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Where Did Cook Land on the Island of Kaua`i?




Living on the Hawaiian island of Kaua`i,1 I grew up knowing that Captain Cook had visited the place, but until recently had never wondered where he landed.


According to the published official account of James Cook’s Third Voyage,2 on January 20, 1778, Resolution and Discovery anchored, Cook stepped ashore west of the Waimea River, and his men filled their casks from the river. Cook, William Anderson and John Webber (the ship’s artist) walked a mile up the river to the heiau at Kea`ali`i, returned to the beach to find trade going well, and Cook had dinner on the ship. He returned onshore that afternoon, and everyone was back on the ships by sunset. The following day the surf was too high to land boats, and the next morning, Cook pulled up the anchors to reposition his ship, but the current moved him west, and he spent the next six days trying to get back. Unsuccessful in his efforts, he anchored off the island of Ni`ihau instead.


My early researching


Various people have tried to locate the landing site. The National Survey of Historic Sites and Buildings, 1962, said

About 1 acre of the west bank of the river… [is] the most probable landing place… According to the best evidence currently available, the beach at Waimea was the spot where Captain James Cook… made his initial landing upon island soil.3


The Registry of National Historic Landmarks, in 1969, said

Actual Cook’s Landing unknown, but probably in middle of existing town, land seaward is accreted.4


Thomas Thrum in his 1907 Hawaiian Almanac wrote

Futile was all effort made to identify and locate the site of the first described heiau of these islands, situated in the Waimea valley, Kaua`i, and pictured in Cook’s voyage, in a drawing by Webber.5


Wendell Bennett in his 1931 Archaeology of Kauai wrote

The exact location of this heiau described by Cook is unknown. The lake or pond referred to was probably that made by the backing up of the Waimea River... the supposed site of the described heiau would be in the position of Keaalii heiau, though this is mostly destroyed. The background given by the artist Webber is far different than that seen [at Keaalii], but it is quite possible that the background was a later addition to the picture, and not one made on the site. It is strange that no mention is made by Cook of the heiau and city of refuge (puuhonua), named Hikinaakala, which is said to have been located in Waimea village very near the sea. As late as 1906, Thrum was able to measure it and to find a trace of its walls.6


When I read the landing descriptions in Captain Cook’s journal, things didn’t add up. Here are some of them, with important points emphasised by me.7

  • There was “a beach near one of the villages, a large pond, which was said… to contain fresh water”

  • Upon anchoring “the village near which the fresh water was said to be”

  • Upon landing Cook “was then conducted by some of the natives to the water

  • The islanders “even assisted them in rolling the casks to and from the pool

  • The “sandy beach before the village, behind it was a narrow valley, the bottom of which was occupied by the piece of water

  • “he stationed a guard upon the beach, and was then conducted by some of the natives to the water, which he found extremely good, and so considerable that it might be denominated a lake


It’s hard to understand how people could mistake a river for a pond. If the Waimea River had had a backwater area, why would a guard be needed, and why would anyone need to be conducted to the water if the river is right there?


Expanding my researching


In my researching, I read the journals of the explorers who came after Cook. I read about Hawaiian history, archaeology, religion, and the early Hawaiian writers. I met Hawaiian historians to learn the local history. I studied maps of the Hawaiian islands.8 I made a spreadsheet of the information from the journals, such as the landing description, the anchor points, the depths in fathoms, the type of sea bottom, and the descriptions of the valley they walked up. I drew an arc around Waimea and located all the heiaus. I searched the artwork from Cook’s first two voyages to find visible descriptions of the watering process.9


Several discrepancies in the journals became apparent to me. First, the sand was different from 1778 to 1779. During their first visit in January 1778, the bottom of the sea where they anchored was composed of brown sand. During their second visit in March 1779 (after Cook’s death), and on the visits of later explorers (like Nathaniel Portlock and George Vancouver), the sand was black. Recent examination of the sand has shown that the sand at Hoanuanu Bay (which lies about 1 mile southeast of Waimea) is brown and that at Waimea is black.10


Secondly, the early maps (including three made during their journey) don’t show a backwater area of the Waimea River.11


Thirdly, Webber’s drawing of the heiau shows high ground beyond the heiau,12 whereas the Waimea location is at the bottom of a valley with rock walls on either side.


