Kealakekua Bay: A Historic Bay on the Big Island’s Kona Coast

I’ll never complain about the walk down to Hanauma Bay and back up to the parking lot ever again. I promise. And I can blame the Kealakekua Bay hike for that. Think of the Kealakekua Bay trail as a reverse hike. Most trails involves a steady increase in elevation, followed by a rewarding view, and then finishing with a downhill climb back to civilization. The Kealakekua Bay trail is the complete opposite. This trail starts with a nice and steady decrease in elevation, for roughly two miles. You are then rewarded with the stunning cliffside views and inviting waters of Kealakekua Bay. On the way way back to civilization, though, is where the cardiovascular work begins. It’s a two mile upward climb from the bay and back to your car. Imagine that climb up from Haunama Bay, but lasting for 2 hours instead of 5 minutes. If you can do Koko Crater in 30 minutes then you can expect a climb up that is about four times that length. If that sounds okay to you then you’ll be awarded with one of the most pristine snorkeling spots on the island in one of the most historic bays in Hawaii.

The three tall coconut trees (left) is the landmark to lookout for. You'll park on the side of the road. Photo by Coty Gonzales.

The three tall coconut trees (left) is the landmark to lookout for. You’ll park on the side of the road. Photo by Coty Gonzales.

We encountered a lot of poo on the trail. Photo by Coty Gonzales.

We encountered a lot of poo on the trail. Photo by Coty Gonzales.

Goats checking us out. Photo by Coty Gonzales.

Goats checking us out. Photo by Coty Gonzales.

It's a pretty dry trail. Photo by Michelle Sagucio.

It’s a pretty dry trail. Photo by Michelle Sagucio.

Captain James Cook is credited with being the first European to dock at Kealakekua Bay. Cook’s ships, Resolution and Discovery, landed in Kealakekua Bay on January 17, 1779. Unknown to Cook, he had entered the bay during the Makahiki season, when the ancient Hawaiians honored the god Lono. Cook was believed to be the physical manifestation of Lona. As such, Captain Cook was welcomed and given food. His crew would stay for a few weeks before venturing back to sea. Cook would only return two weeks later, this second visit would not be as pleasant. In an attempt to hold Chief Kalanipuu hostage, Cook was captured, struck in the head, and then stabbed to death, near the same spot that he had first set foot on the island.

The significance of Kealakekua Bay led to the development of a monument in memorial of Captain Cook in 1874 by British soldiers. Interestingly, the land on which the monuments rests was deeded to the United Kingdom by Princess Likelike. Step over the chain link fence that surrounds the monument and you can say that you’re on British soil, while simultaneously looking out upon Hawaiian waters.

Getting to the bay can be achieved in a variety of different ways. You can either hike (as we did), kayak, swim (you better be a strong swimmer), or take a boat (you lazy bastard). We hiked this time, but next time, I think we might kayak. The hike down is quite the adventure. It starts off in head high grass as you make your way past residential homes. The trail is quite dry and lacks shade. We crossed paths with a few goats and cows as we worked our way down. One family of goats stood silently within 10 feet from the trail. They didn’t bother to scamper away, instead, they just gave us stink eye as we made our way pass them.

Michelle making her way down. Photo by Coty Gonzales.

Michelle making her way down. Photo by Coty Gonzales.

The sky looked pretty amazing. Photo by Coty Gonzales.

The sky looked pretty amazing. Photo by Coty Gonzales.

After about thirty minutes or so of downhill hiking, we got our first glimpse of the ocean. From the top of the hill, the waters were deep blue in color and looked incredibly calm. We continued to make our way down the rocky trail and eventually walked pass some old stoned structures just before reaching the end of the trail. At the end of the trail is a plaque indicating the exact spot in which Captain Cook was struck and then stabbed to death.

This area is also used as a landing spot for kayakers since there is a small sandy beach area idea for docking kayaks. It was here were we asked two kayakers for the location of the moment. They motioned toward the cliffs to the left of the plaque, and said to reverse track toward the old stone structures and there will be a path leading to the monument. We made our way in this direction and found the monument and a bunch of snorkelers within a few minutes.

