Captain Cook's little corner of Hawaii under threat from new golf course

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A memorial to Captain James Cook on a small patch of British-owned land in Hawaii is being threatened by plans to turn a tract of coastal wilderness into homes for millionaires.

A memorial to Captain James Cook on a small patch of British-owned land in Hawaii is being threatened by plans to turn a tract of coastal wilderness into homes for millionaires.

The Cook monument in a conservation area at remote Kealakekua Bay is at the centre of a battle to stop development overtaking Hawaii's biggest island, as it has elsewhere in the state.

The site contains burial grounds for tribal chiefs, prehistoric ruins and areas sacred in traditional culture. The plans have been compared to building an exclusive estate next to Stonehenge.

Captain Cook was thought to be a god of harvest when he landed at Kealakekua Bay in 1778 while a religious ceremony was taking place. The opposition to development of the surrounding Keopuka area has united traditional Hawaiian culture with Western "incomers" and environmentalists.

The plan by an Arizona developer, Lyle Anderson, who part-owns the Loch Lomond Golf Club in Scotland, is for 125 $2m-plus (£1.4m) homes and a golf course on a 600-acre site. It would be within half a mile of the Cook memorial and the bay. Opponents fear it will restrict access, pollute the pristine waters and desecrate the graves of locals' ancestors.

An environmental impact assessment ,which the development company, Pacific Star, is required to make, has received 1,400 responses from opponents. The company has delayed a formal applicationuntil next year.

The number of responses is unprecedented for a development in Hawaii and the campaign has led to hundreds of people attending often heated public meetings in what residents say is normally a placid community. Some opponents have even written to the British Foreign Office, asking the Government to lend support to a campaign to protect a memorial to a great British explorer.

Ken Shepphard, a coffee farmer born in Goole, East Yorkshire, who now lives in Dragon Lair's Farm, near the bay, said there was real anger at the prospect of handing one of Hawaii's most beautiful, atmospheric and historic areas to property developers.

"The development would be a gated golf course community for the super rich. The Captain Cook memorial and the jetty would be an extension of this playground for this rich community," he said. "People in Hawaii enjoy a benign climate and they like to enjoy the ocean and do their own thing but the developers are now keeping on pushing things and trampling over the sensitivities of the Hawaiians. It has got to the point where enough is enough."

Gus Brocksen, who lives seven miles from Kealakekua Bay, wrote to the Foreign Office in August, warning of the "pending disaster". He said the land was regarded as sacred. "Can you imagine a gated community built around Stonehenge in such a manner?"

The vice-president of Pacific Star, Dick Frye, conceded that the development had inflamed emotions and said the formal application had been delayed so that there could be further consultation with the community. But he denied the development would have an impact on the Cook memorial as it would not be visible from the bay. He said the monument had always been difficult to get to by land and the development would improve access to the bay area by providing a new route to the ocean.

He claimed the scale of opposition had been exaggerated by the involvement of the Sierra Club environmental campaign organisation but accepted that many people had genuine concerns. "It is real emotion. It is a story that is near and dear to everyone in Hawaii. We don't have a direct impact on the monument but it is in the general area of it and that has focused attention on the history and culture of the whole area," Mr Frye said.

The memorial, a 27ft concrete obelisk, marks the place where Captain Cook died, aged 49, in February 1779 when relations with the Hawaiians turned sour. His first arrival during a celebration involving more than 10,000 people led to him being lavished with gifts and hospitality. But when he returned after being driven back by storms during an attempt to find a north-west passage there was a series of thefts from his ship, The Resolution, which culminated in a fight over a cutter in which Captain Cook and four marines died.

The monument was erected in 1874 and the land was bought by the British consul general in Hawaii in 1877 for $1. It has since been maintained by the Royal Navy and ships from allied fleets, as well as by a caretaker paid by the British embassy in Washington. There is some doubt over whether the monument strictly belongs to the Government or the descendants of the consul who bought it and it is believed some in the Foreign Office would welcome a developer who would guarantee its upkeep and access from the sea.

A Foreign Office spokesman said: "The precise legal status of the land on which the Cook memorial stands is uncertain."

Ian Boreham, editor of the Captain Cook Study Unit's quarterly publication, said the Government should be supporting the campaign against the development to emphasise Britain's links with Hawaii. "Captain Cook did a great deal to bring Britain into the Pacific. To lose something like this would be extremely devastating because Britain's relationship with Hawaii is little-enough known as it is."