“The Towns of the Natives are built along the Sea side. At Cari’ca’coo’ah [Kealakekua] Bay there were three, one [Kealakekua-Nāpō‘opo‘o] on the SE-tern side of the Bay which was very large extending near two miles along the shore, another [Kaawaloa] 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. These Plantations in many places they carry six or seven miles up the side of the hill”. (Cook’s Journal, Clerke, March 1779)
At the time of Cook’s arrival in 1779, high chief Kalani‘ōpu‘u had his chiefly residence at Ka‘awaloa while the priests associated with this chiefly complex had their residences across the bay at Kekua (Nāpō‘opo‘o). Kamehameha I was also residing at Nāpō‘opo‘o in 1779.
Nāpō‘opo‘o and Ka‘awaloa represent the two major settlements along the northern and southern sides of Kealakekua Bay with continuity in occupation from the pre-contact period, around 1600 and earlier, into the 20th Century.
Ka‘awaloa and Nāpō‘opo‘o are situated on gently sloping land around the base of the cliff called Pali Kapu o Keōua. Beyond the pali, the land slopes upward in a moderately steep fashion toward the summit of Mauna Loa, about 20 miles due east of Kealakekua Bay.
The pali is a steep, 600-foot-high sea cliff, approximately 1.5 miles long, and the most imposing geological feature in Kealakekua Bay. Above the bay, the vertical cliff edge of the northern portion of the pali above Ka‘awaloa is marked by numerous lava tubes. As the pali turns inland at the south end, it is less steep and is referred to as Pali o Manuahi.
Nāpō‘opo‘o Beach is covered entirely with basalt boulders and coral cobbles during most tide conditions. Up to and during much of the twentieth century, the beach was sand-covered. The transformation of the beach may have been due to multiple factors, including subsidence, tsunami, and earthquake events.
The priestly compound at Nāpō‘opo‘o consists of Hikiau Heiau, Helehelekalani Heiau, the Great Wall, the brackish pond to the north of Hikiau Heiau, and the housesites of the priests, including Hewahewa, high priest to Kamehameha I.
Hikiau Heiau was the state-level religious center for this chiefly complex at Kealakekua Bay. The Great Wall marks the mauka (eastern) boundary of this priestly compound. The annual tour of the island associated with the Makahiki season began and ended at Hikiau Heiau. (DLNR)
Vancouver arrived at Kealakekua in 1793 and also noted the priest’s settlement around Hikiau Heiau and the pond. He recorded 200 houses along the ½-mile of beach at Nāpō‘opo‘o, as well as, the residence of Kamehameha I located behind the pond.
The missionaries arrived at Kealakekua Bay in 1824 and established a mission at Ka‘awaloa Flat. Because of the heat, the missionaries moved the mission upslope to Kuapehu in 1827. (DLNR)
“Besides my schools and all the concerns – you see I have but little time to make tours with out neglecting important work… The consequence is I seldom get as far as Honaunau, which I might visit and return the same day …”
“… nor do I get so much among the people at Napopo & Kei [Napoopoo and Keei] as I wish. I suppose there are, something like 2000 inhabitants on that side of the bay in the villages of Kealakekua, Napopo–Keii [Napoopoo & Keei].” Forbes; Maly, 1835)
Many of the Hawaiians continued to live along the coast and Rev. Forbes decided to move the mission station to Nāpō‘opo‘o in 1838 and constructed the first Kahikolu Church in 1840. (DLNR)
In 1852 the Rev. John Paris, who had been at Waiohinu for ten years, was assigned to the Kealakekua district. He wrote that the name Ka‘awaloa was used, by the Hawaiians, more often than Kealakekua. Ka‘awaloa means the long landing place, and this bay does afford more landing space than others on the Kona coast.
In the mid-1860s, Mr. Logan purchased the ahupua‘a and developed a sugar plantation while the makai lands and 5 coconut trees were leased by S. Kekumano, the jailer. Pineapple and sugarcane were planted and cultivated by the prisoners. The prison was used until around 1875. (Restarick)
By 1875, the ahupua‘a had been bought and sold a number of times. JD Paris, Jr was the owner of the ahupua‘a, leasing the flat around the bay, the pali, and coconut trees to H. Haili, grandson of konohiki Nunole. Jailer Kekumano still held the pond lease, even though the prison was seldom used by this time.
While Ka‘awaloa remained a fishing community with a small wharf for loading cattle, Nāpō‘opo‘o was part of the larger market economy because of the more substantial landing/wharf built at Nāpō‘opo‘o in 1912. (DLNR)
“(It) is a regular steamer landing, and the village is quite a large and important one, with the largest store in South Kona. At the north end of the village is one of the very finest sand bathing beaches on the island.”
“Hackfeld & Co. branch moved into the largest and finest business block in Hilo …Hackfeld & Co., Ltd., also have branch stores at Kailua and Nāpō‘opo‘o, in the Kona district.” (Kinney, 1913)
Ships arrived here regularly to both load and unload goods. Coffee and ranching were integral to this economy in the early-1900s with coffee beans and cattle being shipped out from the Nāpō‘opo‘o landing. Unloaded at Nāpō‘opo‘o were lumber, gasoline, mail, and other goods for the Kealakekua area.
There were 3 coffee mills in the Nāpō‘opo‘o area. One was the Hackfeld/Amfac Coffee Mill operated by John Gaspar. This mill was along the lower portion of the Nāpō‘opo‘o (Government) Road and the foundation is still present within Kealakekua Bay.
The Hawaii Coffee Mill was built along the Nāpō‘opo‘o Beach Road to the south of the landing. The Captain Cook Coffee Mill is located mauka on the Nāpō‘opo‘o Road. This mill is said to have started as a pineapple cannery. The Captain Cook Coffee Mill is still operating with a museum and visitor’s center.
There were at least 3 stores in the area. One store was located on the southeast corner at the intersection of the Nāpō‘opo‘o (Government) Road and the Nāpō‘opo‘o Beach Access Road.
This store was first owned and run by a Japanese family named Arima. The store was later bought by Machado. Another store was in the vicinity of the former County park. This store was converted to a bar owned by a Korean man in the 1950s. The third store was owned by Hackfeld and located at the landing. These latter 2 stores were destroyed by the 1960 tsunami.
There were also 2 churches in the town, one Catholic and one Protestant. The Catholic church and cemetery, called St. Joseph’s, were located to the east (mauka) of the Amfac Coffee Mill.
This church was torn down sometime after 1970. The Protestant church is Kahikolu, which was first built in 1840 and built again in 1854 by Reverend Paris when the original structure was destroyed by an earthquake.
The Nāpō‘opo‘o schoolhouse is located just makai of Kahikolu Church. This one-room stone masonry structure still remains but was replaced by Konawaena School in Kealakekua town in the early 1900s. (DLNR)