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As Kaua?i's K?hi? Highway Reopens, Community Braces for Influx of Visitors

Department of Land and Natural Resources

The highway beyond Hanalei on Kaua?i’s North Shore is officially open to the public today. K?hi? 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 H??ena and Wainiha residents can drive freely along K?hi? 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 H??ena 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 H??ena State Park. Sue Kanoho, head of the Kaua?i 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 Maka?ala Ka?aumoana 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 Ka?aumoana.

Parking is prohibited along the last two miles of K?hi? Highway, with fines for violations as high as $400. Shuttle services to H??ena 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 H??ena landmarks like K??? Beach or Hanakap??ai Falls, parking is limited at H??ena 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.

Ka?aumoana 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 Ka?aumoana, “And we’re hoping that respect will rule the day.”

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

Kuʻuwehi Hiraishi is a general assignment reporter at Hawaiʻi Public Radio. Her commitment to her Native Hawaiian community and her fluency in ʻōlelo Hawaiʻi has led her to build a de facto ʻōiwi beat at the news station. Send your story ideas to her at khiraishi@hawaiipublicradio.org.
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