Kealakekua translates as ‘pathway of the gods’ and is one of the most significant historic and cultural places in Hawaiʻi.
Kealakekua Bay State Historical Park is comprised of portions of the Kealakekua and Kaʻawaloa ahupuaʻa, which surround Kealakekua Bay. From Kaʻawaloa south to Palemano Point, the bay measures about one and one-half miles in length and about one mile in width.
“The Sandy beech forms the West side, behind which is a grove of Coco nut trees & a pond of indifferent water; on the N side of this beach lies a Village, & the Well we waterd at, which is close to the Sea & under the high hill.”
“At the other end of the beach is the Morai, or Oheekeeow (heiau of Hikiau.) A field of Taboo’d ground seperates the Morai from a Village to the s, or rather a continued range of Stragling houses in that direction.” (King; Maly)
Kealakekua was selected by the aliʻi as one of the seven royal centers of Kona in the 1700s, because of its sheltered bay and abundance of natural resources.
Kaʻawaloa, meaning ‘ the distant ʻawa plant’, is a flat, fan-shaped lava peninsula near sea level, which rises gradually to the edge of the 600-ft Pali Kapu O Keoua. These forty acres of land define the northwest side of Kealakekua Bay.
Historically, Kaʻawaloa was the royal burial grounds of Hawaiʻi’s rulers and their families, including Kalaniopuʻu, the ruling chief in power when Captain Cook sailed into Kealakekua Bay.
The British ships, Discovery and Resolution, under the command of Captain James Cook, sailed into Kealakekua Bay on January 17, 1779; Cook was killed at Kaʻawaloa on February 14, 1779.
In their journals, Cook’s crew recorded four “villages” of about 80 houses each along the shoreline around Kealakekua Bay. Settlements lined the bay in the pre-contact period, as do the small residential communities of Nāpōʻopoʻo and Keʻei, today.
“The Towns of the Natives are built along the Sea side. At Cari’ca’coo’ah (Kealakekua) Bay there were three, one (Kealakekua-Nāpoʻopoʻo) on the SE-tern side of the Bay which was very large extending near two miles along the shore, another (Kaʻawaloa) upon the NWtern side which was not so large, and a small Village (Palemano) in the cod or bottom of the Bay.”
“At the back of the villages upon the Brow of the Hill are their plantations of Plantains, Potatoes, Tarrow, Sugar Canes &c, each mans particular property is fenced in with a stone wall; they have a method of making the Sugar Cane grow about the walls so that the stones are not conspicuous at any distance, but the whole has the appearance of fine green fences.” (Clerke; Maly)
“Kaʻawaloa, at the landing-place on the north side of Kealakekua bay, however conveniently accessible to the people of the district, who live much along the shores, was cramped and rocky, being composed almost exclusively of lava.”
“It was hot, dry, and barren, affording neither brook nor well, nor spring of fresh water, nor field, nor garden-spot for plantation, though a few cocoanut trees, so neighborly to the sea, find nourishment there.” (Bingham; Maly)
As the west learned of Hawaiʻi, this area became known as one of the first major shipping and provisioning port for ships involved in exploration, whaling and trans-Pacific trade.
About 40-years after Cook’s visit, the missionaries arrived and established one of the earliest mission stations in Hawai‘i at Kaʻawaloa in 1824.
Access was improved to Kaʻawaloa and Nāpoʻopoʻo with the development of cart roads to transport goods from the bay to upland communities.
By the 1850s, traditional fishing and farming were giving way to ranching and coffee. Cattle were herded down the roads to wharfs at Nāpoʻopoʻo and Kaʻawaloa where they were loaded onto ships in the bay.
Nāpoʻopoʻo Light was established in 1908 at Kaʻawaloa on the north side of Kealakekua Bay (but apparently named for Nāpoʻopoʻo Landing on the south side of the bay.) The 22-foot light tower was built in 1922.
Several families remained at Kaʻawaloa until World War II, but most of the activity had shifted to Nāpoʻopoʻo by that time.
In 1969 the state set aside the entire bay as a marine life conservation district (MLCD.) The MLCD is inshore of a straight line between Kaʻawaloa point and the north end of Nāpōʻopoʻo Beach Park. The cove fronting the Captain Cook Monument is a popular snorkeling area.
On December 12, 1973 the Kaʻawaloa area was designated as the Kealakekua Bay Historical District (a District w/multiple sites) and placed on the National Register of Historic Places.
The obelisk monument commemorating Captain Cook was constructed in 1874, near the spot where Cook died. (Contrary to urban legend, the monument site is not owned by the British Government; ownership is in the name of the British Consul General (the individual) – a representative would check in with DLNR, from time to time.)
While at DLNR, we issued a curator agreement to Hale Mua – The Royal Order of King Kamehameha I to help protect the sites under DLNR’s jurisdiction and to help provide public access. Here is more on the Order:
The photo captures the awa ceremony we participated in to commemorate the signing of the Curator Agreement. (It was a moving experience; I was proud and honored to be there. Yes, that is me, all by myself (representing the State,) and the descendent families, members of the Order and others on the other side.)