As the original landing site for Captain James Cook, Napoopoo Beach Park offers a glimpse into Big Island history. And despite the erosion of its once sandy shores, it’s still a great place for a picnic. You’ll find this historic stretch of land along the southern shores of Kealakekua Bay, located right by the Hikiau Heiau. You’ll want to follow Napoopoo Road down to the end, and then park in the lot along the pier.
Many locals come here to swim, snorkel, and scuba dive, but there are no lifeguards on duty at any time. So, it’s best to keep your feet firmly on the ground. Thankfully, there’s still plenty to do here, like enjoying a delicious picnic while enjoying the views. An in-depth exploration of the history of Captain Cook’s landing promises to keep you busy as well.
If you want to start with a nice meal, you can grab a picnic table or just spread out a blanket on the grass. There are barbecue grills onsite for your use as well, just in case you want to prepare your fresh catch or prime grocery finds. The park also has restrooms, showers, and trash cans strategically placed for your convenience.
Once you’re all fueled up by your delicious picnic lunch, head out onto the pier to take in the amazing view of the bay. The views get even better during the sunset hour, of course, so time your visit right to watch the skies light up in a brilliant array of hues. If you’re lucky, you’ll spot sea turtles, dolphins, and other amazing marine life in the distance.
If you can manage to break your gaze away from the oceanside, take a moment to read the educational signage on the pier. The displays share facts about the spinner dolphins that often rest in the bay. Plus, they go over the importance of the Hikiau Heiau and share the story of Captain Cook’s arrival, mission, and untimely demise.
As the story goes, Captain Cook landed on the beach in 1779, intent on spreading the word about Christianity. At that time, the beach featured soft sandy shores. But that all changed in 1992 when Hurricane Iniki replaced the sand with big rocks. The beach doesn’t work for sunbathing anymore as a result, but it’s still fun to explore, especially if you like to check out interesting geological formations.
After checking out the pier and the beach, head down the trail to see the Hikiau Heiau for yourself. This ancient Hawaiian temple was built soon after Cook landed. The natives believed he was the god of agriculture, Lono, arriving to bring fertility to the land. His boats? They were thought to be small islands appearing in the distance. The native Hawaiians built the temple by hand out of respect for Cook’s presence and all the beautifully placed rock walls still stand to this day.
As you visit the temple, set your sights across the bay to view Captain Cook’s monument. The 27-foot obelisk stands where he was killed after his attempted kidnapping of King Kalaniopuu-a-Kaiamamao. Despite that dispute, the captain was quite respected by the natives and honored well after his death. Once you’re done exploring the history of this beach, you can take off on other explorations – or hang out at the pier to enjoy the views for awhile more.
-Do not park along the shoulder near the pier parking area or you could get towed.
-Drive slowly through the neighborhood while watching for children playing nearby.
-The waves can get quite powerful during the winter months. Check the weather conditions before arriving at the shoreline and skip the trip if it seems at all stormy.
-Wear well-fitting water shoes with plenty of grip if you want to walk over the rocky beach.