I started looking for consistency in the various descriptions.


Several of the journals refer to a reef that projects to the leeward.13 Directly in front of Hoanuanu Bay is the Makaweli Reef, which extends out into the ocean causing surf to break over it.14 On January 22, 1778, Cook wrote, “Resolution not in a very secure station there being breakers within the length of little more than two cables from her stern”. The next morning he ordered her anchors to be taken up with a view to moving her farther offshore. As soon as the last anchor came up, and before he had good sea room, the wind veered to east. They were driven considerably to the leeward (west) and had to make all sail possible to clear the shore. He endeavored to regain the road, but, having a strong current against him and little wind, could not accomplish that design. He was “utterly unable to regain the road” by the morning of January 29 (six days later), and the currents had carried him westward within 9-10 miles of Ni`ihau. Weary of plying so unsuccessfully, he laid aside thoughts of returning to Kaua`i.15 Little did he know, his ships would return a year later, but he would not.


The last journal located for this research was that of William Bayly, the astronomer. In it was a treasure trove of data. It contains both ship data logs, and the readings for the various astronomical observations. Utilizing all of these readings for 1778 and 1779, and comparing them for the days they were anchored at Kaua`i, I found that in all but one scenario, the 1779 numbers were to the left and up on the map. The exact longitude wasn’t clear, but they weren’t the same one year to the next. I reached out to the Captain Cook Society, and they provided two data sources that were invaluable: the CORRAL database of ship’s logs,16 and the online versions of the early editions of Cook’s journal.17


Preserved in these old ship’s logs, I found Bayly’s handwritten journal, and discovered that latitude and longitude weren’t always taken on the same day or in the same place. As the data came together, I found that the data points were grouped together in two areas on the map—one in front of Hoanuanu Bay, and the other directly in front of Waimea.


On modern maps there is a pond behind Hoanuanu Bay, in a valley fed by a natural spring, very conveniently located for watering.18 This pond is an ancient Hawaiian fishpond that archaeologists have dated to between 1050 and 1280 AD.19


There was another significant event on January 20, 1778, to do with the anchoring process. Williamson was put in charge of finding a location to anchor, and in that process he shot and killed an islander. I read Williamson’s handwritten log and transcribed the part relating to the anchoring.

At 6 this morning stood in for the land… I then rowed down to leeward to seek a landing place. By this time the cutter had joined us with the master in her whom I strictly ordered not to fire on any account without my particular directions. I gave the same charge to the master of the discovery who was in their boat… the boats crew endeavoring to back the boat off when one of the natives made a stroke at me, at the same time the bowman called out he must let go the boat hook. I again turned about and with the greatest reluctance shot the Indian who was struggling for the boathook… After I had found a place for watering the ship, I went on board, leaving directions with master to go and sound off it... In the evening we anchored abreast of an anchoring place. Captain Cook then went on shore with three boats and the marines from each ship. 20


When I stand at the site that Williamson is describing, and knowing the lay of the land, then for a ship anchored off Waimea Bay, the Waimea River is the obvious place from which to get water. However, Williamson rowed down that way, killed the Hawaiian, and backed off from that bay, which is the reason they ended up watering from a pond.


From Williamson’s account, I learnt that when they set out to find a landing place they “rowed down to leeward”, and that both masters were in the landing party, i.e. William Bligh (Resolution) and Thomas Edgar (Discovery).


In Gary Fitzpatrick’s 1986 book The Early Mapping of Hawai`i, the first published map of Hawai`i is attributed to Lieutenant Henry Roberts (master’s mate in Resolution), who prepared for publication all of the maps appearing in Cook’s official journal. Fitzpatrick also says, “if we credit the earliest-known manuscript map of at least a portion of the islands as being the first, then two recently uncovered maps by Thomas Edgar and James Burney... vie for recognition as ‘first’... Both cover the islands of Ni`ihau and Kaua`i, and the western shore of O`ahu and were drawn during the 1778 visit of Cook’s expedition”.21


Edgar’s map is included in the Hakluyt Society’s charts and views, but in his log is a hand-drawn map including “descriptions for sailing in and out of Bootaberry Road”, Atowi

