Kealakekua Bay, Hawaii

Leaving Kona, our boat is blue in photo center

Here’s a curious place on the west side of Hawaii’s Big Island, called Kealakekua Bay. Not only does it have clear waters teeming with tropical fish amid the coral reef, but it has a powerful history as well. It is listed on the U.S. National Register of Historic Places.


Twelve miles (19 km) south of Kailua-Kona, Kealakekua  Bay can only be accessed by hiking a steep and arduous trail, or by boat.


We had signed up for a snorkeling tour in Kona, and were headed for this bay. It was a 45-minute boat ride with about 50 other people. The day was gorgeous and sunny, in the tropics in winter, and it was my birthday.

Cook Monument

As the boat neared land, we could see the Cook Monument on the coastline. The rest of the area was cliffs, rocks, and trees with no man-made structures except for this lonely but stately tall, white obelisk.


Being somewhat familiar with the life and death of Captain James Cook, I thought about him as we neared the monument. He had been a brilliant circumnavigator and cartographer, had changed the ways of seafaring with his skills. I was in the same waters that Captain Cook occupied in the late 1770s.


Meanwhile, we were all getting ready. Fifty of us in sunglasses and bathing suits, gathering up our gear.

Cook monument


A voice on the loudspeaker told us this was where Captain James Cook died in 1779. It was hard to hear what else was said, with the waves and wind and everyone jostling.


I found myself breaching two worlds. I was happy and excited, soon we’d be submerged in these dazzling waters. Simultaneously, I was looking at the coastline, imagining Captain Cook and his crew.


Capt. Cook’s two ships, HMS Resolution and HMS Discovery. Courtesy Wikipedia

On that fateful day of February 14, 1779, in this very same spot of coast, the native Hawaiians and the British were having a disagreement. Earlier, their visit had been friendly.


What transpired were misunderstandings and culture clashes, an elevated skirmish that would last for days.


In the skirmish, Captain Cook, Hawaiian chiefs and villagers, and British sailors were killed.


1795 painting “The Death of Capt. Cook” by Johann Zoffany. Courtesy Wikipedia

1779 drawing of Kealakekua Bay by John Webber, artist aboard Cook’s ship. Courtesy Wikipedia.


Captain Cook info.

Our boat gears ground to a slow halt, the 21st-century snorkel crew called out orders.


Yellow tangs



Surrounded by bright fish and warm tropical waters, this peaceful bay, it was difficult to imagine a war-like setting here.


What does one do with these two scenes of February 14, 1779 and the current day both bobbing about in the birthday brain?


Start swimming…there’s so many fish.


Photo credit: Athena Alexander

The plaque on Cook Monument reads: “In memory of the great circumnavigator, Captain James Cook, R. N., who discovered these islands on the 10th of January, A.D. 1770, and fell near this spot on the 14th of February, A.D. 1779. This monument was erected in November A.D. 1874 by some of his fellow countrymen.”

Capt. James Cook’s voyages. 1st voyage=red, 2nd voyage=green, 3rd voyage=blue. Dotted blue=Cook’s crew after his death. Courtesy Wikipedia.




72 thoughts on “Kealakekua Bay, Hawaii

  1. Great tale. Fascinating how life changes. When I was younger, I never had much interest in history, but the more I travel and come across historical markers, the more I develop a newfound appreciation for the past and an admiration for explorers.

  2. This was one place I really wanted to see but didn’t make it there (my mom is an especially big admirer of Cook’s). Enjoyed your juxtaposition of present and past!

    • Capt. Cook was a remarkable man, it was moving to be there, Amy, and I imagine your mother would like it too. Thanks for your comment on the writing, I appreciate it.

  3. Love the history. I looked up Cook on Wikipedia to get a bit more of the story. Apparently, Cook was in the process of kidnapping a chief when he got stabbed in the back. What an mazing explorer he was. Gorgeous fishies.

  4. I recently read about Cook’s dramatic departure from the islands and envisioned the skirmish and sands he died in. Your photo and post help clarify that vision. Thanks, Jet. Tom

  5. So now you have visited Captain Cook’s place of death, you should also visit his birth place – Marton, in Middlesbrough, NE England, where my wife is from and we obviously know well – along with Staithes and Whitby where he first worked. Middlesbrough has an undeserved bad reputation but Staithes and Whitby are really great places.

  6. Another interesting post – thanks, Jet! Always a challenge to see places and try and understand how culture clashes have gotten us to where we are today. And then there’s the swimming with tropical fish – wonderful!
    I’m halfway through “Barbarian Days” by William Fnnegan, and the culture clashes he describes on Hawaii just 50 years ago are quite startling. A good read, as social history, memoir and love letter to surfing…
    Have a great weekend!

    • Even today the Hawaiian culture shines with uniqueness, it is easy to see there were clashes along the way as well. Thank you for the book info, too. I appreciate your comments always, PC, many thanks.

