Haena State Park reopens to little fanfare

Photo by Allan Parachini

A line of vehicles forms at drivers enter the Ke‘e Beach parking lot Monday.

It may have been the ultimate soft opening.

At least that’s what Vivien Davenport, of Lihue — who said she was the first person at Ke‘e Beach at 4:45 a.m. Monday — had to say about the grand relaunch of Kuhio Highway and Haena State Park, which reopened after a lingering shutdown of more than a year.

There was no ceremony. No cutting of a ribbon. No gate swinging open. No first car gliding away from Hanalei bound for Haena. No speeches. No crowd.

“My plan was to be able to just get in, and congratulations on a very soft opening,” Davenport said. “It’s nice to be here before the flood,” she said of the broad expectations for an overwhelming number of tourists to descend on the North Shore west of Hanalei, which local residents have largely had to themselves since the disastrous storms and floods of 2018.

By 9:30 a.m., the Ke‘e parking lot was still only about half full, with many locals stopping by briefly to check out the scene and a slow trickle of tourists. Between 6:30 a.m. and about 9:30, personnel from Republic Parking, which is managing the parking lot and visitor access, encountered few people who lacked either a reservation voucher or a local driver’s license for admission to the parking lot.

Volume picked up during the day. About noon, only a couple of parking spaces remained unoccupied. Both then and earlier, it was clear many visitors came to see what was happening and not necessarily to park and go to the beach. Short bursts of cars continued to line up briefly on the highway, but it was far from gridlock.

Pedestrian volumes suggested that Monday’s visitor count would be below the 900-person cap put in place by the newly implemented Haena State Park Master Plan, for which Monday was the debut. However, visitor volume is expected to increase when a shuttle goes into operation Thursday.

Word of Monday’s comparatively light volumes of people and vehicles might also encourage heavier usage on subsequent days.

The shuttle will be mandatory for anyone who doesn’t get parking reservations, unless they are to be dropped off by a vehicle that is not parking. Vehicle entry to Haena State Park is $5, along with $1 per person. Parking and shuttle reservations can be made online at: www.gohaena.com. Reservations are not necessary for Hawaii residents.

The system is designed around the parking lot, which has about 100 stalls, 30 of which are set aside for local residents with Hawaii identification. By Monday morning, the first four days of this week were completely sold out, but the actual yield of cars and people at the park itself seemed less than the sold out status suggested.

Sisters Mary and Miriam Rotter, visiting from Oregon, said they hadn’t been aware of the reopening until someone on a hiking trail three days before told them about it. Their objective was to hike the Kalalau Trail.

When the hiker who tipped them off did so, Mary Rotter got on her smart phone and made a parking reservation on the new website created for entry into Haena State Park. They had no trouble getting their parking pass.

Still, even some locals who agreed that Monday’s reopening was a tranquil affair lamented that the North Shore’s year of isolation had finally come to an end.

“They had us sealed in all weekend (by a three-day total closure for bridge repair work) and then, all of a sudden, we wake up on Monday morning and we’re living on the freeway,” said Gil Nieto, who lives near Camp Naue.

“We went from living in a very rural area to the freeway all in one day.”

Charlie and Claudia Cowden, proprietors of the Hanalei Surf Co., agreed that the morning’s festivities had been mellow, but Charlie Cowden lamented that, with a vastly improved parking lot at Ke‘e and hundreds of new no parking signs on the highway, an era had ended, regardless.

He said he came to out on the morning of the reopening so he could explain better to his customers what to expect. But as successful as the opening seemed, he said, “my main thing is beach access and this (the parking lot and the parking restrictions taken together) is limiting beach access.

“This is the new tourist zone,” he said.

The day’s most substantial obstacle appeared to have been unrelated repair work on the hillside just east of the Hanalei River Bridge. Slope-clearing operations caused backups of 15 to 30 minutes, a result of which was that long streams of vehicles were released into and leaving Hanalei.

As the vehicular streams rippled toward Haena, the traffic manifested itself as bursts of six to 12 cars at a time, possibly implying that apparent traffic counts were momentarily higher than they really were. If there was gridlock, it was at the Hanalei bridge, though minor delays were also encountered at two of the three bridges under repair and replacement.

Back at Ke‘e, Susan Chamberlain, of Wailua Homesteads, said she’d been planning to come on the first day of the reopening “for a couple of weeks.”

“I wanted to beat the crowds and see what’s going on,” she said. “We need to show that we local people need access, too.”

