Future of Maha’ulepu in hands of land owner

By all accounts, the Maha’ulepu shoreline remains the last significant undeveloped coastal area near a major Kaua’i population center.

At one time, land owner Grove Farm proposed resort development along the pristine coast, a revelation that caused much community discord.

Many people, residents of the South Shore and those living elsewhere, feared development of a resort hotel and golf course near Keoniloa Bay (now the Hyatt Regency Kauai Resort & Spa and Poipu Bay Golf Course) would naturally lead to more resort development further eastward.

So far, that hasn’t happened, and Grove Farm has no firm plans for development at Maha’ulepu.

Those not holding title to the land, including Gov. Ben Cayetano, have other ideas. Cayetano has toured the area, and at one time was reported to be considering trying to acquire the area for addition to his vision of a “string of pearls” of coastal recreational areas across the state that could be enjoyed for generations of residents and visitors in perpetuity.

The Sierra Club has similar visions, and its plans to keep the area a scenic wild coastline, also out of private ownership, have not totally stalled, either.

Over a year ago, the Kaua’i County Council unanimously passed a resolution supporting preservation of Maha’ulepu.

Access to the area, which includes important recreational, historical and archaeological sites, is both changed and unchanged over the years.

Day access is allowed over private roads owned and maintained by Grove Farm, which is now owned by Steve Case, founder of America Online, whose grandfather Hib Case was once Grove Farm’s treasurer.

Camping is no longer allowed, and a gate along the only accessible road leading to the coastline is locked every night, said Allan A. Smith, Grove Farm vice president.

We allow people on the property free of charge, he said, but because of previous problems with vandalism, people leaving litter on the beaches and near the beaches, and other problems, a decision was made over a decade ago to limit access to day use only.

“It got too wild, uncontrollable, with vehicles on the beach, and trash and fires, and people living there. So that was our reason for disallowing overnight stays,” he said.

“We don’t permit access after dark for safety and vandalism and those kind of reasons,” he said.

A majority of the people going in during the day are visitors, and there are no bathroom facilities there, he continued.

“On foot, they come in along the coastline trail,” from the area near Poipu Bay Golf Course, he said.

Day uses include commercial activities including horseback riding, bicycle tours, van tours, hiking tours, photography tours, and similar excursions. “So it’s a nice playground out there,” Smith said.

“It’s a wonderful place to frolic in the sun and the wind,” and remains popular among windsurfers and parasurfers, he added.

John R.K. Clark, in his book, “Hawai’i Place Names: Shores, Beaches and Surf Sites,” says the Maha’ulepu area is a beach, petroglyph site and windsurfing site along Kaua’i’s South Shore.

It is a narrow, two-mile calcareous sand beach between Punahoa and Pa’o’o points. Most of the recreational activity, including windsurfing, is concentrated at Pa’o’o Point, according to Clark.

The center of the beach is known as Gillin’s Beach, named for Elbert Gillin, a long-time Grove Farm supervisor who moved to Kaua’i in 1925 and was construction foreman for the Ha’upu Ridge tunnel. The home he built near the beach is the only dwelling for miles around.

At Gillin’s Beach, petroglyphs carved into the soft beach-rock shelves are exposed only during severe high-surf storms that scour the sand off the shelves. The petroglyphs are also known as the Rainbow Petroglyphs, because Native Hawaiians claimed they were drawn to the petroglyphs by rainbows, after severe storms exposed the petroglyphs in early 1980. A few weeks later, the petroglyphs were covered in sand once again.

From Clark’s book “Beaches of Kaua’i and Ni’ihau,” he says Maha’ulepu “is of great scientific importance, to archaeologists, biologists and geologists.”

Many pre-contact archaeological sites were destroyed when the area was cleared for sugar cane cultivation, but remaining sites indicate the area was once well-populated, Clark wrote.

In the sand dunes are fossil remains of extinct birds, including three species of goose, a long-legged owl, and a flightless rail. Lots of native plants remain in the area, also.

The place name means, literally, “falling together.”

Staff Writer Paul C. Curtis can be reached at mailto:pcurtis@pulitzer.net or 245-3681 (ext. 224).

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