At least once in their life every person will look at a boat and think, “I should just sail away to a life full of exploration and adventure.” Well, that was Captain James Cook’s job, courtesy of the British navy. With that same spirit we set out to visit a monument erected in his honor here on the Big Island. Plus, we heard the snorkeling there was pretty good. Okay, we were mostly there for the snorkeling, but Captain Cook is cool too.
In 1779 Captain Cook landed on Hawaii’s Big Island just a bit outside present day Kona. After hanging out with the natives for a while he said his goodbyes and sailed off into the sunset. That is, until he had to turn around due to a broken mast. The Hawaiians weren’t so welcoming this time around, and things didn’t end well for Cook. Somebody stole one of his longboats, a skirmish ensued, Kamehameha I was injured, Captain Cook was killed. Sad, but I feel like he was probably aware that one of the hazards of his job was possibly being slain by unfriendly natives.
It’s rumored that at first the natives thought him a messenger of the gods. But, after a troublesome sailing voyage the natives changed there mind. I mean what kind of holy messenger has problems in a little storm bruddah. It’s our understanding that this is possibly all a big fib spun to make white explorers look good and native peoples look bad, though the truth is not definite.
In any case, Princess Likelike erected an elegant white obelisk monument in honor of Captain Cook in 1878, and deeded it to the UK. It is technically British soil. While the monument is nice to look at, the real value at this spot is in the water. I’m talking about coral reef teeming with dozens of variety of tropical fish, spinner dolphins leaping in the bay, and at least one eel that was not as excited to see us as we were to see it. Combine the great wildlife with the calm and relatively warm waters of the bay and it is easy to see why this area has become famous for snorkeling.
If you are a fan of snorkeling like we are then you have to make it out to this great spot. The thing is, it can be a little tricky to get to – at least if you want to get there cheaply. There are plenty of snorkeling tours running out of Kona that will take you to the monument via boat or kayak for $80 to $100. That is out of our price range, but you can get to the monument cheaply if you’re willing to put in a little effort.
First, you’ll need to rent some snorkel gear. This is the easy part. We went to Boss Frogs on the main tourist drag in Kona. For their basic snorkel, goggles, and fins we paid $1.50 per person for the whole day.
Next, you need to get to Captain Cook Monument. This is the more difficult part. To get to the monument, head south on Highway 11 out of Kona for about 8 miles then turn right on Napo’opo’o road. There is no sign or parking lot, but you will see a trail of cars parked along the side of the road. Just across from where the cars are parked is the trail.
The trail is about 3.8 miles long and not pleasant. It’s not terribly steep, but there is a constant incline. Just enough to make it challenging and annoying. Also, the trail is not maintained by the government. According to a sign at the beginning of the trail there is somebody who comes out to cut down grass, but I think that’s about it. The trail is covered in loose rocks and grass so you have to watch your footing the entire time. That’s okay, though, because there really isn’t a view to look at, and either side of the trail is just lined by mesquite trees. At the bottom of the trail you take a left turn to get to the monument which is not clearly marked. Actually, there are no signs whatsoever that indicate that this trail leads to the Captain Cook Monument. The sign at the trailhead only has the Hawaiian name of Ka’awaloa Trail. It’s number 3 on TripAdvisor’s list of attractions in the area, but nobody has ever bothered to put up a sign, which just seems kind of odd.
Be sure to be properly prepared. Patrick’s blisters attest to the wisdom of not wearing socks when hiking this trail. The constant incline and uneven terrain means your toes will rub your shoes a lot on this hike. Also, this area is very dry and there is little shade so bring plenty of water, and remember you have to climb back out after a day of swimming.
When it is all said and done you will find that the amazing day snorkeling made all the pains of the trail worth it.