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