the Captain in life-size form.
On the Big Island, however, a 27-foot-high white obelisk was erected on the shore of Kealakekua Bay to mark the spot where Captain Cook died. According to the plaque at its base, the monument was put up in November 1874 by "some of his fellow countrymen.'' Locals often point out that the memorial stands on land that is still British territory, but in fact it is only owned by the British government and is really part of the United States.
There are no roads leading to the Captain Cook Monument. It cannot be reached by car. Instead, visitors must use a rugged foot trail or approach by water. One of the best ways to get there is by kayak. Craft can be launched from the Kealakekua wharf and then paddled across the bay, which encompasses 315 acres, 1.5 miles long and a mile wide. It is the island of Hawaii's largest sheltered natural bay.
While paddling across the clear and calm water, Hawaiian Spinner dolphins may be seen, along with giant sea turtles, colorful tropical fish and beautiful coral reefs. In places, visibility extends down to 100 feet and the temperature averages 76 degrees, making it a perfect place for snorkeling and scuba diving, too.
The view of the white monument with the blue sea in front and the green cliffs behind can be quite inspiring. The shore adjacent to the west of the Captain Cook Monument is accessible. Kayaks can be beached here, while visitors walk the footpath and take a look at the historic marker up close.
Several boat tours are also available to take guests along Kealakekua Bay to the monument, for those who might find the effort of sea kayaking too strenuous. Neither food nor water is available at the site, so tour users should make sure whether these are provided as part of the excursion. Bringing along sunscreen, a hat, and a camera is also recommended.
The Captain Cook Monument is located within Kealakekua Bay State Historical Park off State Highway 160, south of Kailua.