As Kauaʻi's Kūhiō Highway Reopens, Community Braces for Influx of Visitors

Jun 17, 2019

The new Kaua'i North Shore Shuttle makes its way into Ha'ena State Park along the newly-repaired Kuhio Highway. A blessing ceremony was held on June 5 to prepare for the reopening of the highway on June 17, 2019.
Credit Department of Land and Natural Resources

The highway beyond Hanalei on Kauaʻi’s North Shore is officially open to the public today. Kūhiō Highway has been closed for more than fourteen months to complete repairs following last year’s massive rain and flooding. While some residents are glad the roadway is open, others are bracing for the influx of visitors.

Today will be the first day in more than a year that Hāʻena and Wainiha residents can drive freely along Kūhiō Highway. While the road is open to tourists and outside residents, Mayor Derek Kawakami says communities along that coast are still recovering.

“Of course the lingering concern is just being respectful of what we just went through,” says Kawakami, “You know it’s one of the more heavily visited visitor destinations in the whole state. And if you ever go down there and see the beauty, you’ll be able to understand why. But it’s still a fragile community.”

Prior to the flood, the Hāʻena coast saw as many as 3,000 people a day. Now, the area is subject to daily visitor limits, currently capped at 900 visitors a day, and will require advanced reservations for tourists visiting the Hāʻena State Park. Sue Kanoho, head of the Kauaʻi Island Visitors Bureau, is confident tourists will adapt.

“I think those that respect the area, and understand what we’re trying to do which is to preserve the area for the future will abide by the rules and say I just have to plan a little bit extra,” says Kanoho.

Hanalei resident Makaʻala Kaʻaumoana doesn’t think everyone will follow the rules.

“So the picture that I think I’m getting of this reopening is a big rush of cars both visitors and locals who haven’t been out there and just want to see the road,” says Kaʻaumoana.

Parking is prohibited along the last two miles of Kūhiō Highway, with fines for violations as high as $400. Shuttle services to Hāʻena State Park are available – one for residents and another for residents and tourists.

Mayor Kawakami says enforcement of the restrictions will be a challenge.

“We always hope that most people are law-abiding citizens that will respect the law of the land and the rules that we’ve set in place,” says Kawakami.

For visitors to popular Hāʻena landmarks like Kēʻē Beach or Hanakapīʻai Falls, parking is limited at Hāʻena State Park to 100 cars. Thirty of those stalls are reserved for residents on a first-come, first-serve basis with no reservations required. Visitors will need to reserve the rest of the parking stalls online.

Kaʻaumoana of Hanalei thinks it will take time for people to adjust to the changes.

“It’s impossible to predict right? It’s the potential for good or for bad are both there,” says Kaʻaumoana, “And we’re hoping that respect will rule the day.”

Kaʻaumoana adds -- just because the highway is open, it shouldn't be a free for all.