Overview of Kawaihae, Hawai‘i

The small village of Kawaihae is situated just to the north of the deep draft harbor and is home to the Kawaihae Canoe Club, a small boat basin, shops, restaurants, art galleries and just south of the ship harbor you will find the Pua ‘Ilima o Kawaihae Cultural Surf Park and the Pu‘ukoholā Heiau National Historic Site and  the new Kawaihae South Small Boat Harbor, home of Kohala Sail & Sea.

Kawaihae has one of the most fascinating histories in all Hawai‘i. Kawaihae served as the principal residence of King Kamehameha the Great from 1790 to 1794, the iconic ruler who unified the Hawaiian Islands. He built Pu‘ukoholā Heiau here, the massive temple you can see above the new harbor. From this massive temple, Kamehameha the Great plotted his conquest, and launched his war canoes from Kawaihae Bay, thereby fulfilling the prophecy that he would one day rule all Hawai‘i. You can learn more about his potent, powerful temple by visiting Pu‘ukoholā Heiau National Historic Site.

Kawaihae’s naturally sheltered bay was considered one of the more suitable commercial harbors for western ships on Hawai‘i, the Big Island. Its harbor and proximity to the fertile uplands of Waimea ensured its status as an important stopover for many early European voyagers and merchantmen needing to make repairs and resupply their ships during the early period of the Kingdom of Hawai‘i. King Kamehameha lived in the royal compound on the shoreline and his British advisor John Young resided in the vicinity of Kawaihae with his family. Young’s home is believed to be the first western-style house in Hawai‘i, and the ruins of his homestead remain there. Another British explorer, George Vancouver, the first to successfully anchor off Kawaihae Bay (1793), paid a visit to King Kamehameha and John Young and gave the king cattle, introducing the species for the first time to Hawai‘i. After the development of Parker Ranch by John Palmer Parker, Kawaihae served as the main center for loading and shipping cattle and beef in Hawai‘i. It was in Kawaihae, April 1, 1820, that the first company of American missionaries to Hawai‘i arrived aboard the Thaddeus and set foot on the islands. Kawaihae thrived for the duration of the sandalwood trade and the whaling age.

In the late 1950s, the United States Army Corps of Engineers dredged the bay and built the protective break wall to accommodate the modern shipping trade.