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Kealakekua, Hawaii

Captain Cook Monument

A controversial memorial at the place where Captain Cook met his violent end 

A 27-foot-high obelisk looms up from the coastal forest to mark the place where British explorer Captain Cook met his violent end.

James Cook was already legendary for traveling and mapping the uncharted waters of the world when his crew landed at Kealakekua Bay in January of 1779 to repair a broken mast. Initially, things went well with the locals, but as the weeks went on, Cook’s men outstayed their welcome. It reached its peak when one of the locals was somehow struck down with an oar, and although he soon recovered and tried to return the peace, his fellow Hawaiians already had the Cook crew cornered in the surf where they were pelting them with rocks.

Yet eventually it cooled off with no major violence. However, Captain Cook, who didn’t witness the scene, decided on February 14, 1779, to go on the offensive and got his gun and armed a few of his men and went into the village of Kowrowa where the King of Hawaii was staying. He attempted to take the King by force, but the Hawaiians resisted. It got violent when a Hawaiian nobleman was shot in the chaos, and Cook and his men were driven back to the shore. It was there in the shallows of the water that Cook was bludgeoned and stabbed to death.

The obelisk was set up as a memorial by his fellow countrymen in 1878, on land that, while still technically part of the United States, is owned by the British. A small plaque in the surf marks the exact spot where Cook is believed to have died. Just behind the obelisk in the forest are the ruins of the ancient village of Kaawaloa, a sort of inverse memorial to the Hawaii that changed after the arrival of outsiders that was marked by Cook’s visit. The obelisk is understandably controversial with some Hawaiians, who see it as a tribute to a man who invaded their islands and whose presence forever changed Hawaii’s character.

The monument is not easy to reach, requiring either a docking from the water or a two and a half hour hike on Captain Cook Monument Trail. However, the hike is picturesque, curving by lava fields and rampant patches of sugarcane, and the snorkeling at the monument attracts as many visitors as mourners for the late Captain Cook. 

Know Before You Go

The trail is located off of Highway 11 near where it intersects with Napo'opo Road. It's the dirt trail that goes downhill from the three towering royal palm trees.

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