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Southern Accents: Exploring the Big Island's remote South Point

Though raised on the Big Island, I had never visited the 710-acre peninsula most locals simply call South Point. That wasn’t an odd thing. Located at the end of a 20-mile, single-lane road marked by blind turns and, near its end, rental-car-rattling ancient asphalt, Ka Lae (“the point,” in Hawaiian) is the definition of off-the-beaten-path destination on an island loaded with such places.

Ka Lae is located at the end of this 20-mile single-lane road, marked by blind turns and, a few miles south of where this photo was taken, rental-car-rattling ancient asphalt.

Still, even with zero visitor amenities, Ka Lae is for the ever-curious Big Island traveler, a virtually untouched, blessedly tranquil wilderness area rich with its own unique history, both ancient and recent.

The walls of Kalalea Heiau. Beyond it, due south? No land for 7,000 miles until Antarctica.

Archaeological work in the Ka Lae area, a designated National Historic Landmark District since 1962, has produced the longest and most complete historical record of human occupation in the Islands. Ocean voyagers from the Marquesas Islands, more than 2,000 miles southeast of Hawaii, are believed to have settled at Ka Lae as early as 124 A.D. Though no one resides at Ka Lae now—its acreage is owned by the Department of Hawaiian Home Lands—foundations of ancient stone heiau (shrines) and home sites are still found along the coastline, which is as productive a fishing ground now as it was millennia ago due to swift currents around the point. One of the most well-preserved of the area’s remaining heiau, Kalalea, perched on a dirt dune overlooking the rugged lava shoreline of Ka Lae’s southernmost landfall, is believed to have honored Kuula, a Hawaiian fish deity.

Kealako Bay, looking north from Ka Lae.

If your visit to Ka Lae isn’t prompted by sightseeing or a hike to Papakolea “Green Sand” Beach, two miles north on the point’s east-facing coastline, chances are you’ve arrived to do some fishing. The intersecting ocean currents that make Ka Lae’s due south offshore waters dangerous for nearly all ocean activities make it one of the state’s best, if most remote, places for shoreline fishing.

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Check out these related HawaiiMagazine.com posts:
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