HANALEI — Protesters blocked Kuhio Highway at Waipa early Tuesday morning before police arrived and reopened the road.
Several tourists were reportedly turned away before 7 a.m. by a group that maintains the North Shore beyond Hanalei is still not ready for visitors.
Kauai police officers responded and the protesters willingly moved off to the side of the highway, where they continued to peacefully hold signs to encourage motorists to slow down and respect the area, according to a Kauai County spokesperson. No arrests were made.
One of the protesters, Ka‘iulani Mahuka, said she and other local residents, intent on stopping or at least slowing vehicle traffic into the reopened area, stood by the side of the road through most of the day.
The road that had been closed since April 2018 flooding reopened on Monday to little fanfare. It leads to Haena State Park, Limahuli Garden &Preserve, Kalalau Trail and Ke‘e Beach.
Mahuka was interviewed by TGI staff on Monday. A picture of her and two others with signs urging drivers to slow down was published on TGI’s front page Tuesday.
In an interview Tuesday evening, Mahuka talked about the effort, the motivation behind the protest and the reaction it inspired in some of the tourists who came to visit the North Shore.
“At first we were able to turn people away,” she said.
The protesters formed a human barrier across the road that stopped traffic until police arrived. Unable to do anything physically to deter visitors from entering the area, Mahuka and other protesters started talking to them instead.
At some point in the morning, Mahuka said a big van full of tourists on their way to a kayak expedition pulled up, “and something really amazing happened.’
The tour group passed by, seemingly unaffected by the protest. But a short while later, the van returned. The passengers got out and explained to the roadside demonstrators that they didn’t feel right about going to visit without the blessing of the community.
Mahuka said she and some other locals are intent on getting the road closed again because the area simply isn’t yet prepared to handle a massive influx of people.
“They are not ready,” she said. “There’s no parking. There are no public restrooms.”
On top of the lack of facilities, Mahuka said police can’t enforce the laws with that many people. She described visitors littering, leaving cars in residential areas despite parking restrictions and speeding past construction crews still working to finish bridge restoration projects.
“Yesterday, there were so many people speeding on that bridge by Colony Resort. It’s the tiniest bridge on the North Shore, and no signage on either side,” Mahuka said in a video she recorded with her phone from the side of the highway on Tuesday.
She said protesters planned to return. The tourists are impacting the area’s natural environment as well, she said.
“There were hundreds of tourists out there walking on the reef,” Mahuka said, outraged at what she called a lack of respect for the land. “This isn’t your Disneyland ride that you bought.”