By Jan TenBruggencate
It has long been assumed that Captain James Cook’s 1778 landing on Kaua‘i was at Waimea, near where his statue stands in Waimea town today, but a new analysis suggests he may have anchored one bay to the east.
And when his crew rolled casks ashore for fresh water, they may have collected it at an inland freshwater fishpond, not the Waimea River.
Koloa researcher Sheri Trentlage conducted a thorough review of the documents available, including maps done by Cook’s cartographer, drawings by his artist, calculations by his astronomer and journals by Cook and his crew.
Her conclusion is that Cook’s crew certainly anchored off Waimea in March 1779, after Cook was killed on Hawai‘i Island.
But she said the evidence suggests that when Cook first visited Kaua‘i in January 1778, his ships were actually a couple of miles up the coast, at Ho‘anuanu Bay — near the surf spot that today is called Pakalas and the boat landing spot now known as Makaweli Landing.
Trentlage points to numerous pieces of evidence.
One is the actual calculated locations of the navigators aboard Cook’s ships.
“As the data came together, I found that the data points were grouped together in two areas on the map — one in front of Ho‘anuanu Bay and the other directly in front of Waimea,” Trentlage wrote.
The journals note that the sand color was different at the two visits, and indeed, the sand in Ho‘anuanu Bay is yellow-brown and from a coralline origin, while the sand west of the rivermouth is gray, from the ground-up basalt rock washed down the river.
When Cook sent his empty water casks ashore to be filled, he reported he found a freshwater pond. There wasn’t such a pond at Waimea, but there was such a pond inland from Ho‘anuanu Bay.
Historians have assumed Cook actually watered in the Waimea River. A couple of problems with that: Cook was clearly a keen observer and would have known a freshwater pond from a river; and the Waimea River can be brackish near the shore, while Cook reported the water was perfectly drinkable.
He wrote: “I stationed a guard upon the beach, and got some of the natives to conduct me to the water, which proved to be very good and in a proper situation for our purpose. It was so considerable that it may be called a lake.”
There are some issues with the description, since Cook goes on to say that the lake “extended farther up the country than we could see.” The fishpond inland of the Ho`anuanu sandy beach was an elongated pond, now mostly silted in, but you can clearly see across it lengthwise.
That said, it was January, in the wet season, and it is certainly possible that the low areas around the pond were flooded.
Trentlage’s research adds to the Cook legend, and her paper on her work has been published by the Captain Cook Society. https://www.captaincooksociety.com/home/detail/where-did-cook-land-on-the-island-of-kauai
- Jan TenBruggencate is a Kaua‘i based writer and communications consultant.