HANALEI — Kyle and Jenny Serquinia were taking advantage of a relatively empty Kalapaki Beach on Monday afternoon, venturing up from their Poipu hotel to check out some of the rest of The Garden Island while they’re on Kauai for a week.
The Seattle couple planned to try paddleboarding in calm Kalapaki Bay, but over the weekend they joined hundreds of other tourists at Kauai’s new “end of the road” — Hanalei.
“It was really nice up there,” Kyle Serquinia said. “If the road would have been open we definitely would have gone further, but Hanalei was good.”
Since they’re staying in Poipu, the Serquinias said they’d been focused on that side of the island and really hadn’t heard much about the Kuhio Highway closure. When they thought about hiking, it was Waimea Canyon that came to mind, not the closed Napali Coast.
Visiting Waimea Canyon is also a main goal for Ariel and Matt Huszar, who are visiting Kauai for the second time from Knoxville, Tennessee.
“We’re finding lots to do and really enjoying the island,” Matt Huszar said. “We’re going kayaking on Wailua River today.”
With Ke‘e Beach and the Kalalau Trail closed, there are a few thousand tourists every day looking for somewhere else to go.
And reports from Hanalei to Hanapepe say those people are finding other things to do, putting money into the pockets of business owners elsewhere on the island and more stress on the island’s infrastructure as a whole.
“Yes, Kokee and Waimea Canyon have seen increases in hikers due to the closure of the Kalalau Trail,” said Sue Kanoho of the Kauai Visitors Bureau.
The Kalalau Lookout, at 4,000 feet, is now one of the few places people can now see Kalalau Valley and beach, which usually can be accessed either by sea or by an 11-mile trail along Kauai’s rugged Napali Coast.
Ridge trail hikes like Nualolo, Awaawapuhi, Honopu and Pihea all sport views of the valley — though they’re all moderately difficult trails, they’ve all gotten more popular.
And so has the gift shop at Kokee Museum, which is getting more business.
“There’s a lot more people on the hikes up here since the closure of the Kalalau,” said Rita Peeters from the gift shop at the Kokee Lodge. “It was a noticeable difference.”
April flood damage to highways and bridges along Kuhio Highway triggered a closure of Napali Coast State Wilderness Park and Haena State Park. Hiking the trail or camping at either Kalalau or Milolii could land you with a citation from the state Department of Land and Natural Resources.
Nearly five months after the torrential rains, repair work continues on Kuhio Highway, and the Kalalau Trail is still closed.
“Opening is both predicated on the reopening of Kuhio Highway and infrastructure (and) safety repairs and improvements at Haena State Park and trail repairs in the NaPali Coast State Wilderness Park,” said DLNR spokesman Dan Dennison.
DLNR refers curious people to the State Parks website, which says the trail will likely be closed for “an extended period of time,” with a reminder that boat transport to drop off passengers at Kalalau or Milolii camping areas is illegal, as are commercial guided camping trips to the area — whether by boat or hiking.
The website gives no indication of the extent of damages to the trail or anywhere within either of the state parks, and doesn’t give a timeline for opening of the area.
Poipu has been bustling with the usual summer activity, according to business owners, including those in The Shops at Kukuiula, though Stacie Chiba-Miguel, senior property manager for The Shops, said it’s hard to pinpoint if there’s been an activity increase due to North Shore closures.
“I haven’t heard from anyone that business increased specifically due to the closure of Kalalau, but it’s been a solid summer,” she said.
On the North Shore, business owners in Hanalei say they’ve become the new “end of the road” and have had a steady, albeit crowded summer, and the Princeville Community Association and Princeville residents say they’ve seen traffic at least double to places like Queen’s Bath.
Princeville is already looking at ways to create a safe and coherent community for both residents and visitors in a place where visitor rentals are on the rise.
“Vacationers don’t usually associate as well with the fabric of the community and they’re noisy at all hours, then you have the traffic and increased risk with the trail and the noise from cleaning the units,” said Princeville resident Randy Kotsol.
Kotsol lives near Queen’s Bath and is impacted by both the traffic to the trailhead and by the constant stream of noisy visitors in the home turned vacation rental next door.
“Where can we meet in the middle on this?” he asked.
Princeville Community Association General Manager Rory Enright said the PCA has been trying to document what they suspect is a large number of unregistered vacation rentals and does respond to neighborhood complaints with a warning and then a fine to the rental owner when those in the units get too rowdy.
Of the 11,037 condo units in Princeville, 491 are registered vacation rentals and 105 are registered long-term rentals. Of the estimated 760 lots in Princeville, 695 have houses built on them and of those houses 196 are registered as rentals — 137 of those being vacation rentals and 56 being long-term rentals.
The traffic from those vacation rentals is added to the heavily increased stream of visitors to Queen’s Bath and is creating congestion in the community.
“No doubt we’ve experienced an increase since the Kalalau closed,” Enright said. “Our infrastructure can’t keep up everything right now and we’re working on ways to manage it.”
Jessica Else, environment reporter, can be reached at 245-0452 and at firstname.lastname@example.org.