She said she hadn’t been to Ke‘e in about three years because crowds and congestion had rendered the Haena area almost inaccessible on some days. She said she also came because she thinks it’s important for Kauai residents to remember that “locals” live all over the island and not just on the North Shore.

“We spent our summers here with our grandparents,” she said.

Reaction to the new boardwalk and hiking path that led from the parking lot to the beach seemed positive.

Jessica Powell and Jaden Green, recent high school graduates visiting from Santa Barbara, Calif., said the Kalalau Trail hike was what attracted them. They had followed coverage of the road and park closure situation they said, because, Green said, “we’d been wanting to go on it.”

At least five officers from the state Department of Land and Natural Resources and the Kauai Police Department were on hand for parking enforcement and general law enforcement needs, but by 10 a.m., no cited vehicles could be seen by the roadside anywhere between Hanalei and Haena.

At nearby Makua (Tunnels) Beach, parking spaces were still readily available. Farther down the road, the newly reopened tourist end of Lumahai Beach had plenty of spaces unoccupied, as well.

  1. Palani June 18, 2019 2:54 am Reply

    Back when I hiked in to Hanakapiai, there was no parking lot, and there were maybe five or six cars parked at the end of the road. Since then, they built Princeville and developed the north end of the island. Now the caves are crowded, Haena is crowded, the north end is no longer the secluded paradise it once was. Progress feels like regression, but the developers get their lucre.

  2. Amused June 18, 2019 4:59 am Reply

    isn’t it a little hypocritical for Cowden to be complaining about tourists when his surf shop profits from them daily?

  3. rk669 June 18, 2019 6:11 am Reply

    Did you think that the Tourist only come to Kauai for Dukes Hula Pie?
    Get real residents,maybe get a Life?

  4. Erik June 18, 2019 7:41 am Reply

    Does anyone know if you book the 6:30AM parking reservation slot can you stay parked there until the park closes so you can still combine a hike to Hanakapi’ai falls with snorkeling and a beach picnic?

  5. Lorelei Mindoro June 18, 2019 1:12 pm Reply

    Since Kauai County has Haena State Park in control now, maybe it should be considered to follow Hanauma Bay system … seem that way!

  6. Charles Miles June 18, 2019 3:17 pm Reply

    There are numerous false statements quoted in the above articles and responses, mostly by “First Edition”. Drownings at QB are more closely to 11 than 29, marked by an anonymous citizen on the trail (these stats take in the north coastal area).
    The model “Lucy” was not “taking in the view” but being photographed by her boyfriend to sit on the edge while enormous waves crashed behind her.
    Information at Kauai Ocean Safety shows that drownings at QB are about 4% of Kauai’s total.
    Secondly, it is not hoale, Princeville, residents that are trying to keep people from accessing QB. Just the opposite! A Princeville commitee is trying to keep the trail open for all and eliminate the fence and gate. The PHCA is (supposedly) a non profit corporation where commercial interests have 75% of the votes and actual homeowners have 25%. People who rent or lease have 0% say. See the problem?
    The persons trying to close Queen’s Bath are investors, developers, and politicians, (who don’t want to bring negative attention to Kauai or their admin), and whose budgets are being affected. Princeville residents and the public want ocean access for all! None of the almost a dozen drownings this year have taken place at QB.
    The “facts” are carelessly repeated and used as arguments for various self interests. Examine the truth for yourself. let’s unite to keep QB access open and the land protected for historical and protected areas.

  7. Sheri June 25, 2019 8:37 am Reply

    The parking passes are for half day only – 6:30 a.m to noon or 12:30 -5:30. If you want to spend the entire day you have to be dropped off. Drop off only passes go from 6:30-5:30.

  8. Doug Shermer July 19, 2019 5:14 am Reply

    I see that the parking passes are being sold out quickly. Does anybody no what time of day the passes go on sale? Is it at midnight?

  9. Irwin Fletcher July 21, 2019 7:33 pm Reply

    They seem to go on sale at midnight Hawaii time. The afternoon passes seem quite limited in number and sell out first. Both passes tend to sell out in the first few hours. From some digging on other boards, there has not been any towing or ticketing of cars staying past 12:30, and this has been accounted for by the smaller number of afternoon passes available. One person posted that the parking attendant simply said something to the effect of, ‘please try to be out on time’. Others said that no one said anything at all. Personally, the proper solution is to raise the cost of these passes to $30-50 and subsidize the shuttle down to $1-5. High priced parking will guarantee availability.

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