Boat tour to Kealakekua

Today the group was privileged to experience a boat tour and day of snorkeling in the beautiful deep blue Kona waters. Of course, this trip served an academic purpose of allowing the class to encounter the island from another perspective, and ending up in Kealakekua Bay where Captain James Cook was killed upon his third visit to the island in 1768. The day started out earlier than most, with everyone meeting in the hotel lobby at 7:30 AM; we were eager to begin and learn what the boat tour had in store. We boarded the ship, and started our day with Frank, Terry, JC, and John as our guides. Frank was the main captain it seemed, as he was the driver and was very helpful in leading us to the right places to experience the best snorkeling the island waters have to offer, while also allowing us to hopefully see Humpback Whale breaches, addition to Spinner dolphins frolicking and jumping. Just as we were leaving the docks and inner bay, spinner dolphins greeted the group to the ocean, setting the bar for expectations of the rest of the boat tour rather high; as if taking this wonderful greeting as a cue, the rest of the trip certainly did not disappoint.

We continued the ride at a comfortable 17 knots, or 20 miles per hour, the group gasped in awe of the ocean as well as in admiration of the surfacing Humpback Whales, one group of three, it seemed a new baby, mother, and male “friend” serving as a chaperone, as is common. MVP was excited every time we saw a hint of a whale, as they are her favorite animals, and it is not hard to see why. These massive animals move majestically through the water, smoothly navigating their course and sometimes grace onlookers with the coveted “fluke up dive” view of the tail, or even, in some cases, an iconic whale breach. Frank informed the group that the Hawaiian term for Humpback whale is Kohola (pronounced-ko-ho-lah). It was nice to make the connection back to the course material, imagining ancient Hawaiians gazing in awe just as we did today, in an attempt to understand the grandness of these whales.

After we had seen a lot of whale activity and were sated for the moment, Frank pulled the boat into a bay area where we could all jump in and explore the ocean. While not all of us are fervent snorkelers, it seemed that everyone in the class was keen to partake in the activity. What could be found between the fingers of lava, where the lava formed island meets the ocean floor, was exciting. All of us were impressed by Frank’s ability to hold his breath underwater for minutes at a time to explore the coves and crannies of the rock beneath. Snorkeling allows one to form a new connection and respect for the ocean. One of the lessons we have learned while in Hawaii is the great respect ancient Hawaiians had and Hawaiians still have for all the animals that share the earth with us. Learning respect for those creatures we share our lives with, both on land as well as in the ocean, is easier once one gets a good look at what often seems to be a separate world. Soon, we all climbed back on to the boat, and Frank took us down south farther along the coastline, to Kealakekua Bay where spinner dolphins greeted the group once more. The group was excited to climb back into the waters and swim with this pod of about 9-12 dolphins and quietly jumped into the waters once more. On the second attempt, almost all of the class was lucky to see through their snorkeling goggles, the dolphins swim below them with only feet separating him or her from the dolphins. The group became quiet in this experience, with the occasional exclamation “this is awesome!” as the dolphin pod swam closely below.

In all the excitement, for a moment it was almost forgotten that the purpose of coming to this specific area was to see where Captain Cook had been killed in a physical misunderstanding between the Hawaiians and his own crew. Frank talked story about the version of the occurrence he is most familiar with where the Hawaiians borrowed nails from the British ships in order to create fishhooks. Imagine a world where there is no concept of stealing, but rather sharing and creating relationships of trust with one another. Frank pointed out that the Hawaiians probably believed that they were creating friendly ties with the British Colonizers by borrowing their tools to make something like a fishhook. The Hawaiians therefore saw no error in their ways as the Captain and his Crew did. According to Frank, this lead to the physical altercations between the Hawaiians and the crew where Captain Cook did loose his life. There is a single monument on a piece of land belonging to the British to commemorate the Captain, however, I noted, nothing to commemorate the many Hawaiians who lost their lives as well, especially since they did not share knowledge of the British weaponry. It was interesting to think back to what the Captain and his crew must have thought upon arrival in this bay, as the land on this part of the island is not exceptionally friendly looking nor particularly welcoming as compared to other areas.

There is a cliff overlooking the waters, where Frank informed me in the that ancient days, Hawaiians used to place the bones of their chiefs and royals—ali’i—since bones are thought to contain the most part of a person’s mana, or life force, these were buried in an area where no one else could find them. He said the ali’i bones were buried here by family members, who must have repelled down the cliff to place the bones in holes in the side of the cliff. This was interesting to consider how many ali’i were overlooking our activities that day and look upon the Captain Cook monument everyday. While the rest of the group continued to snorkel in the beautiful water, I tried to imagine the connections between the land and the traditional Hawaiian belief system. With this knowledge of the ali’i the mana of Kealakekua bay was easier to feel flowing like the lava into the ocean and out from the ali’i bones buried in the cliffs.

From this, we all gathered back on the boat, had the last pineapple, and headed back to shore. Frank truly had the “aloha spirit” we have also been hearing locals talk about, which made this experience much easier. After this day, it is safe to say that we all felt a new connection to the ocean and a respect for the sea animals that we were lucky enough to experience. It was easier for me to understand the idea of mana, having seen and reflected on the different life forces that share the earth with us, especially as we moved closer to the docks, a whale breached and splashed out in the distance; it seems cliché and almost sounds impossible, but it was a surreal experience for the whole group, including Frank, Terry, JC, and John who agreed it was a day to save in the long term memory bank.

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8 Comments

  1. Posted January 14, 2014 at 12:45 pm | Permalink

    Beautiful, Sarah. Your reflections captured the essence of the day and the importance of Kealakekua Bay in history, as well as the meaning of ‘aina (land, including the ocean or kai) for the Hawaiians then and now. And yes, I do tend to get a little excited when I see “even a hint” of a whale! 🙂

  2. Posted August 5, 2016 at 6:09 pm | Permalink

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  7. Posted December 5, 2019 at 12:50 pm | Permalink

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