Kealakekua Bay

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Kealakekua Bay Historic District
Kealakekua Bay.jpg
Kealakekua Bay
Kealakekua Bay is located in Hawaii
Kealakekua Bay
Location Kona District, Hawaii, United States
Coordinates 19°28′17″N 155°54′29″W / 19.47139°N 155.90806°W / 19.47139; -155.90806
Area 375 acres (152 ha)
Built 1500-1749
Architectural style Ancient Hawaii
Governing body State
NRHP Reference # 73000651[1]
Added to NRHP December 12, 1973

Kealakekua Bay is located on the Kona coast of the island of Hawaiʻi about 12 miles (19 km) south of Kailua-Kona. Settled over a thousand years ago, the surrounding area contains many archeological and historical sites such as religious temples, and was listed in the National Register of Historic Places listings on the island of Hawaii in 1973 as the Kealakekua Bay Historical District.[2] The bay is a marine life conservation district, a popular destination for kayaking, scuba diving, and snorkeling.[3]

Ancient history[edit]

Settlement on Kealakekua Bay has a long history. Hikiau Heiau was a luakini temple of Ancient Hawaii at the south end of the bay, at coordinates 19°28′31″N 155°55′9″W / 19.47528°N 155.91917°W / 19.47528; -155.91917 (Hikiau Heiau), associated with funeral rites.[4] The large platform of volcanic rock was originally over 16 feet (4.9 m) high, 250 feet (76 m) long, and 100 feet (30 m) wide.[5] The sheer cliff face called Pali Kapu O Keōua overlooking the bay was the burial place of Hawaiian royalty. The name means "forbidden cliffs of Keōua "[6] in honor of Keōua Nui, sometimes known as the "father of kings" since many rulers were his descendants. The difficulty in accessing the cliff kept the exact burial places secret.

The village of Kaʻawaloa was at the north end of the bay in ancient times, where the Puhina O Lono Heiau was built, along with some royal residences. The name of the village means "the distant Kava", from the medicinal plant used in religious rituals.[7][8] The name of the bay comes from ke ala ke kua in the Hawaiian Language which means "the god's pathway" [9] because this area was the focus of extensive Makahiki celebrations in honor of the god Lono. Another name for the area north of the bay was hale ki'i, due to the large number of wood carvings, better known today as "tiki".[10]

Captain Cook and Kalaniʻōpuʻu[edit]

Although there are theories that Spanish or Dutch sailors might have stopped here much earlier, the first documented European to arrive was Captain James Cook.[11] He and his crews on the Resolution and Discovery sighted Kealakekua Bay on the morning of January 17, 1779. He estimated several thousand people lived in the two villages. On January 28, he performed the first Christian service on the islands, for the funeral of a crew member who had died.[5]

Kaʻawaloa in 1779 by John Webber, artist aboard Cook's ship

Cook had entered the bay during Makahiki. This was also a traditionally peaceful time of year, so he was welcomed and given food. Cook and his crew stayed for several weeks, returning to sea shortly after the end of the festival. After suffering damage during a storm, the ships returned two weeks later, on February 14. This time relations were not as smooth.

After the theft of one of Resolution's small boats by a local native Hawaiian, Cook attempted to lure Hawaiian chief Kalaniʻōpuʻu aboard to hold as hostage until the boat was returned. A skirmish ensued during which Cook was struck in the head and stabbed, near the spot where he had first set foot on the island. This death was depicted in a series of paintings Death of Cook.

Val Wake's revised account of the circumstances surrounding Cook's death within the context of contemporary Hawai'ian politics[12] suggests that Cook was the victim of a Polynesian political plot by Kamehameha. Wake believes that Cook's death was organised by Kamehameha to discredit the priests and strengthen his claim to the Hawaiian throne. In other words Cook's death was a political assassination and not the random killing by an unruly native mob. Wake quotes a number of sources for his theory including J.C. Beaglehole who has written the definitive guide to Cook's life and voyages.


An illustration of the Hikiau heiau at Kealakekua Bay, by William Ellis

When Kalaniʻōpuʻu died in 1782, his oldest son Kiwalaʻo officially inherited the kingdom, but his nephew Kamehameha I became guardian of the god Kūkaʻilimoku. A younger son, Keōua Kuahuʻula, was not happy about this and provoked Kamehameha. The forces met just south of the bay at the battle of Mokuʻōhai.[13] Kamehameha won control of the west and north sides of the island, but Keōua escaped. It would take over a decade to consolidate his control.

