At midnight May 6, 2021 (actually it was 0-Dark-30, Friday morning of May 7) I sat in front of my PC awaiting the countdown. I had earlier roused myself out of bed to a chattering music alarm so that I could purchase three of the coveted 900 non-resident passes for some student interns doing their clinical training on Kaua‘i, to allow entry into Ha‘ena State Park so that we could spend the day hiking Hanakapi‘ai Trail and relax later at Ke‘e Beach.
An Uber driver warned me earlier that the tickets go on sale at midnight 30 days in advance and are sold out in 10 minutes. I didn’t believe her, and knew she was wrong. It sold out in six minutes. If you blinked or hesitated, then the tickets were gone.
Somehow in my early-morning stupor, despite my circadian clock screaming that I immediately return back to sleep, I was able to log in with my PC onto the “Gohaena” website to get the holy grail of three entry tickets into the park.
Our trip was planned for June 6, Sunday, as it was the one day in the week that traffic was allowed to move freely throughout the day in and out of Hanalei.
With my QR code tickets in hand, we left for our day-long journey from Lihu‘e at 0730 and, after a short stop for some bento lunches, arrived at the Ha‘ena State Park parking lot just short of 0900. Since the park was reopened in 2018 the state has done a fabulous-but-difficult-and-thankless job of restricting traffic into this pristine area.
Prior to the state managing the park, 2,000 to 3,000 visitors would try to enter the park daily. Cars were parked haphazardly on both sides of the road and in between trees all the way from the beach to Cold Pond. Tourists would walk in the middle of the road oblivious and not caring if they blocked traffic.
Auntie and bruddah were waiting for us at the entry gate. Seeing that I was a resident and I had a valid entry pass for my guests, our ticket was scanned and we were waved in with a smile. Others were not so fortunate. During the time it took us to park and get ready for our hike three other cars with passengers not fortunate enough to get one of the 900 precious day passes were waved away and had to turn back to re-plan their day.
Before the 2018 landslides that isolated the North Shore from the rest of Kaua‘i, discussions were already underway on how to manage this golden jewel of Ha‘ena State Park and prevent further degradation of the Kalalau Trail and Kee Beach from overuse and the strain of having thousands of visitors stressing our precious resources.
How do we balance our quality of life and satiate the need for tourist dollars? The landslides quietly allowed the land and ocean to convalesce and heal. The time it took to reopen the road allowed North Shore residents, the kupuna, businesspeople, state and county agencies and politicians to have productive discussions and lay the framework on managing this priceless resource. This model was so successful that other neighbor islands are studying it to manage their own overtaxed natural resources.
What a difference it makes that traffic is now limited. During our mid-morning, two-mile hike into the Napali Coast, while moving at the pace of an over-the-hill 64-year-old, there was only one other couple walking in and three other families walking out. In the past it would be like a Disneyland ride having to dodge crowded lines on the often-narrow trail.
When we arrived at our destination, my group was the only people on the beach (I have the pictures to prove it). Being alone on Hanakapi‘ai Beach reminded me of my hanabata days of summer camps at Camp Na‘ue in the 1960s. Besides a few hippies, the only people on the beach where a bunch of screaming middle-school-aged boys. I have returned back to paradise.
Placido Valenciano is a resident of Lihu‘e.