by Steve King
(editor’s note) Aloha! All islands in the state of Hawaii offer volcanic vistas and wonderful water. Hawaii, the Big Island, features active lava flows and superb underwater opportunities. This week, Tsunami Ranger Steve King reports on his family’s recent visit to the Captain Cook Monument.
I am tempted to say “These are the voyages of the kayak ship…,” but I won’t do that. I will try to convey some of the unexpected magic in just one of the enchanting places to paddle on the Big Island of Hawaii.
It all started innocently enough as I drove my family down a long lava-lined road towards Kealakekua Bay, on the Kona side of Hawaii. As we pulled into a rustic parking lot, a very enthusiastic entrepreneur in a Bob Marley T shirt hailed us saying, “Hey man, you want to rent a kayak, go see the spinner dolphins over there at the Captain Cook Monument? Usually 25 bucks per person but I give deal today, 20 per person.”
I quickly inspected the two remaining double kayaks, noting the standard Tsunami Ranger issue duct-taped hatch covers, and then handed over the cash. We got our own life vests, snorkel gear, some water and snacks and our family of 4 was ready to hit the water. As we launched, we were admonished to keep a look out for spinner dolphins leaping out of the water, about half way to the infamous Captain Cook Monument. “Yea,” I thought, “and maybe mermaids, too.”
After thirty minutes of easy paddling I was slipping into the water with Maya, my 12-year-old fish/child and trying to kick over to the pod of dolphins, which included many leaping and spinning juveniles! This was, as it turns out, only the beginning of the ocean’s treasures revealed to us. We made our way toward the 15-foot white monument that marks the spot where Captain Cook was killed on Valentine’s Day, 1779. There was a small crowd of people over there, so we paddled into the nearby underbrush, and in the process I noticed what appeared to be lots of yellow leaves on the bottom of the crystal clear 20-foot deep sea floor. After we ditched the boats and begin snorkeling, the saffron leaves begin darting about in groups, being of course not leaves but Laui Pala or Yellow Tang fish.
An exquisite collection of tropical fish was everywhere we looked, as we took in this moving show of light and color. After thirty minutes there was almost no one at the monument, so we paddled over to pay our respects. As I got closer I recalled some of what I have read about Captain Cook, the great British Navigator, who made three epic voyages throughout the Pacific from 1768 -1779.
I remember an irreverent book about the life and journey of Cook titled Blue Latitudes, by a Pulitzer prize-winning journalist Toney Horwitz, who retraced much of Cook’s journey on a year long quest that is entertaining but also filled with heart wrenching portraits of what has become of many of the places Cook “discovered”.
I am in awe of what Cook accomplished, and his navigational feats are legendary to anyone who has spent more then a few days on an ocean voyage (I once sailed a 36-foot sloop across the Atlantic and gained an appreciation of the water planet). As I sat in the sun and munched on macadamia nuts I also had memories of my colleague Wade Davis speaking about the first Polynesian navigators, whom he calls “Wayfinders”, who managed to pilot their indigenous sea faring canoes in the 25 million square miles of the Pacific without charts, sextants, or maps. In Wade’s book of the same title, The Wayfinders, he mentions that on Captain Cook’s first voyage in 1769, he met a navigator and priest named Tupaia, who from memory “drew a map of every major island group in Polynesia, save Hawaii and Aoteara using 120 stones placed in the sand, each a symbol of an island more than 4000 kilometers from the Marquesas in the east to Fiji in the West, a distance equal to the width of the continental United States.”
On our paddle back across the bay, we saw dorsal fins of dolphins only 20 yards from the monument swimming in an almost synchronous water ballet of fins. My wife Melinda and daughter Lena led the way and suddenly let out screams of delight as the synchronous dolphin fins revealed not dolphins but the wing tips of a flowing white-tipped eagle ray, or hihimanu directly below their kayak. Maya and I pushed off in hot pursuit, following the wing tips as they surfaced 10 yards away, but alas, always out of full view. As we turned to paddle back a large white triangle glided effortlessly beneath our kayak, close enough to touch. As we finished the 40-minute paddle back to the take-out, a pod of dolphins closed in on our small corner of the bay and mingled with the kayakers and swimmers. As the sun set, we communed with the brothers and sisters of the sea.
We were able to snorkel with manta rays a few nights later, as they swooped like starships in the night, eating plankton drawn to the lights. It occurred to me while dreaming that evening that the white-tipped eagle ray of Kealakekua Bay, who as it turns out, spends a lot of time in the waters around that white Captain Cook monument, may be the transmigrated soul of Captain Cook, who wishes to remain as part of the aquatic ecosystem of Polynesia, crossing the lines of time and space, as a wayfinder in homeostasis.
Perhaps you’d like to share a memorable kayaking story set on the Big Island or any of the islands of Hawaii. To tell your tale or add a comment, just press below. Mahalo.