In 1786, merchant ships of the King George's Sound Company under command of the maritime fur traders Nathaniel Portlock and Captain George Dixon anchored in the harbor, but avoided coming ashore since they had been on Cook's voyage when he met his demise. In December 1788, the Iphigenia under William Douglas arrived with Chief Kaʻiana, who had already traveled to China. The first American ship was probably the Lady Washington around this time under Captain John Kendrick. Two sailors, Parson Howel and James Boyd, left the ship (in 1790 or when it returned in 1793) and lived on the island.[11]

In March 1790, the American ship Eleanora arrived at Kealakekua Bay and sent a British sailor ashore named John Young, to determine whether the sister ship, the schooner Fair American, had arrived for its planned rendezvous. Young was detained by Kamehameha's men to prevent the Eleanora's Captain Simon Metcalfe from hearing the news of the demise of the Fair American, including the death of Metcalfe's son, after the massacre at Olowalu. Young and Isaac Davis, the lone survivor of the Fair American, slowly adjusted to the island lifestyle. They instructed Hawaiians in the use of the captured cannon and muskets, becoming respected advisors to Kamehameha.[14] In 1791 Spanish explorer Manuel Quimper visited on the ship Princess Royal.[11]

More visitors[edit]

Priests traveling across the bay for first contact rituals, by John Webber
Main article: Vancouver Expedition

Although his story is not as dramatic as Cook's, another important visitor, George Vancouver arrived to winter in the islands in March 1792 with a small fleet of British ships. He had been a young midshipman on Cook's fatal voyage 13 years earlier and commanded the party to attempt to recover Cook's remains.[15] This time he avoided anchoring in Kealakekua Bay, but did meet some canoes who were interested in trading. The common request was for firearms, which Vancouver resisted. One included chief Kaʻiana, who would later turn against Kamehameha. He suspected Kaʻiana intended to seize his ships, so left him behind and headed up the coast. There he was surprised to encounter a Hawaiian who in broken English introduced himself as "Jack", and told of traveling to America on a fur-trading ship. Through him, Vancouver met Keʻeaumoku Pāpaʻiahiahi, who gave him a favorable impression of Kamehameha (his son-in-law). He spent the rest of the winter in Oʻahu.[15]

Vancouver returned in February 1793, and this time picked up Keʻeaumoku and anchored in Kealakekua Bay. When Kamehameha came to greet the ship, he brought John Young, now fluent in the Hawaiian Language, as an interpreter. This greatly helped to develop a trusted trading relationship instead of the escalating theft and violence that surrounded their meeting 14 years before. The Hawaiians presented a war game, which was often part of the Makahiki celebration. Impressed by the warrior's abilities, Vancouver fired off some fireworks at night to demonstrate his military technology.[15] Vancouver presented some cattle that had been picked up in California. They were weak and barely alive, so he convinced Kamehameha to avoid killing them for ten years.

Scottish doctor James Lind had recommended the use of citrus juice to prevent scurvy on long voyages. The botanist Archibald Menzies had picked up some citrus fruit seeds in South Africa, and dropped them off here, so that future ships might be able to replenish their stocks at the Hawaiian islands.[16]

Ships in the bay (sketch by Rufus Anderson)

Vancouver left in March 1793 after visiting the other islands to continue his expedition, and returned again January 13, 1794. He still hoped to broker a truce between Kamehameha and the other islands. His first step was to reconcile Kamehameha with Queen Kaʻahumanu. He dropped off more cattle and sheep from California, and discovered a cow left the year before had delivered a calf. The cattle were eventually to become pests, until the "Hawaiian Cowboys" known as the Paniolo were recruited.

The ship's carpenters instructed the Hawaiians and the British advisors how to build a 36-foot (11 m) European-style ship, which they named the Britania. On February 25, 1794, Vancouver gathered leaders from around the island onto his ship and negotiated a treaty. Although sometimes called "ceding" Hawaii to Great Britain, the treaty was never ratified by British Parliament.[15]


For the next few years, Kamehameha was engaged in his war campaigns, and then spent his last years at Kamakahonu to the north. By this time other harbors such as Lahaina and Honolulu became popular with visiting ships. By 1804, the heiau was falling into disuse. In 1814, a British ship HMS Forrester arrived in the midsts of a mutiny, and Otto von Kotzebue arrived on a mission from the Russian Empire in 1816.[11]

When Kamehameha I died in 1819, his oldest son Liholiho officially inherited the kingdom, calling himself Kamehameha II. His nephew Keaoua Kekuaokalani inherited the important military and religious post of guardian of Kūkaʻilimoku. However, true power was held by Kamehameha's widow Queen kaʻahumanu. She had been convinced by Vancouver and other visitors that the European customs should be adopted, and in the ʻAi Noa declared an end to the old Kapu system.

