Ka Lae, the southernmost point of Hawaiʻi Island, feels palpably unwelcoming, yet hauntingly peaceful. It is mostly an empty grassland fringed by restless rocky shores all scoured by relentless wind. Standing near the actual point, you can imagine the ancient Polynesians landing here, fighting violent surf after months at sea to arrive at...this. But, despite the challenges, early Hawaiians made South Point their home, their legacy found in rock walls, mooring holes and burial sites scattered throughout the area.
One of the things that kept people here is the confluence of ocean currents just offshore which make South Point one of Hawaiʻi's most bountiful fishing grounds. It's also one of the most dangerous: the Halaʻea current doesn't hit land again until Antarctica. It was named after a greedy chief who regularly confiscated other people's hard-earned catches. A group of fed-up fishermen decided to answer his demands by simultaneously filling his canoe with every last fish. His boat capsized and the chief was carried away by the current to face his watery judgment.
On land, keep an eye out for the endangered ʻohai shrub, a member of the pea family. Its oval leaf clusters smell like tangerines and its flowers are often used to make leis.