British explorer Captain James Cook met his death at Kealakekua Bay on February 14, 1779, after a skirmish with the king of Hawaii in a local village. Today, a white obelisk in Kealakekua Bay State Historical Park stands sentinel over the lush coast and its crystal clear waters, commemorating his death.
Admission to the state historical park is free, and many visitors come to take advantage of the area’s black rock beaches and the excellent snorkeling, diving, kayaking, and dolphin-watching opportunities just off the Kona coast in Kealakekua Bay. Popular tour options include sailing the bay in Zodiac rafts, outrigger canoes, and on lunch or dinner cruises; the monument can be spotted from the water.
Things to Know Before You Go
- The Captain Cook Monument is a must-see for history buffs.
- Don’t forget to bring sunscreen, sunglasses, and a hat, especially if you’re planning to spend time out on the water.
- Tours of Kealakekua Bay tend to last from three to five hours.
- Historical lunch and dinner cruises are wheelchair accessible.
How to Get There
The monument and state historical park are situated 12 miles (19 kilometers) south of Kailua-Kona on the western coast of the Big Island. The easiest way to get there is by private car or on an organized tour.
When to Get There
The park is open during daylight hours. For the best snorkeling conditions just offshore from the monument, book a snorkel tour first thing in the morning or later in the afternoon when fewer people will be in the water.
The Life and Death of Captain Cook
Captain James Cook first landed in Hawaii in 1778 on the island of Kauai, marking the first contact between British explorers and Native Hawaiians. He returned to the islands late in 1778, landing at Kealakekua Bay, where he was welcomed and treated as a god. He set sail again in 1779, but was forced to return to repair a broken mast. After Hawaiians snatched one of Cook’s small boats, Cook attempted to capture the Hawaiian king and was stabbed and bludgeoned to death. His memorial is controversial, as some locals see it as a tribute to an invader and a historical moment that would forever change the character of Hawaii.