Captain Cook Landing Site

Captain Cook Landing Site: National Historic Site on Kauai’s Southwestern Shore
Local Expert's Rating:
3 / 5
The Bottom Line:

The Cook Landing Site marks—roughly, anyway—the general vicinity of where Captain James Cook of England first set foot in the Hawaiian Islands. Situated at the mouth of the Waimea River, this National Historic Site will mainly be of interest to history buffs: There’s not really much to see, though the nearby Hofgaard Park has a statue of Cook and a plaque about the landfall.

- The Local Expert Team

On January 18, 1778, sailing aboard the HMS Resolution and HMS Discovery, the Captain James Cook of the British Royal Navy and his crew first clapped eyes on the Hawaiian Islands. Cook was leading his third expedition exploring the Pacific Ocean, seeking the Northwest Passage.

Two days later, Cook and his men set foot on the shores of Kauai: the first landfall of Europeans in this remote archipelago. (The crew had actually initially seen the mountains of Oahu before Kauai came into view. The direction of prevailing winds convinced them to head for the latter.) The Cook Landing Site at the mouth of the Waimea River, on the western bank, commemorates this momentous occasion.

This National Historic Site doesn’t include any marker of the exact spot where Captain Cook came ashore, namely because it’s not known. Natural coastal processes and modern development have changed the look of the shoreline anyway. But this is the likely general vicinity of the landfall, chosen by Cook for the presence of a freshwater lagoon.

Cook and his men had friendly encounters with the Native Hawaiians on the Waimea coast and forayed a bit up the Waimea River’s valley. He’d return to Hawaii—which he called the Sandwich Islands—a year later: a doomed return, as it happened, as he and several of his crew were killed in a skirmish with Native Hawaiians on the Big Island. 

Don’t expect to find much in the way of historical information at the Cook Landing Site. Accessed via Lucy Wright Park, the actual National Historic Site is not much to look at, really. A short stroll inland, though, Waimea’s Hofgaard Park includes a 15-foot-tall state of Captain Cook and a plaque about the landfall and Cook’s “discovery” of the Hawaiian Islands. (Naturally, Native Hawaiians rightly point out the archipelago was very much discovered long before Cook’s expedition pulled up.)

Cook’s landfall in Kauai has a complicated legacy, but it is without question a major historical event. It opened a new chapter for Native Hawaiians in bringing them into contact with Europeans, and also marked a turning point for the ecology of the islands.

Anyone fascinated by the history of the Garden Isle and the Hawaiian archipelago, in general, may enjoy tracking down the Cook Landing Site. Others may be disappointed by the lack of in-depth interpretive signage. A more casually interested visitor might just opt to visit the Cook memorial in Hofgaard Park.

Insider Tip:
The Cook Landing Site frequently exposes visitors to a grittier side of Kauai. Homeless people often congregate here, and the waterfront isn’t exactly the most manicured. So just know what to expect if you decide to go to the actual spot, as opposed to the Hofgaard Park statue and plaque.