As a schoolchild in Australia, Captain James Cook is made out to be the father of Australia as we now know it.
A majorly important historical figure, Captain Cook is credited with having ‘discovered’ Australia. (Never mind that Indigenous Australians had been here for thousands of years and were living in an advanced culture that was then irreparably destroyed by the invasion of the colonising force of Britain… But, I digress.)
Captain Cook was responsible for bringing the whites to the great land Down Under. On another exploratory mission of the Pacific, Captain Cook landed at Hawai’i where he was promptly killed (not without reason, but the history is a little shaky around this event). The place of Captain Cook’s death was gifted to Britain, so, there on the island of Hawai’i lies a 16 square foot piece of England. (And they say that there’s always bad weather in England!)
Naturally, as Australians, we needed to visit the place. But not for the reason that you think. As well as being the home of the sunniest piece of England, the coast alongside the Captain Cook monument is a home to a monumentally (ha, see what I did there?) awe-inspiring snorkelling experience.
Where do I start in describing the experience? Looking out the the ocean, cliffs rise to your left. The island is a volcano, so they drop steeply into the ocean – masses of volcanic rock forming a partial bay. Making your way over rocks and a severely dilapidated pier (thanks Australian soldiers in the 70s!), you jump in to the deep blue water, making sure you avoid crashing into the shelf of rock that greets you. Adjusting your snorkel mask, you dive down. Brilliant flashes of colour: yellow tang populate your vision; bright coral pops out at you. How many different types of fish are there? Go up for a breath and notice tiny fish just below the surface – completely unaffected by your presence.
After a brief stop for air, dive back down to the wondrous underwater world you’ve seen but a glimpse of. An eel winds around coral a few metres down while fish of all colours, shapes and sizes meander, chase, drift. Closer to the open sea, the coral reef drops towards… what? Dive down as far as you can, your lungs bursting for air, the light getting dimmer. Wonder… why didn’t I bring my fins?
The Captain Cook Monument is hard to get to, which is a blessing in itself. The site remains (mostly) pristine, with those who go to the effort of actually getting there also going to the effort of trying to keep it clean. To get to the monument, you either need to hike, be taken by boat, or kayak. We walked.
This walk is not quick. It is not easy. It is a hike (downhill) through thick scrub that thins out to sparse vegetation and volcanic rock. It is hot and dirty. The sun is strong and it beats of the volcanic rock that surrounds you. There are flies and little bastard bugs that bite you. IT IS ALL WORTH IT. THE BEAUTY WILL MAKE YOU FORGET THAT THE TRIP BACK UPHILL TAKES DOUBLE THE TIME AND IS UPHILL AND YOU ARE REALLY TIRED ALREADY BUT YOU JUST SAW SO MANY YELLOW TANG SO YOU ARE HAPPY.
…I really like yellow tang.
So. It takes about 45 minutes for a fit person to walk down. It will take you roughly double that to walk back up. The most important thing here is timing: go down early and come back before the middle of the afternoon, or after it. You just don’t want to be walking when it’s the hottest part of the day. Take plenty of water – at least 2L each. Walking, diving and being in the sun take it out of the most fit person (I am not the most fit person) and you will most definitely want a lot of water when you’re on your way back up the hill. Pack lunch and snacks, too. You’ll need that energy!
How to find it: Head towards Captain Cook (the town) and turn off onto Nāpo’opo’o Rd. Just at the start of this road on the right are 3 palm trees. Park there, but make sure there are no valuables left in your car. Heed the warning sign at the start of the track – you need to be prepared. At the end of the path, turn left just before the water and follow the coast. There you’ll find the monument and some of the most wonderful snorkelling you’ll experience on Hawai’i.
What we took: Joggers, sunscreen, snorkels, swimmers, towels, lunch, some snacks, 1 litre of water each, GoPro, reef shoes (DO IT), hats, a buddy while we were snorkelling (my Mum didn’t have one and washed up on the rocks 🙁 ).
What we needed: Fins! Do NOT leave your fins behind. More water – at least 2L each.
What to prepare for: a long, uphill hike back, amazing underwater views that you won’t want to leave, sharp rocks (and a tide that tries to maroon you on them), people eating their lunch (and sleeping) on a monument – Americans clearly only take their own monuments seriously, not British ones, and lots of kayaks floating in the water. Oh, and possible some sea snakes.
Feature photo: Ross Wood.