If you are bound to Atowi and should you fall in to the Eastward of the Island you must steer for the southeast point and run down along the south side till you come near the southwest point, and as you head round keep your head going and anchor off a reef which you will see break, taking great care not to come too near it, then you will be abreast of the town of Bootaberry with coordinates of 21 56 24 latitude and 200 18 00 longitude.23


It’s important to note that Captain Cook indicates, “the observation for the variation of the compass did not agree well among themselves”.24 Therefore, any reading of longitude is subject to variation. What makes Edgar’s map unique is that he is giving the coordinates for the town, not the anchor points, and he is giving coordinates for the map he drew (no variation). Using his coordinates and map, it’s easy to locate Hoanuanu Bay as the site of this town. As Edgar was part of the landing party, I wonder if he was put in charge when Williamson returned to the ship. Cook’s journal indicates, “The road, or anchoring-place… about two leagues from the west end, before a village named Wymoa”,25 but his official map shows “Wymoa Bay” to be located where Hoanuanu Bay is—the town of Waimea is on the left side of the Waimea River).26


Edgar’s log names the town as Boo la berry. Bayly says his observations were made at Bootaberree Road. Edgar’s map has Buta-Bana Road. Williamson’s log says Boo:ta:berry Road.27 This town does not exist on today’s map—perhaps modern Po`o point relates to Bo`o. However, behind Hoanuanu Bay is a valley with a large spring-fed pond and a small rivulet, the A`akukui stream, all of which fit the landing and watering descriptions.


Lastly, I was able to pinpoint an anchor location on today’s map based on Bayly’s latitude-longitude, the soundings of both ships, and their orientation to the reef and the bay.28 This puts them just past the Makaweli Reef at 22° 56′ 00′′ N in 1778, and at 22° 57′ 00′′ N in 1779, just west of the Waimea River.


On March 2, 1779, Edgar refers to a “very large river”, and says that the “natives now kept at a distance from them on the other side of the river”.29 Henry Robert’s wrote in his journal, upon their return visit in March 1779

[This place] which is about 3 miles from the Anchoring place, appeared a good bay in which is several Houses of the Natives & by the form of the hills over, it should conclude there was fresh water. This place although small seemed to afford shelter & good landing for the boats, the bluff head to the West of the Valley or water place [is] 2 miles”.30


From these descriptions I infer that they were at a different location for watering in 1779, than the previous visit in 1778.




My research indicates that Hoanuanu Bay was the first landing location of Captain Cook in Kaua`i in January 1778. After a brief stay, the ships departed Ni`ihau in February, headed northeast, and spent most of the year mapping the west coast of North America. In the fall, they returned to the Hawaiian Islands to restock their supplies, and Captain Cook was killed on the Big Island. Due to the circumstances, Cook’s men were not able to complete their water supply, and they sounded along Mau`i, Lana`i, Moloka`i, and briefly landed on O`ahu. The site was not good, and the water brackish, so they returned to Kaua`i in March 1779. At that time they anchored off Waimea Bay, and watered from the Waimea River.


The historical confusion relative to the landing on Kaua`i is due to the circumstances surrounding Williamson’s initial attempt to land, some of the journals referencing Waimea, and at what date those journals were penned. For example, Edgar references a large river, but on the same page makes reference to the second time they visited Kaua`i, so clearly this was written after that second visit. It is my belief that these two locations were so close logistically, and the watering better in 1779 from the Waimea River, that the details of the Hoanuanu Bay watering were lost in time.


Locating the heiau described in the journals and painted by Webber is next on my mind.


Sheri Trentlage


  1. I am the owner of the restaurant Garden Island Grille in Koloa, Kaua`i.

  2. Cook, James, and James King. A voyage to the Pacific Ocean, undertaken by the command of His Majesty, for making discoveries in the Northern Hemisphere. Performed under the direction of Captains Cook, Clerke, and Gore, in His Majesty’s ships the Resolution and Discovery in the years 1776, 1777, 1778, 1779, and 1780. Nicol & Cadell. 1784. Vol 2. Page 549.

  3. National Survey of Historic Sites and Buildings, 5/24/1962, Application (3 pages)

  4. 8/28/1969 Biennial Visit Report (3 pages),

  5. Thrum, Thomas G. The Hawaiian Almanac and Annual for 1907. Published by the compiler. 1906. Reprinted by Forgotten Books. 2015. Page 69 and plate I.

