Traveling to the North Shore, past Hanalei and beyond the single-lane entrance at Waikoko, is an experience like going through a time machine. In many ways it’s like going back to a time when life was more simple, when there were less people, and you could get a parking spot at any beach, anytime. Nowadays people seem to be stopping to talk more often, getting to know each other better, now that there’s less distracting hustle and bustle. Damage to Kuhio Highway from Waikoko to Wainiha and people’s homes due to the April flood may have been devastating, but a certain compassion and stronger sense of community has developed because of it. Wainiha and Haena have always been strong, tight-knit communities, only made stronger by adversity they faced.
Now the single-lane entrance at Waikoko, via the convoy system, is the gateway to the places Wainiha and Haena have become during this post-flood time. The convoy system is also a gateway to a better understanding of what it’s like to live in the area right now.
It is not uncommon to hear someone say, “Wow, I’m in a rush. I just got off work and I have to go right now to get on the next convoy. I missed it last time but this time I got to make it!”
Often a person will sigh and reply, “That’s convoy life.”
Rushing to make it on time to get home through the convoy is something that all Wainiha and Haena residents deal with. Adapting the convoy schedule into one’s own personal schedule is not easy, especially in combination with work, family, school and other obligations.
Fortunately, waiting in the line of cars to get through the convoy can have its perks, though. Sometimes there’s even food.
In Waipa signs advertise delicious takeout meals that can be purchased by those waiting in line, and often read something like, “Chicken Curry Dinner, 5:30 Convoy.”
Currently only residents are allowed to pass through the convoy to Wainiha and Haena. Visitors and even residents from other places on island are not allowed to drive through.
The convoy system is a solution to driving through a perilous road ravaged by several landslides. With help from escort drivers, a single line of cars travels slowly and safely from Waikoko to Wainiha. One escort leads the way in a designated work vehicle while a second one follows the line from behind. The road is closed to vehicles from around 8 in the morning until noon every day except Sunday and holidays. The current convoy schedule is designed to allow road construction workers space and time necessary to repair the highway as quickly as possible.
Though the convoy system isn’t perfect and many find the system frustrating, it is much more convenient and safe to travel now than it was before the road reopened. For a few weeks after the flood, the only way to get out of the area was to travel on foot or by watercraft, ranging from catamarans to fishing boats, kayaks and canoes, just to name a few. Monitoring the ocean swells to know when it was safe to travel by water was a must, and people were ferried in and out of the area in this way.
Will Stewart lives in Haena and points out that road construction has to get done for progress to be made. Stewart said, “It is what it is. There’s not much you can do about it. I’m not one of those people who wants more convoy times.”
The convoy experience is different for everyone, though, and some consider it very stressful and dislike the lack of convoy times from the early morning until noon.
Phyllis Hopeck, who lives in Wainiha, said of the convoy: “It’s changed everybody’s lives.” She laughed and explained, “I have to be on time and I hate being on time. And in some ways it’s like we’re on an island in an island.”
She continued, “Kids and people who have to go to work, take those kids to school, they have been impacted.” But, she added on a positive note, “The locals have their home back, the community is getting together in a new way. It’s inconvenient, we’re isolated, but we have our own personal paradise.”
Monique Rowan is a writer, artist and mother, and lives on the North Shore. Hanalei is her hometown. She also has a love for community radio, running, and learning about language and culture.