Kawaihae, Hawaii on a protective wide bay on the northern part of the Big Island was the seat of the Kingdom of Hawaii during the times of usurper King Alapa’inuiakauaua. This King’s families, the Mahi’s were originally from the Kohala District. King Kalani’opu’u over threw Alapa’i’s son and moved the seat back to the Kona District where his family came from.
All the way back to the 1700s the geologically protected bay was considered the best spot for a commercial harbor for large ships to bring goods onto the Island and resupply stock for continued voyage. The surrounding area’s rich soil and potential for abundant crops proved to be vital in the early years.
February 6, 1779 was the first recorded sighting of Kawaihae, otherwise known as Too-yah-yah, by western explorers. James King, a captain under Captain Cook made the discovery. They were unable to anchor their ship and it forced them to return to Kealakekua Bay where Captain Cook was later murdered. James King returned to Kawaihae a couple months later but decided he wasn’t impressed with the development potential for future growth.
King Kamehameha the 1st lived in Kawaihae from 1790 to 1794 where he built the Puʻukoholā Heiau. During this time, King Kamehameha the 1st plotted out his conquest of the remaining islands in the archipelago.
The first Ship to successfully anchor off Kawaihae Bay was British explorer, George Vancouver on February 14, 1793. Vancouver met with King Kamehameha and John Young (The King’s British advisor) and as a gesture of good will he gave the King a good sized herd of cattle. This was the beginning of the cattle industry on the Big Island that expanded with Parker Ranch by John Palmer Parker. The Parker Ranch was the largest cattle ranch in the world for some time. Kawaihae was the most important harbor for the loading and shipping of cattle and beef in Hawaii.
On April 1, 1820 the first missionaries came to Hawaii by way of Kawaihae Bay aboard the Thaddeus. They later started the Mokuaikaua Church founded by Asa and Lucy Goodale Thurston.
Fast forward to 1957, the US Army Corps of Engineers dredged out the harbor and built the breakwall that still protects the harbor to this day and was completed in 1959.
In 1970, construction of a small boat harbor began with a load of charges detonated that would be equivalent to a small nuclear bomb to clear out the coral. It is located to the south of the main harbor entrance and was done by several partnered entities under the name of Project Tugboat.
Today the town is bustling with commerce as home to one of the two major ports on the island that cargo ships frequent daily. There are restaurant and gift shops and public access to the bay. If you are having anything shipped by boat to the island or leaving the island it will likely all begin with Kawaihae. Join us as we continue to explore the Island of Hawaii!
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