  6. Bennett, Wendell Clark. Archaeology of Kauai. Bernice P Bishop Museum. 1931. Bulletin no. 80. Pages 41-43.

  7. Cook and King. op. cit. Pages 195-203.

  8. Fitzpatrick, Gary L. The Early Mapping of Hawai`i. Editions Limited. 1986.

  9. Alexander Buchan drew “A View of the Endeavour’s Watering Place in the Bay of Good Success”, Tierra del Fuego. Illustrated in The Art of Captain Cook’s Voyages, Volume one: The Voyage of the Endeavour 1768 – 1771. By Rüdiger Joppien and Bernard Smith. Published by Yale University Press. 1985. Plate 10.

  10. Blay, Chuck and Siemers, Robert. Kauai’s Geologic History: a simplified guide. TEOK Investigations. 2004. Page 86.

  11. David, Andrew. The Charts and Coastal Views of Captain Cook’s Voyages. Volume three: The Voyage of the Resolution and Discovery 1776-1778. Hakluyt Society. 1997. Pages 102-112.

  12. Thrum. op. cit. Plate I. Also, page 414 in The Art of Captain Cook’s Voyages, Volume three: The Voyage of the Resolution and Discovery 1776-1778. By Rüdiger Joppien and Bernard Smith. Published by Yale University Press. 1988.

  13. Cook and King op. cit.
    Holmes, Christine. Captain Cook’s Final Voyage: The Journal of Midshipman George Gilbert. Caliban Books. 1982.
    Munford, James Kenneth Ledyard. John Ledyard’s Journal of Captain Cook’s Last Voyage. Oregon State University Press. 1963.
    Rickman, John. Journal of Captain Cook’s Last Voyage to the Pacific Ocean, on Discovery. Nico Israel / Da Capo Press / Frank Cass. 1967. Facsimile of London 1781 edition. Bibliotheca Australiana series, no 16.

  14. Makaweli Reef is the only reef indicated on the chart “Kaua`i Approaches to Waimea Bay” produced by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Chart 19386. WGS 1984. NA Datum 1983.

  15. Cook and King. op. cit. Page 210.

  16. Colonial Registers and Royal Navy Logbooks (CORRAL) at http://archive.ceda.ac.uk/corral/ Relevant logs for Cook’s Third Voyage are at http://archive.ceda.ac.uk/corral/adm55/adm55_index.html

  17. https://babel.hathitrust.org

  18. USGS Waimea Bay Topographical map 2007 https://www.trails.com/usgs-topo-makaweli-river-stream-topographic-map-362096.html

  19. Burney, David A. Back to the future in the caves of Kaua`i: a scientist’s adventures in the dark. Yale University Press. 2011. Page 62.

  20. CORRAL. op. cit. Log numbers 146 and 147.

  21. Fitzpatrick. op. cit. Pages 13-24.

  22. David. op. cit. Page 105.

  23. CORRAL. op. cit. Log numbers 21 and 24.

  24. Cook and King. op. cit. Page 254.

  25. Cook and King. op. cit. Page 223.

  26. David. op. cit. Pages 102-112.

  27. CORRAL. op. cit. Williamson’s journal (146, 147), Bayly’s journal (20), Edgar’s Log (21,24).

  28. NOAA. op. cit.

  29. CORRAL. op. cit. Log numbers 21 and 24.

  30. Barnett, James K. Captain Cook’s Final Voyage: the untold story from the journals of James Burney and Henry Roberts. WSU Press. 2017. Page 245.

Originally published in Cook's Log, page 27, volume 41, number 4 (2018).

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I have read that Cook sailed pat Mahaulepu and Koloa Landing before heading to Waimea. Hthe Manaka Maoli from Koloa rowed out and traded with the crew.
By Ada Koene on 3/4/2019 11:21:34 PM Like:0 DisLike:0
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Is the pond you describe the old fish pond behind the beach. Down by the old Robinson Plantation property?. Where the locals now go to surf?
By Alan Hoviland on 2/19/2019 5:02:04 AM Like:0 DisLike:0

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