July 02, 2012


DEATH of Captain James Cook as depicted by British artist
George Carter in 1783 from descriptions by Cook's crew.
David Ellis
John Rozentals

ON the jagged shoreline of Kealakekua Bay — a small, beautiful inlet on the western coast of Hawaii's Big Island —a simple stark-white monument is of particular significance to Australian visitors here in these once-known Sandwich Isles.

MONUMENT on the Big Island of Hawaii,
commemorating the death
of Captain James Cook.
Because it commemorates the death on 14 February 1779, probably through a combination of ignorance and misunderstanding, of Captain James Cook, England's Pacific explorer extraordinaire.

Trying to get back to a longboat after gathering timber with crew members to repair a broken spa on his ship Resolution – and some locals say, removing a piece from a simple-looking but actually sacred stone altar – Cook, who couldn't swim, was killed in the shallow waters by angry Hawaiian warriors.

Today the land immediately surrounding the monument is formally British, in much the same way as an embassy would be, but this part of Kealakekua Bay isn't the easiest to get to.

It's worth the effort, though, not to just ponder such a beautiful place for Cook's ultimate demise, but to also swim and snorkel amid a paradise of coloured fish in what many consider Hawaii's premier snorkelling location, and to indulge the glorious surrounding scenery.

You can hike-in through steep, rugged country. You can swim or canoe about a kilometre-and-a-half from Kealakekua Wharf. Or you can come in by larger boat, as the British and Australian navies regularly do to maintain the site, and as we did on the luxury catamaran Fair Wind II.

Luxury catamaran Fair Wind II.
The boat's skipper, John 'Mitch' Mitchell pampers the 70 or so guests onboard – and reminisces with colourful tales of former days as a master of fishing vessels off Alaska and South America.

At about $160 per person, Fair Wind II's Lunch & Snorkel Cruise offers great value: apart from beers and wine, it's all-inclusive — lunch, equipment, instruction and plenty of time to use the waterslides, underwater viewing boxes, and maybe even wet a line for a fish or two.

The catamaran sails out of Keauhou Bay, a five-minute stroll from the Sheraton Keauhou Bay Resort & Spa.

The Sheraton is one of the longest-established resorts on this part of the Big Island, offering charm, serenity and the facilities and location not just for stay-put holidaymakers, but for those who want go further afield along the Kona Coast.

The lack of its own white-sand beach is more than compensated for by the hotel's enormous, beautifully maintained swimming pool that meanders through the resort, and the oceanfront bar where the waves seem to lap — sometimes crash — right up to your feet while you tuck into freshest seafood as the sun sets over a chilled Mai Tai or three.

And for more active souls, there's the opportunity of exhilarating dives with giant manta rays that come into the bay each evening, attracted by light and bountiful food supplies.

All you have to do is take a motor launch a few hundred metres from shore, and don diving gear for a face-to-face encounter with something that's probably twice your size and a couple of hundred times more agile. We're assured it's fun, but we'll stick with the Mai Tais.

One of the Sheraton's great appeals is its ready access to life beyond the resort: take a car or bus the few kilometres north along Ali'i Drive to the main Kailua–Kona beachfront strip.

SHERATON Keauhou Bay Resort: charm,
serenity and freshest seafoods
with sunset Mai Tais.
The boulevarde's name is significant. The ali'i were the hereditary chiefs — the noble class — of traditional Hawaiian society, and there's plenty of evidence that the island's modern nobility also like this particular location.

But for tourists, it's what's at the end of Ali'i Drive that's really significant — a kilometre or so of waterfront restaurants, boutiques and thriving beachfront activity. The ambience is hard to pin down in Australian terms, but a cross between Bondi's Campbell Parade and Noosa's Hastings Street would come close.

The restaurant scene is vibrant: pizza bars, burgers, fish-and-chips and the more culinary elaborate. Excellent among the cheap-and-cheerful is the Kona Canoe Club, right on the waterfront next to the Hulihe'e Palace.

At the top end of dining, a couple of local institutions stand out — Huggo's and Jamieson's. Both have spectacular locations, wonderful ambience and seafood that's to die for.

If it sounds appealing, get details of holiday packages through Canada & Alaska Specialist Holidays on 1300 79 49 59 or visit www.canada-alaska.com.au

 (Images courtesy of Sandra Burn White)

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