Coral reefs at Kealakekua Bay, Big Island Hawaii

How to get to Kealakekua Bay (Hiking the Captain Cook Monument Trail)

Ready to go snorkeling at Kealakekua Bay but not sure how to get there? This article’s for you.

Located on Kona’s south coast, Kealakekua Bay is the largest sheltered water bay on the Big Island.

The bay has crystal clear waters filled with colorful fish, and it’s one of the best places to go snorkeling on the Big Island! 

Coral reefs at Kealakekua Bay, Big Island Hawaii
Kealakekua Bay

Beyond snorkeling, Kealakekua Bay is a very sacred and historically significant place. The name translates to the “pathway of the God”, and it marks the first site a westerner landed on the Big Island!

I visited Kealakekua Bay on my recent trip to the Big Island. In an effort to save money, I hiked the Captain Cook Monument Trail to get there. 

This article will cover how to get to Kealakekua Bay by hiking the Captain Cook Monument Trail, including tips and directions. We will also discuss alternative ways of getting there if hiking is not an option! 

Read on to learn everything you need to know about getting to Kealakekua Bay. 

Kealakekua Bay State Historical Park (Napo'opo'o Beach)
Kealakekua Bay State Historical Park (Napo’opo’o Beach)

What makes Kealakekua Bay so special?

Kealakekua Bay is a protected deep water bay with an incredible diversity of marine life.

It’s one of the absolute best places to go snorkeling on the Big Island, and is home to the Captain Cook Monument.

Kealakekua Bay, Big Island Hawaii
Kealakekua Bay, Big Island Hawaii

The Captain Cook Monument is the site where the first British explorer to discover the Big Island, Captain James Cook was killed.

Captain James Cook visited Kealakekua Bay in 1779 when Hawaiian natives were celebrating the Makahiki festival, dedicated to the god of Lono.

Captain James Cook Monument at Kealakekua Bay
Captain James Cook Monument at Kealakekua Bay

Captain James Cook and his crew were initially welcomed by the natives and stayed for a month. Due to rough seas that damaged their boat, Captain Cook was forced to return to Kealakekua Bay.

Upon returning, a dispute between the native Hawaiians and Cook started when a Hawaiian stole a small vessel.

This led to a shootout where multiple crew members and Captain Cook was killed. The Captain Cook Monument at Ka’awaloa Cove memorializes the site where Captain Cook was killed. 

How To Get To Kealakekua Bay (Free + Paid Options)

To get to the center of the bay where the snorkeling is great, you’ll need to hike or go on a snorkeling tour.

You can technically visit the south end of Kealakekua Bay by following Nāpo’opo’o Road down to Nāpo’opo’o Beach.

But the main snorkeling area, and Captain Cook Monument is only accessible by boat or kayak.

Kealakekua Bay State Historical Park (Napo'opo'o Beach)
Kealakekua Bay State Historical Park (Napo’opo’o Beach)

The easiest way to get to Kealakekua Bay is to go on a snorkeling tour, and there are a variety of boat tours, kayak tours, and cruises available.

The most popular cruise starts at around $100 per adult, and includes snorkeling gear, lunch, and snacks in the price. 

Coral reefs at Kealakekua Bay, Big Island Hawaii
Kealakekua Bay

However, you can hike the Ka’awaloa Trail to get to the bay for completely free. Keep reading to find out how to get to Kealakekua Bay by hiking the Captain Cook monument trail.

How long is the Captain Cook Monument Trail?

The Captain Cook Monument Trail is a roughly 3.7 mile round trip hike, from the top of the mountain down to the bay and back up. 

How difficult is the Captain Cook Monument Trail hike?

The Captain Cook Monument Trail is a moderately difficult hike that took me around two and a half hours to hike in total.

Captain Cook Monument Trail, Kona Hawaii
Captain Cook Monument Trail

The first half of the trail is through tall grasses, and the remainder is over an open volcanic area with loose lava rocks. There are 8 numbered stakes throughout the hike to help you gauge how far you’ve hiked.

Captain Cook Monument Trail, Kona Hawaii
Captain Cook Monument Trail, Kona Hawaii

Getting to the bay is relatively easy, but the hike back up is much more strenuous than I had expected.