Kekuaokalani was outraged by this threat to the old traditions, which still were respected by most common people. He gathered religious supporters at Kaʻawaloa, threatening to take the kingdom by force as happened 37 years earlier. After a failed attempt to negotiate peace, he marched his army north to meet Kalanimoku's troops who were gathered at Kamakahonu. They met in the Battle of Kuamoʻo. Both sides had muskets, but Kalanimoku had cannon mounted on double-hulled canoes, and devastated the fighters for the old religion, who still lie buried in the lava rock.[17]

The former village of Kaʻawaloa is now overgrown with Kiawe trees

The wood Kiʻi carvings were burned, and the temples fell into disrepair. A small Christian church was built in 1824 in Kaʻawaloa by the Hawaiian misionaries, and the narrow trail widened to a donkey cart road in the late 1820s, but population declined and shifted to other areas. In 1825, Admiral Lord Byron (cousin of the famous poet) on the ship HMS Blonde erected a monument to Cook and removed many of the old artifacts.[18] The last royalty known to live here was high chief Naihe known as the "national orator" and his wife Chiefess Kapiʻolani, early converts to Christianity.[19] In 1829, she was saddened to find the destruction of the temples included desecrating the bones of her ancestors at the Puʻuhonua o Hōnaunau. She removed the remains of the old chiefs and hid them in the Pali Kapu O Keōua cliffs. She then ordered this last temple to be destroyed. The bones were later moved to the Royal Mausoleum of Hawaii in 1858, under direction of King Kamehameha IV.[20]

In 1839 a massive stone church was built just south of the bay. It fell into ruin, and a smaller building called Kahikolu Church was built in 1852. This also fell into ruin, but has been rebuilt.[21] In 1894 a wharf was constructed at the village at the south of the bay, now called Napoʻopoʻo. A steamer landed in the early 20th century when Kona coffee became a popular crop in the upland areas.[4]

A large white stone monument was built on the north shore of the bay in 1874 on the order of Princess Likelike and was deeded to the United Kingdom in 1877. The chain around the monument is supported by four cannon from the ship HMS Fantome placed with their breaches embedded in the rock in 1876.[22] It marks the approximate location of Cook's death. It is located at coordinates 19°28′52.7″N 155°56′0.4″W / 19.481306°N 155.933444°W / 19.481306; -155.933444 (Captain James Cook Monument).

Cook Monument on the northern shore of the bay

The monument is unreachable by road; this remote location is only accessible by water or an hour-long hike along a moderately steep trail. Many visitors have rented kayaks and paddled across the bay, about 1.5 miles (2.4 km) from its southern end, however as of February 1, 2013 a moratorium[23] prevents kayaks, stand-up paddleboards, surfboards, and bodyboards from entering the bay. The pier at Napoʻopoʻo can be accessed down a narrow road off the Hawaii Belt Road.[24] The beach sand was mostly removed by Hurricane Iniki in 1992. Boat tours are also available leaving from Honokōhau harbor, Keauhou Bay, and the Kailua pier.

Hawaiian Spinner Dolphins frequent Kealakekua Bay, especially in the morning. The bay serves as a place for them to rest and feed, and as a nursery for mothers and their calves. Due to the calm water conditions, extensive coral reef, and thriving underwater life, Kealakekua Bay offers some of the best snorkeling and diving in Hawaii. The shallow waters adjacent to the monument are best for snorkeling and scuba diving.[25]

About 180 acres (0.73 km2) around the bay was designated a State Historic Park in 1967, and it was added as a Historic District to the National Register of Historic Places in 1973 as site 73000651.[1] The 315 acres (1.27 km2) of the bay itself were declared a Marine Life Conservation District in 1969.[26]

A narrow one-lane road to the south leads to Puʻuhonua o Hōnaunau National Historical Park, which contains more historic sites, and is another snorkel spot.

