Hawaiians along the Kōloa shore were the first to see the white man in Hawaiʻi. It was in 1778, along Kauai’s South Shore, that Captain James Cook first traveled, landed and made “contact”, introducing Hawaiʻi to the rest of the world.
Cook named the archipelago the Sandwich Islands in honor of his patron, the First Lord of the Admiralty, the Earl of Sandwich. Cook’s crew first sighted the Hawaiian Islands in the dawn hours of January 18, 1778.
His two ships, the HMS Resolution and the HMS Discovery, were kept at bay by the weather until the next day when they approached Kauai’s southeast coast.
On the afternoon of January 19, native Hawaiians in canoes paddled out to meet Cook’s ships, and so began Hawai‘i’s contact with Westerners. The first Hawaiians to greet Cook were from the Kōloa shore.
The Hawaiians traded fish and sweet potatoes for pieces of iron and brass that were lowered down from Cook’s ships to the Hawaiians’ canoes. Cook continued to sail along the coast searching for a suitable anchorage.
His two ships remained offshore, but a few Hawaiians were allowed to come on board on the morning of January 20, before Cook continued on in search of a safe harbor.
As they stepped ashore for the first time, Cook and his men were greeted by hundreds of Hawaiians who offered gifts of pua‘a (pigs), and mai‘a (bananas) and kapa (tapa) barkcloth.
Cook went ashore at Waimea three times the next day, walking inland to where he saw Hawaiian hale (houses), heiau (sacred places of worship), and agricultural sites.
At the time, the region was thriving with many thatched homes as well as lo‘i kalo (taro patches) and various other food crops such as niu (coconuts) and ‘ulu (breadfruit).
After trading for provisions, gathering water and reading for sail, Cook left the island and continued his search of the “Northwest Passage,” an elusive (because it was non‐existent) route from the Pacific Ocean to the Atlantic Ocean.
From the time of contact, until the end of the century, ships called at Waimea nearly every year for water and provisions. For a time, it was the favored port of call on the island.
However, captains learned that the exposed anchorage at Waimea was dangerous with ‘kona’ winds came up ((south‐westerly, versus the typical north‐easterly tradewinds,) threatening to ground the moored ships.
Ultimately, it was this occasional weather pattern that caused the decline of Waimea as the favored port on the Island of Kauai and the rise of Kōloa Landing to take its place.
Goods and people were transferred by hand and small boat to ships in Hanakaʻape Bay. The cove is at the mouth of the Waikomo (entering water) Stream on Hanakaʻape (headstrong) Bay.
Between about 1810 and 1820, the major item of Hawaiian trade was sandalwood. King Kaumualiʻi held the sandalwood monopoly on Kauai and Niʻihau, Kōloa Landing served as a prominent port of export. Kamehameha I held the monopoly for the rest of the island chain.
Ships calling to Kōloa Landing steadily increased and by 1830 it became widely recognized as the major port on the island. Ships had the ability to maneuver in and out of the anchorage, whatever the wind direction.
Whalers, seeking water and food supplies, called at Kōloa Landing, the Island’s foremost port. Kōloa was a center for agriculture and, as such, became the center of activity for Kauai. The whaling industry was the mainstay of the islands’ economy for about 40 years.
Likewise, Kōloa Landing was situated near a source of good water, near crops grown in the Kōloa field system, close to salt beds and had an abundance of firewood and beef from mauka regions.
In the mid-1800s, Kōloa Landing was the third largest whaling port in all of Hawai‘i (behind Honolulu and Lāhainā) and the only port of entry for foreign goods.
The first commercially‐viable sugar plantation, Ladd and Co., was started at Kōloa on Kauai. On July 29, 1835, Ladd & Company obtained a 50‐year lease on nearly 1,000‐acres of land and established a plantation and mill site in Kōloa.
It was to change the face of Kauai (and Hawai‘i) forever, launching an entire economy, lifestyle and practice of mono-cropping that lasted for over a century. A tribute to this venture is found at the Kōloa Sugar Memorial in Old Kōloa Town,
Traveling salesmen, also known as drummers (‘drumming up business,’) who worked for large mercantile agencies on O‘ahu would arrive at Kōloa Landing after an often rugged ocean trip by steamer and rowboat.
The would take their samples to each plantation camp store and sometimes even fan out from house to house in outlying communities.
Kōloa Landing was the trans‐shipment point from which ships were off‐loaded with mercantile goods and livestock for Kauai, and where trade‐goods, fresh produce and livestock were loaded on ships from Kauai. It was also linked to Kōloa Town, two miles inland, by the purveyor’s cart path (Hapa Road.)
Shipping in and out of Koloa Landing increased until 1912 (up to 60 ships a year anchored there to stock provisions and take on passengers.) However, better facilities became available at Nāwiliwili and Port Allen.
The landing left and Hanakaʻape Bay is now a popular dive site, especially for SCUBA instruction. Further out is an offshore reef that provides several surf breaks that are quite popular with local surfers.