Kawaihae is also generally referenced as Pelekane, which means ‘British,’ possibly named after the Young and the Davis families who lived there (when Isaac Davis (born in Pembrokeshire, Wales) died in 1810, his friend and co-advisor to Kamehameha, John Young (an Englishman born in Liverpool,) looked after Davis’ children.)
The vicinity around what is now Kawaihae Harbor (“the water of wrath”) has been the scene of many important events, from the killing of Kamehameha’s rival and cousin, Keōua in 1791, to interactions with foreign visitors, including Captain George Vancouver of Great Britain, Otto von Kotzebue of Russia, and dignitaries from France, the United States and other nations.
Kamehameha had a house here. Following his death in 1819 and the succession of Liholiho to rule as Kamehameha II, Kawaihae served as the initial Royal Center for Liholiho, who sought consolidation of his forces and consecration of his leadership role, there. (Kelly)
When the Pioneer Company of the American Protestant missionaries arrived the next year, they first stopped at Kawaihae; this is where the missionaries first learned that the kapu system had been abolished and heiau were destroyed.
Kawaihae’s position as the center of inter-island trade and transport on northwest Hawai‘i is detailed in a description published in the Merchant’s Magazine and Commercial Review in 1858:
“Kawaihae is a small village in the bay of the same name in the western shore of Hawaii…It derives its importance from being the port of the rich and extensive grazing uplands of Waimea, one of the finest agricultural districts of the islands, which has not yet developed its full resources… Forty or fifty whale ships have annually visited this port for the last few years, to procure salted beefs and Irish potatoes, which are considered the finest produced in the islands.“
Features of the village in 1861 were described by Charles de Varigny, the secretary of the French Consulate in Honolulu (who later served Kamehameha V as finance minister and minister of foreign affairs.)
Varigny observed how much of the village was given over to its commercial functions:
“The village consists chiefly of a single large wooden structure which serves as a country store and warehouse for the products of the district. Around the shop are clustered several makeshift buildings providing annexes for further storage. … A small wharf serves for the departure and landing of travelers. At a short distance from shore floats an old stripped-down vessel, its melancholy hull balancing at anchor and providing storage for products arriving from Honolulu.” (pacificworlds)
Over time, Kawaihae and Waimea (up the hill) developed a synergistic relationship. The area was a canoe landing area, whether for commerce or combat. (This is where Maui’s chief Kamalālāwalu landed in his assault against Lonoikamakahiki’s Hawaiʻi forces (Lono won.)) But Kawaihae’s presence was really focused on commerce as a landing site.
A 1914 map of Kawaihae Village shows a concentration of development along the shoreline; the uplands of the Kawaihae region remained undeveloped pasture land.
During WWII war years (1941-1945,) Kawaihae’s role as the shipping outlet for Waimea was intensified. Troops were shipped in and out through Kawaihae. At the southern end of the bay, in Kawaihae 2, amphibious landing exercises were conducted and military emplacements were set up in the area of Puʻukohola Heiau.
The war in the Pacific had been over less than a year when on April 1, 1946, an earthquake off the Aleutian Islands caused a tsunami that devastated the Hawaiian Islands. Although no lives were lost at Kawaihae, its effects wiped out commercial fishing activity there and it was reported that the tsunami “…was the beginning of the end for the Kawaihae Fishing Village. People left.” (Cultural Surveys)
The old landing had been destroyed in the 1946 tsunami and the one built in 1937 had proven unsafe in high seas. By the 1950s, the need for improved harbor facilities at Kawaihae was apparent.
The Kawaihae Deep-Draft Harbor project was authorized by the US Congress in 1950; to be constructed were: “an entrance channel 400 feet wide, approximately 2,900 feet long, and 40 feet deep; a harbor basin 1,250 feet square and 35 feet deep; and a breakwater with a maximum crest elevation 13 feet above low water and approximately 4,400 feet long, of which 3,200 feet would be protected with heavy stone revetment.”
The harbor was created by dredging part of an extensive coral reef which extended 4,000-feet seaward and ran along the shore more than a mile south of Kawaihae town; the reclaimed reef area created a coral flat peninsula that extends approximately 1,000-feet makai (seaward) of the piers across the natural reef, forming a beach along the south harbor boundary and terminating at the outer breakwater.
The harbor’s construction was hailed as an “economic shot in the arm,” for sugar planters in the Kohala region of the island would no longer had to ship their crops overland to Hilo or to Kailua-Kona. The harbor would serve military needs as well. The Army was about to acquire a 100,000-acre training site nearby and could unload supplies at Kawaihae Harbor. (Cultural Surveys)
At the completion of construction in 1959 (officially dedicated on October 5, 1959,) the Kawaihae facilities included an inter-island terminal, mooring areas, and a large harbor basin with a wide entrance channel. Harbor modifications in 1973 widened the entrance channel and enlarged the basin (a little over 71-acres.)
The South Kawaihae Small Boat Harbor entrance channel and 850-foot West breakwater was constructed as part of Operation Tugboat and completed in December 1970. As part of Project Tugboat, the Army used conventional high explosives to blast an 830-foot entrance channel, 120-feet wide/12-feet deep and a 200 by 200-foot turning basin.
(“Project Tugboat” was conducted by the Army’s Nuclear Cratering Group; perhaps because of this, some suggest nuclear explosives were used to clear the small boat harbor. However, twelve 10-ton charges of an aluminized ammonium nitrate slurry explosives (placed 36-feet deep and 100 to 120-feet apart) were used; they were meant to simulate the yield of a nuclear explosion, but were not radioactive.)
After years of delay, it was recently announced that a project to improve the eastern portion of Kawaihae Small Boat Harbor is moving forward. Among the improvements are a 445-foot long floating dock, as well as a 47-foot-long access ramp, gangway and 25 berthing stalls. Later a paved access road and new water system is planned.
The image shows Kawaihae Harbor. In addition, I have added other images in a folder of like name in the Photos section on my Facebook and Google+ pages.