Flying into Kona International Airport on the Big Island of Hawai'i the first impression is of a lunar landscape. Cracked and twisted black lava covers the whole area with the runway creating the only straight line in view. It's a stark reminder of the violent volcanic nature of this land, which is re-enforced by a short flight around the island. In the South, lava continues to flow into the sea and smoking cones dot the landscape. In one area new homes are being built across a lava flow from the 1970s, whilst just a few miles away the remnants of a road system are visible in the midst of a 1980s flow that destroyed some 160 houses and farms. Dominating all are the two huge shield volcanoes, Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa, whose gently sloping sides rise almost imperceptibly to over 13,000ft. With all this upheaval, it's fortunate that the town of Captain Cook (some 20 miles south of the airport) remained in one piece long enough for the Captain Cook Society Conference Hawaii 2009.
The conference started with a luau in the grounds of the Royal Kona Hotel in the resort of Kailua and no-one seemed to be worried that it was the evening of Friday 13th. 230 years ago at this time things were turning ugly for Cook, with thefts and disagreements with the Hawaiians. James King wrote: "In going on board [Resolution], the Capt. expressed his sorrow, that the behaviour of the Indians would at last oblige him to use force".1
We sat down to a super buffet with pig cooked in an imu (earth oven) and entertainment from "the Natives" as the sun set over the ocean.
Things start early in Hawai'i. At 8 am on Saturday 14th we were gathered in Yano Hall in the town of Captain Cook. Around this time James Cook was landing at the village of Ka'awaloa, some two miles below us, and was within an hour of his death. We were enjoying complimentary coffee, courtesy of the Captain Cook Coffee Company, and local pastries. Before long our worthy organiser, Charlie Auth, brought us to order with a formal welcome. I read out greetings from the Captain Cook Birthplace Museum. Mal Nicholson, from CCS-Australia, made a few salient comments and brought us greetings from his fellow members down under.
Herb Kane, the first scheduled speaker, was only just out of hospital after a bout of pneumonia so couldn't attend. His wonderful address on Hawaiian views of the Cook expedition was excellently delivered by Terry Wallace.
Terry stayed at the lectern to present his own talk, "Cook and his Guns", giving us the chance to handle a 4lb cannon ball (surprisingly small!) such as were fired by Resolution's great guns.
He had put much work into the researching the source and history of the cannon, set in concrete, that surround the Cook Memorial in Kealakekua Bay.
To finish off the morning, Mary Anne Maigret from the Hawaiian State Parks Department discussed the archaeology of Ka'awaloa, showing the changes to the site since Cook's day. Mary Anne also spoke of plans for the preservation and study of the area by the Department of State Parks.
The afternoon was taken up with a memorable trip in the Fair Wind II catamaran from Kailua into Kealakekua Bay. The weather was superb: hot and sunny. 230 years ago, Charles Clerke wrote, "Fine weather with Land and Sea breezes".2
Fair Wind II makes daily trips into the bay, mainly carrying snorkellers. We went there for a more important purpose. We took two tributes to place on the obelisk to Cook's memory.
Fair Wind II moored offshore and, though we were dressed to swim ashore, Captain Kirk Herring agreed to take us ashore in an inflatable boat. Our "Colour Party" consisted of Charlie Auth, Mal Nicolson, Jim Sleznick from California, and me. Together we placed with due ceremony two dozen white roses on behalf of the CCS and a specially made funeral lei on behalf of the Captain Cook Birthplace Museum. We examined the obelisk and its surroundings, noting signs of disrepair.
After scrambling a hundred yards along the shore we found the plaque marking the approximate place of Cook's death. Although frequently submerged, it was standing a few inches proud of the surface. We then rejoined our snorkelling companions on Fair Wind II.
Hard taskmaster that he is, Charlie gave us little time to shower and eat on our return for a full evening programme started at 7.30 pm. We had the vocal talents of Janice Auth singing two songs from a proposed Cook musical by CCS member Fred McKinnon. It is something he has been working on for several years. Janice was ably accompanied by local pianist Loren Wilken. Our President, Cliff Thornton deserves recognition as the co-lyricist on one of the songs, "Otaheiti". Then came a very nice presentation by Ellie Nordyke and her grandson about the new, improved edition of her Pacific Images book, now featuring stamps relating to Cook's voyages.3 Ellie had brought 20 copies of her book and sales were brisk. A video, featuring Woody Woods, regarding the building of a replica vessel, The Lynx, was presented by Rick Rogers. The evening's finale, designed to send everybody off to bed, was a rendition of four songs by me.
Sunday opened bright and sunny at 8 am with more coffee and cakes. I was particularly taken by the banana bread but, being on a diet, had only three pieces. A number of non-CCS members were attending the conference and I took delight in telling one of them that the Captain Cook Coffee Company (still providing us with free brews) relied on Cook's own personal recipe.
Maile Melrose of the Kona Historical Society opened the day with a very upbeat lecture about George Vancouver in Kealakekua Bay. Maile reminded us that Vancouver overwintered there three times whilst exploring the British Columbian coast. He also was responsible for the introduction of cattle to the islands.
I spoke next (being a substitute speaker) with my overview of the personalities and achievements of the three Pacific voyages. I called it "Captain Cook's Passengers".
The morning continued with Peter Van Dyke from the Amy B.H. Greenwell Ethnobotanical Garden, a facility of the Bishop Museum. He told us about the plants of Hawai'i as related to Cook and provided several specimens. I had thought a "shaddock" was of the brassica family but I'm wrong - it's a large version of a grapefruit. The last speaker of this session was Captain Rick Rogers, author of the book, Shipwrecks of Hawaii. Rick spoke authoritatively about the presence of the Spanish in pre-Cook Hawaii. His talk, greatly based on personal knowledge and experience, was supplemented with maps and photos.
Charlie allowed us an hour for lunch and then we had a trip to the Hikiau Heiau at the other end of Kealakekua Bay from the Cook memorial. Rick Rogers led us through the events of 230 years ago in a very comprehensive manner. He helped us understand the topography and landmarks that we had read about in the voyage journals. We saw the memorial recording William Watman's burial on the heiau, the temple site itself and the area where James King set up the shore station. Despite the pictures we have seen in Cook's Log, it was both interesting and informative to walk the area. This visit gave us a real insight as to how the settlement around the Hikiau Heiau would have looked and operated.
We were not finished. Onward we travelled, led by Rick, for a few miles south to Pu'uhonua O Honaunau (Place of Refuge). This is a partially restored sacred area containing heiau platforms, native huts and an idol hut similar to that shown in John Webber's painting "An Offering before Captain Cook, in the Sandwich Islands". There was some speculation that some of Cook's bones may have ended up here as the bones of the Ali'i and other powerful figures were stored here.
Returning to the Yano Hall for the last time, we gathered to discuss what we had gained from the conference and what actions could be generated from what we'd seen and experienced. The consensus was that Charlie, with help from Janice and Rick Rogers, had done an excellent job producing an exciting and action packed conference. Potential new members had been introduced to the CCS by publicising the event locally, and new friends and contacts had been made. Some sixty people had attended.
Before returning to my hotel, Terry Wallace, a local man, asked to meet me for breakfast at 7.30am at the "Coffee Shack". Another day without a lie in! But it was worth it as he phoned Herb Kane and took me to meet him. A perfect end to my Big Island trip.
Photos by Charlie Auth, Mal Nicolson and me.
Originally published in Cook's Log, page 11, volume 32, number 2 (2009).
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