General Travel

Kayaking on the Big Island of Hawaii – Sunburned and Fancy Free

“Are you Japanese, sir?”

These are some of the first words I heard, as we prepared to cross Kealakekua Bay in our rented ocean kayak, hoping to approach the dying place of (Captain) James Cook and, perhaps, the finest snorkeling on Hawaii.


Where to start? Kath is a a cultural anthropologist, studying urban Aborigines in Australia, and her particular emphasis is on the Kooris in La Perouse, in the northern mouth of Botany Bay, Sydney. This is the same place that Cook first landed in Australia. In fact, if you look across the bay from where she spend endless afternoons, gathering stories from the locals and trying to gain the understandings of the folks clustered around Yarra Bay House, you will see the place where Captain Cook first landed on Terra Australis, though he didn’t really realize what it was. There are stories within the local Aboriginal inhabitants, some of which cover Cook’s initial landing and the reception that resulted, including Aborigines lobbing stones at the English, trying fruitlessly to drive them back into the sea. During the year that we spend in Australia among various Aboriginal groups, I heard over and over again that La Perouse is where “the bastards let Cook ashore.” As if Cook was the worst of their problems, then and now.

But what were we gubbas to think upon getting so close to the exact placement of Cook’s death?

After leading 3 largely successful expeditions of the Pacific for the the Crown, Cook was killed, quite ungracefully, on the volcanic beach at Kealakekua Bay on the Big Island of Hawaii, across from the current harbor, where his body was, well, cut up and preserved by the victorious Hawaiians, in the method that they would afford a great leader, before portions of it were returned to the HMS Resolution for a proper burial at sea, only after a demand by the crew. (There is too much to this fascinating story to relate here; for details, check out Wikipedia’s take on this event.)

Kath by the kayakFor our part, we rented an ocean kayak and some snorkeling equipment the night before from Pineapple Park (our kindly hotel up the road from the Bay), and we arrived early, hoping to spend some time with the spinner dolphins of the Bay. We watched them for about an hour and then started progressing toward the monument site. Half-way across, we seemed to cross through the dolphin nursery, where the baby spinners were being guarded by one adult while the remainders fed, under the annoying, watchful eye of swimming tourists making marine mammal songs on their own (seriously). It was very cool, the little baby dolphins following us, curious, but too afraid to breach or even show much more than a fin.

But, before we could even get the kayak into the water, we had to navigate the locals, which are way more active on a beach than I would be at 7 in the morning. One woman stopped to help us get the kayak into the water, and then helped us get our seats connected right, after my intuitive just-go-by-feel was obviously a failure. I had the seats upside down, which is apparently a common thing that Japanese do all over Hawaii (getting things situated upside down, apparently), thereby earning me the infamous question. But, despite the embarrassment, we got underway and got what we were promised: some of the best snorkeling I could imagine, especially right off a tall landmass and island.


Kath and I stayed, tucked away on a little volcanic spit, until the mid-afternoon. By this time, I was fully ripened by my repeated trips into the water with snorkel and fins attached, and my back was stinging through the dried salt around my sunburn. We powered our way back to the dock and out of the water. The lady that wondered if I was Japanese was still there, directing traffic and wandering around to help newcomers. She really did personify Aloha.

The next day (July 10th), we spent wandering around the northeast portion of Hawaii, including some stunning beaches (such as Beach 69), before heading over the Saddle Road back to Hilo, where a plane was due to take us to Kuaui. We ended the day walking through Coconut Island with Kath, reflecting on our time in Hilo and wondering why it had to end.

From our first impressions of Kauai, it is a complete paradise. The sunsets are stunning, the pole surfers are mesmerizing , and red clay captivating. More later, as we figure more out about this place.

Kauai west coast

See more photos of the Hawaii trip here

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