The Convoy Life on Kauaʻi's North Shore

Dec 24, 2018

As road repairs continue following the April floods on Kaua'i's North Shore, local residents are limited to using one lane of Kuhio Highway and only during scheduled convoy times.
Credit Ku'uwehi Hiraishi

The last several miles of road along Kauaʻi’s North Shore remain closed to the public since the April flood. Local residents are limited to commute along one lane of the highway and only during scheduled convoy times. HPR’s Kuʻuwehi Hiraishi hopped on a recent convoy up the coast and filed this report.

“Ok, this is what the public sees. At this point, you know. Road’s closed,” says North Shore community leader Makaʻala Kaʻaumoana.

The "Road Closed" sign along Kuhio Highway at the end in Hanalei. Traffic beyond this point has been limited to local traffic since the April floods.
Credit Ku'uwehi Hiraishi

She invited me past the road closure at the end of Hanalei. Traffic to Hāʻena and Wainiha has been limited to local residents since April, when heavy rains and flooding took out major portions of Kūhiō Highway.

“So the scaredy cat tourists stop there you know where we want them to stop,” says Kaʻaumoana, “But many don’t, they just keep going.”

Local traffic is limited to one lane of the highway and only during scheduled convoy times. We arrive at the convoy checkpoint about three miles in.

HIRAISHI: I’ve seen tourists go past that first road closure.

KAʻAUMOANA: But they canʻt get past the checkpoint here. See I have a sticker here. So that gets us in. Yeah, it isnʻt my smiling face that gets me past this entry gate.

North Shore community leader Maka'ala Ka'aumoana says there's an internal conflict for a lot of local residents when it comes to the convoy. Their lives are governed by the convoy's strict schedule but limiting traffic to local residents has given their community a chance to recover.

We’re the fifth car in line for the 1pm convoy. There’s a security guard shack up ahead with two guards. Cars start pulling up behind us. Work trucks with piles of dirt coming from the opposite direction.

KUʻUWEHI: So this is the convoy?

KAʻAUMOANA: Yeah, so this is in fact the convoy coming out.

After about 20 minutes or so we get the okay from security to pass. We drive around the bend and spot landslide zones and repair sites. Tree trimmers are working overhead.  

This is one of eight repair sites along the seven-mile stretch of Kuhio Highway on Kaua'i's North Shore. Here, workers stabilize this slope near Kepuhi by scaling back the mountain and installing soil nails for stability.
Credit Ku'uwehi Hiraishi

“So the road went away here,” says Kaʻaumoana, “They’re having to cut the jungle back because with all that less traffic. This road went completely away. So they had to rebuild an entire lane. With all the reduced activity, the jungle started to take over again.”

Turning into Kepuhi, we spot what Kaʻaumoana says is the worst of the landslides. Workers scale the mountain, loading dirt and boulders into trucks. We can see the next convoy lined-up waiting to head to town. The convoy has been a way of life for residents like Erlette Smith.

“Well, it wasn’t easy at first,” says Smith, “Nobody likes sitting in line two to three hours trying to do something.”

Smith echoes the sentiments of many North Shore residents adjusting to convoy life.

Local residents line-up for the 5pm convoy back into Hanalei from Ha'ena. On weekdays, there are three scheduled convoys in the morning, two mid-day, and six in the afternoon and night. Weekends include more convoys times.
Credit Ku'uwehi Hiraishi

“If you have grocery shopping, everybody has a cooler or cooler bag because you don’t know how long it’s going to take you,” says Smith.

On the other hand, says Kaʻaumoana, six months of limiting traffic to local residents has had a positive effect on the coast.

Before the flood, these communities would see as many as 3,500 cars a day drive out to enjoy the beaches and hikes along the coast. 

The view of the Na Pali Coast from a nearly empty Ke'e Beach at the end of the road on Kaua'i's North Shore. Prior to the flood, this beach would be packed with locals and visitors alike.
Credit Ku'uwehi Hiraishi

“See that’s the conflict. That’s the conflict. Their lives are governed by this convoy. They don’t have the services. They don’t have independence,” says Kaʻaumoana, “But they have privacy. They have their place back and they see and feel the recovery of the resources.”

We have another three hours before the next convoy back into town. Reaching the end of the road, we arrive to a nearly empty Kēʻē Beach.