At dawn on January 18, 1778, English Captain James Cook sailed into the midst of an uncharted group of islands where he observed the island of O‘ahu first, and then Kaua‘i. The following morning, while sailing toward Kaua‘i, he also saw Ni‘ihau on the northwest horizon.
In the afternoon of the 19th, Cook reached the southeast coast of Kaua‘i off Kipu Kai, where Hawaiians launched canoes and paddled out to sea.
These Hawaiians would not come aboard, but they and the Tahitians on Cook’s ships were soon conversing and trading began. Brass medals and pieces of iron were lowered to them by rope. They, in turn, sent up sweet potatoes and fish. Cook observed no anchorage nearby, so he sailed along the southwestern coast of Kaua‘i about 1-1/2 miles from shore in search of one.
Along the way, Cook and his men saw wooded mountains and uplands planted in bananas and sugarcane. In open grassy plains, they noticed steep-sided thatched houses, plantations, and gardens. Crowds of Hawaiians gathered near villages in the hills and at the shore to watch the ships sail past.
By nightfall, Cook’s ships were close to Waimea, where about 60 houses clustered near the beach and perhaps 40 stood further inland.
On the morning of the 20th, Lieutenant Williamson, aboard a pinnace in search of water and a landing site, shot and killed a Hawaiian man attempting to steal the pinnace’s boat hook.
That same morning, a few Hawaiians came aboard Cook’s ships, and between 3 p.m. and 4 p.m., the Resolution and Discovery anchored off the mouth of the Waimea River. Cook then went ashore with a guard of 12 armed marines in three boats to meet hundreds of Hawaiians awaiting him with offerings of bananas, pigs, and kapa.