Saturday, Dec. 2, 2023 |
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There is and always has been something unique and indescribably beautiful about sunsets at Kee Beach.
There is — and always has been — something unique and indescribably beautiful about sunsets at Ke‘e Beach.
I’d been in withdrawal for more than two years until last weekend. Withdrawal BEFORE the floods of April and May because, like many on Kauai, I’d found it nearly impossible for residents to visit Ke‘e.
For perhaps five years before the storms and the disaster whose effects are still clearly evident, the congestion and overtourism that gripped Ha‘ena State Park made it impossible to park at the end of the road and, even if parking was available, the throngs were simply too overwhelming.
Since the storms, of course, access to Ke‘e has been constrained by legal limitations necessarily imposed by Kauai County. However, as someone who writes things for this newspaper, I have had occasional professional need to visit the area west of Hanalei and have been to Ke‘e a few times since last April. But those visits were always during daylight, queuing for the convoy in late afternoon once I finished whatever business took me out there.
So it was not until the first weekend in April that I permitted myself the luxury of a visit to the end of the road for sunset. The contrast with more normal times was palpable. When I got there, about 6 p.m., the lifeguard station — as normal — as closed and there were, literally, two cars in the parking area, with a dozen people — not including my wife, me and a friend who lives in Ha‘ena — on the beach waiting for the spectacular orange vista to materialize.
As it inevitably does, the sun dipped closer and closer to the water, plunged in and, having decided not to produce a green flash that night, vanished into the afterglow and transitioned into twilight. There’s a picture of it with this column, shot just when the last moments have arrived in which the entire round sunscape can be seen.
There was a smattering of applause and then the tiny crowd packed up blankets and towels and headed for the exit to the parking lot.
It felt comforting to see it again from the end of the road. But since the road and the park are planned to reopen between now and early June, it was also a reminder of how political it can be to watch sunset at Ke‘e — because of the inherent politics of determining how many people will be permitted to visit Ha‘ena State Park every day.
Will local residents be able to decide on the spur of the moment to head to Ke‘e for sunset and be able to park and enjoy what they see? Will visitors, having competed for parking access, avoided the $200 parking tickets or found space on any of the shuttles have the same privilege to sit on the beach at the end of the road and take in the serene scene?
I truly hope the answer to both of these questions is yes. The tranquility and beauty of Ke‘e at sunset is not anyone’s property.
“Upheaval” does not do justice to the degree of change many of us will see as we contemplate visiting the end of the road. The road itself, when it reopens to two-way, unescorted traffic, will be noticeably patched up. Landscapes and hillsides have been forever altered by the storms and their aftermath.
Parking will inevitably be a contentious topic for some time to come, even with dozens of forceful and strident no parking signs newly installed along Kuhio Highway.
It has been observed widely that locals who live in Ha‘ena have become accustomed to having the place to themselves and that some of them would deny more general access for tourists, in particular. I hope we can arrive at a balance that lets a broad cross section of people continue to enjoy and admire Ke‘e at sunset but respects the need of the land to be less trammeled.
The state Department of Land and Natural Resources has almost finished work on a boardwalk and hiking trail that will run from the Ha‘ena State Park parking lot to the beach. The actual end of the road itself will be gated and closed off to parking by anyone other than people with valid disabled placards. There will be a new lot — reservation only for visitors, but, with any luck, with space reserved for locals to visit at will.
The boardwalk will present a longer, more leisurely way to get to the beach than visitors have experienced previously. It has been carefully laid out to take visitors over the lo‘i and through the trees to the sand.
Like that of most places on the island, Ke‘e’s allure is cross cultural. To Native Hawaiian cultural practitioners, it’s holy ground. To those of us fortunate enough to live here but who have no claim to Native Hawaiian heritage — the group known in some quarters as haoles, of which I’m one — Ke‘e is sacred in that any place of such beauty and inherent tranquility must be honored.
It is a place many revere, some find holy and whose beauty all who visit acknowledge. As the moment arrives when the end of the road will reopen for business as usual — albeit drastically changed — perhaps we can all focus on the unity Ke‘e gives us.
Allan Parachini is a journalist, furniture maker, Kilauea resident and former public relations executive who writes periodically for The Garden Island.
At least you finally acknowledged that you’re a transplant.
Sounds like locals will be left out. “There will be a new lot — reservation only for visitors, but, with any luck, with space reserved for locals to visit at will.”
We pay for it, but we can’t use it? Thanks a lot, government! The parking isn’t even ready yet, but they are opening the road? Locals, as per usual, are left out!!! THIS IS NOT RIGHT! In fact, it seems illegal!!!
I live in the UK and own a timeshare on Kauai. I have visited regularly since 2004, until the last couple of years when family issues have prevented me from visiting. I often travel to Kauai alone, with the highlight of each trip being early morning strolls along Ke’e beach, often not passing another soul until an hour or two later. I’d spend hours snorkelling and laying in the sun by the lagoon, taking in the natural beauty and for some reason it felt like my spiritual home. I was saddened to hear of the floods and the park being closed. I totally agree that locals should still have open access and visitors need to be restricted but I really hope the magic of that special place will not be lost forever by these restrictions.
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