ON THE jagged shoreline of Kealakekua Bay – a small, beautiful inlet on the western coast of Hawaii’s Big Island* – sits a monument that closely links Australia with what were once known as the Sandwich Isles.
The monument commemorates the death on February 14, 1779, probably through a combination of arrogance and misunderstanding, of Captain James Cook, England’s Pacific explorer extraordinaire. Trying to get back to one of his longboats, Cook, who couldn’t swim, was killed nearby in shallow waters by Hawaiian warriors.
The land immediately surrounding the monument is formally British, in much the same way as an embassy would be, but this part of Kealakekua Bay isn’t as straightforward a place to get to. It’s worth the effort, not just to observe the place of Cook’s ultimate fate, but also to swim or snorkel in pristine waters.
You can hike in through steep, rugged country. You can swim, canoe or outboard about a kilometre-and-a-half from Kealakekua Wharf. Or you can come in by larger boat, as we did on the luxury catamaran Fair Wind II.
At about $160 per person, the Fair Wind II snorkel cruise offers great value. Apart from beers and wine, it’s all-inclusive – lunch, equipment, instruction.
The catamaran sails out of Keauhou Bay, just to the north of Kealakekua Bay, and a five-minute stroll from the Sheraton Keauhou Bay Resort & Spa.
The Sheraton is one of the longest-established resorts on this part of the Big Island and, despite some bumps and grinds over the years, still has the charm, the serenity, the facilities and the location to serve as the perfect base for exploring the Kona Coast.
The lack of its own white-sand beach is more than compensated for by the enormous swimming pool, which meanders through the resort, and the oceanfront bar.
For more active souls, the Sheraton Keauhou Bay offers the quite exhilarating experience of diving with the giant manta rays which come into the bay each evening.
One of the things I really loved about the Sheraton was the ready access to the main Kailua–Kona beachfront strip.
At the end of Ali’i Drive is a kilometre or so of waterfront restaurants, boutiques and thriving beachfront activity.
The restaurant scene is vibrant, from pizza bars to burgers to fish-and-chips to the more culinary elaborate. Excellent among the cheap-and-cheerful is the Kona Canoe Club.
At the top end of dining, a couple of Kailua-Kona institutions stand out – Huggo’s and Jamieson’s.
Huggo’s has occupied its prized waterfront location since 1969, when it was founded by Hugo and Shirley von Platen Luder, initially as a feeding station for local fishermen.
They introduced Huggo’s signature barbecued beef ribs and terriyaki steak to the menu, and these have been maintained by son Eric, who took over management in 1982.
We didn’t get the chance to dine at Huggo’s, which apart from Sunday brunch is a dinner venue, but we did have lunch under the huge umbrellas at Huggo’s on the Rocks, its next-door bistro-style “little brother”.
The fish is splendid — white, sweet, firm, meaty, flavoursome.
Jamieson’s by the Sea is a bit further south, quite literally perched over the sea at Mystic Sands Beach, so named because the sand disappears and reappears depending on the tide and size of the swell.
The manager, José “Pepe” Sanchez, is as much an institution as the restaurant itself. He’s been welcoming patrons for well over 20 years.
Once again the seafood is outstanding, all wonderfully prepared and presented.
John Rozentals and Sandra Burn White were guests of Sheraton Keauhou Bay Resort & Spa.
Big Island Hawaii: www.bigisland.org
Sheraton Keauhou Bay Resort & Spa: www.sheratonkeauhou.com
Fair Wind Cruises: www.fair-wind.com
Jamieson’s by the Sea: www.jamesonshawaii.com
The Kona Farmers’ Market: www.konafarmersmarket.com
*The Big Island is about a 40-minute flight south-east of Honolulu. Its real name is Hawaii, but because the whole archipelago has adopted that name and each of the other islands has a separate name (Oahu, Maui, Kauhai, etc), the locals simply call it the Big Island.
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