In popular culture[edit]

In Arthur C. Clarke's book Rendezvous with Rama, Kealakekua Bay is mentioned as a place where the Commander of the Space Survey Vessel Endeavour, Bill Norton, visited. The 1933 song My Little Grass Shack in Kealakekua, Hawaii mentions the state fish which can be found in the bay: the Humuhumunukunukuapuaʻa (Reef triggerfish).[27]


  1. ^ a b "National Register Information System". National Register of Historic Places. National Park Service. 2010-07-09. 
  2. ^ B. Jean Martin (September 30, 1971). "Kealakekua Bay Historical District nomination form". National Register of Historic Places. National Park Service. Retrieved 2009-11-23. 
  3. ^ "Coral Reef Network". 
  4. ^ a b Kealakekua Bay brochure at the official State Park web site
  5. ^ a b Van James, Ancient Sites of Hawaiʻi, 1995, Mutual Publishing, ISBN 978-1-56647-200-5 Page 94
  6. ^ Lloyd J. Soehren (2010). "lookup of Palikapuokeoua ". in Hawaiian Place Names. Ulukau, the Hawaiian Electronic Library. Retrieved November 17, 2010. 
  7. ^ John R. K. Clark (2004). "lookup of Kaʻawaloa ". in Hawai'i Place Names: Shores, Beaches, and Surf Sites. Ulukau, the Hawaiian Electronic Library, University of Hawaii Press. Retrieved November 17, 2010. 
  8. ^ Lloyd J. Soehren (2010). "lookup of Kaʻawaloa ". in Hawaiian Place Names. Ulukau, the Hawaiian Electronic Library. Retrieved November 17, 2010. 
  9. ^ Lloyd J. Soehren (2010). "lookup of Kealakekua Bay ". in Hawaiian Place Names. Ulukau, the Hawaiian Electronic Library. Retrieved November 17, 2010. 
  10. ^ Lloyd J. Soehren (2010). "lookup of Halekii ". in Hawaiian Place Names. Ulukau, the Hawaiian Electronic Library. Retrieved November 17, 2010. 
  11. ^ a b c d Henry B. Restarick (1928). "Historic Kealakekua Bay". Papers of the Hawaiian Historical Society (Honolulu: The Bulletin Publishing Company). hdl:10524/964. 
  12. ^ Wake, "Who killed Captain Cook?" AQ journal of contemporary analysis 75.3 May–June 2003.
  13. ^ Thomas S.Dye (2003) Archaeological Survey of a Portion of Keʻei Makai
  14. ^ "A Cultural History of Three Traditional Hawaiian Sites on the West Coast of Hawaiʻi Island" by Diane Lee Rhodes, on National Park Service web site
  15. ^ a b c d Cummins Speakman and Rhoda Hackler (1989). "Vancouver in Hawaii". Hawaiian Journal of History (Hawaiian Historical Society, Honolulu) 23. hdl:10524/121. 
  16. ^ "Early Plant Introductions in Hawaiʻi" by Kenneth M. Nagata, Hawaiian Journal of History, 1985
  17. ^ Hiram Bingham I (1848). A Residence of Twenty-one Years in the Sandwich Islands. Sherman Converse, New York. 
  18. ^ Rowland Bloxam (1920). "Visit of H.M.S. Blonde to Hawaii in 1825". All about Hawaii: Thrum's Hawaiian annual and standard guide (Thomas G. Thrum, Honolulu): 66–82. 
  19. ^ Rufus Anderson (1865). Hawaiian Islands:Their Progress and condition under missionary labors. Gould and Lincoln. 
  20. ^ Alexander, William DeWitt (1894). "The "Hale o Keawe" at Honaunau, Hawaii". Journal of the Polynesian Society (London: E. A. Petherick) 3: 159–161. 
  21. ^ Lois M. Humphrey (May 26, 1982). "Kahikolu Church nomination form". National Register of Historic Places. National Park Service. Retrieved 2009-10-15. 
  22. ^ Thomas George Thrum, ed. (1912), "Cook's Monument at Kealakekua", Hawaiian Almanac and Annual: 69 
  23. ^ "Kayak moratorium". 
  24. ^ Shoreline access map at Hawaiʻi County web site
  25. ^ "Let's Go Hawaii". 
  26. ^ Kealakekua Stewardship Area Management Plan Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources web site
  27. ^ "My Little Grass Shack in Kealakekua Hawai`i; Noble's "Hawaiian Favorites"". Hawaiian Music and Hula Archives. Miller Music Corp. 1933. Retrieved 2009-11-23. 

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 19°28′34″N 155°55′37″W / 19.476°N 155.927°W / 19.476; -155.927