If you’re traveling with young kids or struggle with mobility issues, I wouldn’t recommend the hike. However, it’s a great option for those looking to save money. 

Keep in mind that there are no bathroom facilities once you arrive at the bay.

Coral reefs at Kealakekua Bay, Big Island Hawaii
Kealakekua Bay, Big Island Hawaii

Where do you park to hike the Captain Cook Monument Trail?

Parking for the Captain Cook Monument Trail is along Napoopoo Rd near the trailhead, on the opposite side of the road. There are around 18 parking spaces. 

Tips for hiking Captain Cook Monument Trail (Ka’Awaloa Trail)

If you plan on hiking the Captain Cook Monument Trail, these are a few helpful tips to keep in mind. 

  • Arrive early so you have the best chance of spotting spinner dolphins
  • Wear comfortable shoes with padded bottoms (Most of the trail is over loose gravel)
  • Use the restroom beforehand (there are no restrooms along the trail)
  • Bring snacks and lots of water
  • Be careful when stepping on loose rocks (I witnessed someone fall on their way down!)
  • Pack lightly since the hike back up is entirely uphill

Captain Cook Monument Trail Map With Parking

FAQs: Kealakekua Bay

What’s the history behind Kealakekua Bay?

Kealakekua Bay is one of the most culturally and historically significant places on the Big Island.

Kealakekua Bay is said to be the place where Lono, the Hawaiian god of agriculture and fertility, lived in ancient times.

On the south shore of Kealakekua Bay, there is a luakini heiau, a sacred ancient Hawaiian temple where human sacrifices took place. 

Kealakekua Bay also marks the site where the first European explorer that landed on the Hawaiian islands, Captain James Cook visited.

If you’re interested in Hawaiian history, check out our list of unique things to do in Kona for more culturally significant places to visit. 

Is hiking the Captain Cook Monument Trail worth it?

Yes, hiking the Captain Cook Monument Trail is well worth it if you want to experience some of the best snorkeling in Kona.

Although the hike was difficult, it was one of the most memorable moments on my trip to the Big Island. 

Can you swim at Kealakekua Bay without a permit?

Yes, you can swim and snorkel at Kealakekua Bay, as long as you hiked to get there. 

Can you kayak to Kealakekua Bay without a permit?

No, you need a permit to kayak to Kealakekua Bay. Any vessel, including kayaks, boats, paddleboards, and canoes, require a permit to land on Kealakekua Bay.

However, you can go on a snorkeling tour via kayak as long as the kayak company has a valid permit.

Adventures in Paradise, Aloha Kayak Co., and Kona Boys Inc are all authorized kayak tour companies. The cheapest Kealakekua Bay kayak tours start at around $99 for adults, and $55 for children. 

Where is the Captain Cook Monument located?

The Captain Cook Monument is located at the center of Kealakekua Bay, at Ka’awaloa Cove.

The area surrounding the monument is considering one of the best snorkeling destinations on the Big Island. 

Does Kealakekua Bay have sharks?

Yes, Kealakekua Bay has a diversity of marine life, including sharks.

The island of Hawaii is home to approximately 40 species of sharks, with the most commonly seen being reef, sandbar, hammerhead, and tiger sharks. 

The last documented shark attack in Kealakekua Bay was in 2019, where a 27 year old was bitten by a black tip reef shark while swimming around 50-100 feet offshore.

The person was swimming on the south end of Kealakekua Bay, at Napo’opo’o Beach park. 

However, shark attacks are rare in Hawaii, with an average of three to four nonfatal incidents per year. Additionally, the center of the bay has crystal clear waters and excellent snorkeling not far from the shore.  

Does Kealakekua Bay have dolphins?

Yes, Kealakekua Bay is a popular resting site for spinner dolphins. I visited Kealakekua Bay in the middle of the day around 2pm and unfortunately didn’t spot any.

This is because spinner dolphins are nocturnal animals that rest during the day, and are most active early morning or early afternoon. 

For the best chance of spotting spinner dolphins, try to arrive early in the morning around 7-11am, or late afternoon.