Closing in on the bay. Photo by Coty Gonzales.

Closing in on the bay. Photo by Coty Gonzales.

Walk into these stone structures and the path will lead you directly to the Captain Cook monument. Photo by Coty Gonzales.

Walk into these stone structures and the path will lead you directly to the Captain Cook monument. Photo by Coty Gonzales.

Kealakekua Bay is beautiful. The waters are pristine and the mountain side cliffs are magical. Ancient Hawaiians would bury the bones of important chiefs on these cliffs inside of hidden caves. Volunteers would be lowered to these caves from the top of the cliff and would then proceed to hide the bones. However, in order to preserve the location of the sacred bones, the people above would cut the rope that was secured to the volunteer, sending him crashing down the cliff.

If you do decide to visit Kealakekua Bay, I highly suggest that you put aside a few hours to actually enjoy the bay itself. Our visit was more of an in-and-out affair because of time constraints and a pending visit to the summit of Mauna Kea. If I had more time, I would have loved to just relax on the beach and spend hours snorkeling. A kayak and a cooler filled with drinks might be the plan the next time around.

Explorers: Coty Gonzales and Michelle Sagucio.

Behind that big tree on teh left is the Captain Cook monument. Photo by Coty Gonzales.

Behind that big tree on teh left is the Captain Cook monument. Photo by Coty Gonzales.

To think, Captain Cook not only stood here, but was also killed here. Photo by Michelle Sagucio.

To think, Captain Cook not only stood here, but was also killed here. Photo by Michelle Sagucio.

Those guys on the boat, they cheat! Photo by Coty Gonzales.

Those guys on the boat, they cheat! Photo by Coty Gonzales.

That's me getting a shot. Photo by Michelle Sagucio.

That’s me getting a shot. Photo by Michelle Sagucio.

Plaque in front of the Captain Cook Monument. Photo by Coty Gonzales.

Plaque in front of the Captain Cook Monument. Photo by Coty Gonzales.

The Captain Cook Monument at Kealakekua Bay. Photo by Michelle Sagucio.

The Captain Cook Monument at Kealakekua Bay. Photo by Michelle Sagucio.

The monument is inscribed with a few words. Photo by Coty Gonzales.

The monument is inscribed with a few words. Photo by Coty Gonzales.

Another plaque near the monument. Photo by Coty Gonzales.

Another plaque near the monument. Photo by Coty Gonzales.

Michelle in front of the monument. Photo by Coty Gonzales.

Michelle in front of the monument. Photo by Coty Gonzales.

Another plaque. Photo by Michelle Sagucio.

Another plaque. Photo by Michelle Sagucio.

You'll be greeted with a bunch of different plaques around the bay. Photos by Michelle Sagucio.

You’ll be greeted with a bunch of different plaques around the bay. Photos by Michelle Sagucio.

Finally, we have this plaque here. This was under water when we visited so I wasn't able to snap a clear shot. Luckily, this Flickr user did. Photo by Ragnar Schierholz.

Finally, we have this plaque here. This was under water when we visited so I wasn’t able to snap a clear shot. Luckily, this Flickr user did. Photo by Ragnar Schierholz.

Kealakekua Bay Tips:

  • Sunscreen is a must for this hike since there is no shade on the trail.
  • Set aside a few hours to enjoy snorkeling at the bay.
  • Try and locate all of the different memorial plaques that surround the bay.

Total Distance: 4 miles roundtrip

Total Time: ~2.5 hours (roundtrip for the hiking portion)

Directions to Kealakekua Bay/Captain Cook Monument Trail: On Highway 11, you will make a slight right on to Napoopoo Road. A few feet from where you exited Highway 11 is the trailhead. Be on the lookout for three distinctly tall coconut trees on your left. Directly across of the coconut trees, on the opposite side of the road, will be the trailhead.

About Coty

Founder of Exploration: Hawaii. Adventure, Minimalism, Vinyl, Typography, and Coffee + Matcha. A single space after a period, please.