Kealakekua has reputedly the best snorkeling in all of Hawaii. Because of this, it is a marine conservation area with some pretty strict rules. We were reviewing our various guides on approach, when Maryanne noticed a sentence that said something to the effect of, “The rules change frequently, so check with the harbormaster in Hilo for updates.”
She decided to play it safe and embarked on a long telephone treasure hunt as she called one department or another before being directed to the next one. Now able to see into the bay around the intervening headland, I couldn’t help but notice that there were no other boats in the anchorage at this prime destination. I started to worry that anchoring was no longer allowed.
Maryanne finally managed to reach a woman at the State Parks Department, who informed her that we could anchor only with a permit obtained in advance. Undaunted, Maryanne asked if they had an online application. Indeed, she suggested, she would email us the paperwork and if we were quick about returning it, she could process our permit within the hour. Marvellous!
We got a few suspicious looks from the balconies of the houses on the bay front at the village of Napupu as we came in and dropped our anchor in the sand off of the village, being very careful to stay away from any coral. Once we were settled in, they went back to their usual business of being somewhere really cool in Hawai’i.
We were up before daylight the following morning in an attempt to beat the groups of snorkelers brought by tour boats. One of the many conditions in the small print of our permit was that we could not launch a boat from the permitted vessel. This meant our only option was to swim the mile or so across the bay from our authorized anchorage area to the main area of reef on the other side.
Arriving in time for sunset and then to enjoy a full day of snorkelling
We didn’t get far from Begonia before the sand below retreated out of sight. We spent most of the way swimming over a blue void. It was easy to get disoriented, so we would check our heading every ten breaths or so by popping our heads out of the water to see that we were still heading toward the obelisk on the other side marking the location of Captain Cook’s death. Kealakekua was also the first place he landed and thus the site of the first contact between Hawaiians and Europeans.
Of course Captain Cook has a significant history of his own (although a little mixed in Hawaii). We've read numerous books about his voyages and it was cool to think we were somewhere that he had been (indeed, the place he died - at the hands of some pretty upset Hawaiians!).
We were very close to the rocks on the other shore before the seabed thrust upward in an explosion of coral and colorful fish. We followed the ledge to the point and then turned back over the shelf around the entire curvature of the bay until we had finally made it to the rocks between Napupu and Begonia.
There is a lot of healthy-looking coral in this bay. We had read that the Kona coastline (of which Kealakekua is a significant part) has 57% of Hawaii's coral, and Hawaii itself has 75% of all USA living coral. Instead of the odd clump here and there, there were whole fields of the stuff.
It was early afternoon by the time we made it back on board Begonia. We hadn’t had anything since our breakfast of a granola bar each, so we were pretty tired and hungry by then. We had an early dinner and then popped in a DVD that we bought at the ‘Imaloa gift shop about the last of the Polynesian navigators. Polynesians managed to navigate (regularly) 1000's of miles using their own system of stars, currents, etc - we were keen to learn what we could of their ways.
On that very DVD a scene came up showing an etching of Captain Cook’s ship and crew meeting with Polynesian sailing canoes. The location looked really familiar. We looked at it, and then at each other and realized; That’s here! The perspective was the exact same one we had from our cockpit, only zoomed out. It was probably drawn from the beach behind us. Captain Cook’s fleet of big ships was anchored in the deep water in the middle of the bay. Polynesian outrigger canoes were ringing the shore and the larger sailing catamarans were in the shallower water by the village. One of them was right in the spot our catamaran was currently anchored. Well, how about that?