The Kuhio Highway closure is over. But to cut down on the effects of overtourism on Kauai’s northern coast, the number of visitors is being limited.
After 50 inches of rain fell in just 24 hours in April 2018, resulting floods and mudslides washed out the northern part of Kauai’s Kuhio Highway. Since then, a two-mile section of the Hawaiian island’s 28-mile long highway, which serves as the only access point to its famed Napali Coast, has been closed to the public.
On June 17, 2019, following 14 months of construction, the highway has finally reopened, which means that Haena State Park—including both Kee and Tunnels beaches as well as the trailhead for the Kalalau Trail—can be accessed once again. But don’t all go rushing back at once: To ensure that the area isn’t overrun with tourists, the state is limiting the number of visitors.
The Haena State Park Master Plan, which is in effect now that the road is open, says that only 900 visitors a day will be permitted to enter the park; it had previously welcomed an estimated 3,000 people per day before the highway closed last year. In order to control visitation, non–Hawaii residents will need to make advance reservations and pay a small fee now to enter Haena State Park via car, foot, bike, or by the new Kauai North Shore Shuttle. Day hikers who want to access the Kalalau Trail will also need to make reservations and secure an additional camping permit ($20/night) if they wish to do the entire 22-mile round-trip hike.
Park reservations, which can be made online, will cost $1 per person or $5 per vehicle and can be made up to 14 days in advance. The new parking lot at the park will have room for just 100 cars, 30 of which will be set aside for locals. To eliminate illegal parking alongside the highway, $200 fines will be enforced. Visitors are encouraged to take the Kauai North Shore Shuttle, which operates two loops—one between the Princeville Makai Golf Club and Haena State Park and another from Waipa Farmer Market Park and Ride to Haena State Park.
Despite the new rules, the highway’s reopening is not without controversy.
On the morning of June 18, Kauai residents blocked tourists from entering the reopened stretch of highway by forming a human chain, the Honolulu Star Advertiser reported. While police eventually made them clear the road and allow people in, they remained along the roadside to protest the reintroduction of tourists, who have been accused of bad behaviors in the past, including speeding, parking illegally, and causing damage to the reefs along the coast.
Before the new rules, “We saw cars parking on either side of the road, literally anywhere they wanted to,” Chipper Wichman, who runs Limahuli Garden and Preserve, told Hawaii News Now. “And in some cases, the fire trucks and emergency response vehicles could not even get through the illegally parked cars.”
“This is a rural community that has suffered tremendously and it will take traveling lightly, slowly, and respectfully to help them transition back to the large number of visitors that are now accessing the area,” Sue Kanoho, executive director of the Kauai Visitors Bureau, told Hawaii Magazine.
To help visitors educate themselves on how to visit the area sustainably, the tourism board is encouraging guests to read and sign the Aloha Pledge, a code of conduct created by a coalition of local organizations that includes tips for respecting the area’s natural beauty and the people who live there.