Manini Beach wraps around the beautiful and historic Kealakekua Bay. It is here that Captain James Cook, the renowned world explorer, met his demise by the hands of Hawaii’s native islanders. And his death came after they revered him as a god.
Underneath the Kealakekua cliffs at the northern end of the bay, you’ll find a towering monument to the fallen captain, and tourists flock from all over the island to pay homage to the British explorer.
Commissioned by the Royal British Navy in the mid-1700’s, Captain Cook made three voyages exploring the Pacific Ocean. You’ll find monuments to the explorer as far south as New Zealand, as far north as Alaska and as remote as the Cook Islands. The legendary explorer first made landfall in Hawaii on the western side of Kauai, and, of course, you’ll find a monument there in the town of Waimea.
On a subsequent voyage, he made landfall on The Big Island. His arrival coincided with a religious festival, and the mast of his ship resembled the symbols of a Hawaiian god. The inhabitants of The Big Island, including the king, made a deity out of Cook, and, to a lesser extent, his crew. Despite the incredible treatment, Cook had to continue his voyage.
But soon after leaving Kealakekua Bay, his ship’s mast broke and needed repairs. He limped his ship back to the bay, and his crew grew restless. Meanwhile, the islanders began to suspect that Cook wasn’t a god after all, and a few even found the courage to steal a cutter from Cook himself.
Cutter boats were used to ferry people ashore from an anchored ship, and Cook was furious that one of his cutters went missing. He stormed into the village, took the King by the hand and led him back to Kealakekua Bay where he intended to kidnap him for ransom. The King initially went willingly, but he soon discovered Cook’s malintent. That’s when a villager bashed Cook in the head. He was stabbed to death by an angry mob as he fell into the surf.
That fateful event took place at Manini Beach. You can wander the colorful sand while looking at the same cliffs that watched Cook anchor his ship, become a god and perish. You can walk the same sand where the cutter was stolen, and where the King made his stand. And it’s a stunningly beautiful place to connect with history.
The beach is a mixture of white coral calcium and chunky black volcanic rocks. Most of the shoreline is consumed by a lava shelf, but you’ll find a small sandy channel that will let you out into the bay for good snorkeling. The water here is usually clear, but it’s much clearer to the right of the channel.
There are no lifeguards down at Manini Beach. Your safety is your priority. Only enter the rocky water if it is calm and safe to do so. If the water is choppy, there’s no real reason to enter the water anyways. The kicked-up sand makes the water cloudy and poor for snorkeling.
When the water is choppy, it’s best to watch the surfers in the bay against the backdrop of the cliffs and the Cook Monument. It makes for a great photo. And you can watch the surfers while enjoying a picnic using one of the many picnic tables at the beach park.
To get to this historic beach, take Highway 11 south out of Kona. It will turn into Highway 160. Soon after, you’ll want to turn right onto Napoopoo Road before taking another quick right onto Pu'uhonua Road. The parking lot and the beach park are well signposted.