  7. There does seem to be a lot of mystery surrounding Cook’s death. The book I bought on Hawaiian monarchs implied that Kamehameha took a shining to Cook’s weapons and that the Captain didn’t want to share. He supposedly claimed Cook’s “hair” to improve his “mana.”

  8. Wonderful combination of the appreciation of history and the celebration of the present. Such a beautiful way to celebrate your birthday and I laughed over your closing sentence! Thanks for sharing this special day and great photos!

  9. Hi 🙂
    Happy Belated Birthday! Pretty place to spend your birthday and beautiful photos. 🙂 The ship routes on the map are impressive especially that long ago.

    • Your comment gave me a smile, Gunta. There’s only so long I can dwell in the past, when the present is ticking by. And what a great swim it was that day. Always a joy, my friend–thanks for stopping by.

    • I have always loved the Kona coast, and it was great to have found a new spot, so I kept on exploring…I am certain Cook would’ve understood. Happy birthday dear Bill, thinking of you today–

  10. Happy Birthday Jet! What a wonderful way to celebrate. I have to say those gorgeous fish win over the history of the waters for me. Still I appreciate the learning as always. Wonderful post.

    • That Kona coast is such a joy, Sue. Not far from this lovely spot, there is another history/snorkeling/beach spot called the Place of Refuge. If you and Dave have not been to Kona, I highly recommend it. Thanks so much for your warm comment.

  11. Beautiful scenery, so lush and green. Love the yellow fish! Snorkelling sounds like a great way to celebrate a birthday, especially in such historical waters:)

    • I love those yellow tang fish, too, Inger. They are easy to spot even from the shoreline, due to their cheerful brightness. My birthday’s in the winter, and it was always cold and frigid when growing up. So I love to be in tropical situations now for the celebration. Always a treat to connect with you, Inger, thank you.

    • Always great to hear from you, Peta. Yes, it was a delightful birthday from beginning to end. Glad you enjoyed the Hawaii post, and I am sending warm wishes your way, my friend–

  12. Thanks for another very interesting story about history that we tend to forget.Lovely photo’s,Jet and definitely much different circumstances than a few hundred years ago!

  13. I have never been to Hawaii, but here I can have a moment in Hawaii.
    You have a beautiful post story @Jet, also about Captain James Cook. Brilliant underwater photos. Thanks to @Alexander too.

    • Thank you so much for your warm comment, Della. I am so happy to bring a few moments of Hawaii to you, and to share the beauty in the photos, and a spot of history too. It is such a beautiful place in the world, and a pleasure to share it.

  14. A wonderful post, Jet. I can sense your enjoyment of the location for its beauty and its saline. I can also imagine the historical sensations of being in that location, especially my being Australian. Even in this modern age, minor skirmishes can still blow up into major incidents. History repeats itself.

    Thanks for the beautiful photos.

    • I am delighted you enjoyed the Hawaii post, in both the present and past versions, and I thank you for your thoughtful and warm comment. It is always a true pleasure to receive your visit, my friend. Sending greetings to your side of the world and the magnificent Great Barrier Reef.

  15. What a delightful way to celebrate a birthday, certainly out of the ordinary
    and off the beaten path, so to speak. Looks and sounds like it was a total
    winner! Congrats to you for discovering this fun filled way to spend your
    special day. Hugs and a Happy, happy birthday

  16. Thanks for sharing and what a great way to spend your birthday. The pictures are incredible…love snorkeling as it opens the door to a whole other realm under the water. Beautiful spot! Love the Hawaiian Islands…each of them have something special to offer…great post and I learned something about Capt Cook I did not know! Thanks!

  17. what a wonderful way to celebrate your birthday, Jet! i learn so much from your posts. the pictures especially the underwater are awesome! thank you so much and happy birthday! 🙂

    • Isn’t that a wonderful map, RH? The voyages Capt. Cook took, the vastness he explored, it is all so monumental. I almost didn’t put the Zoffany painting in, it’s a bit edgy, but I decided to because it portrays an important event that occurred right there. I like receiving your feedback about it, am glad I put it in. Thank you for your interest, my friend–

  18. Hi Jet, what an interesting write and great photos to share…. thanks for this! I’ve enjoyed this post. Did I read rightly that you celebrated your birthday recently? If so a Happy Birthday, Jet, and many returns of the Day! Have a lovely weekend, my friend. 🙂

    • I’m really glad you enjoyed the Hawaii post, Iris, thank you for your wonderful comment. I was celebrating my birthday that day, but it was back in the winter, so it’s been a few months now. Thanks very much, always a joy to have you stop by, Iris. 🙂

    • So kind of you to say, Resa. Life is such an adventure, as you know; it’s a great compliment to know my blog is too. Many thanks for your visits today, Resa.

    • Hi Lloyd, great to see you here. Capt. Cook was an intrepid voyager, and yes, I imagine his explorations in Australia are well studied. I’m glad you enjoyed the post and photos. Much appreciated.

  19. I love this post…the merging of two “worlds.” Do you know why he changed the direction (east) of his voyages after the first one (west)? I enjoyed seeing the differences of your boat and his grand ship!

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