HANALEI, Hawaii -- The Aloha State is accustomed to drawing
attention for its natural beauty, but in the past few weeks, it is natural
disasters that have brought widespread notoriety. First came the floods on
Kauai. Now, volcanic eruptions and earthquakes on the Big Island have
attracted worldwide attention.
On May 3, the active volcano Kilauea erupted, sending giant
plumes of orange-pink smoke billowing into the sky. There have been several
earthquakes, including the strongest on the island in 43 years (a magnitude 6.9),
and fissures have opened in the far eastern portion of the island, prompting
the evacuation of the Leilani Estates neighborhood.
Hawaii Volcanoes National Park closed Friday due to safety concerns as tremors persisted in the area, and the volcano
continues to show increased signs of activity.
The park is roughly 100 miles from the Kailua-Kona resort
area, and life on the island's west coast has been relatively unaffected.
On Kauai, the northwest coast is still recovering from a record
deluge in mid-April that flooded the area with more than 4 feet of rain in 24
hours. The most remote areas, and some popular attractions like Napali Coast
State Wilderness Park and Tunnels Beach, remain cut off from the rest of the
island by landslides. Other parts of Kauai, such as Poipu on the southern coast
and Old Kapaa Town, show little sign of flooding aside from the posted pleas
for donations for "our friends on the North Shore."
Approaching the north coast on Kuhio Highway, travelers
first come to Princeville, which peers down on Hanalei from a hill to the
east. The area escaped the floods relatively unscathed, and it is business as
usual at resorts like the St. Regis Princeville. Crossing the one-lane bridge
into Hanalei, the town's condensed collection of shops and restaurants are open
and active. Late last week, a wedding party spilled out onto Hanalei Beach for
photos in the late afternoon, and the Kalypso restaurant was packed with
Not everything is all systems go, however. A sweet shop
along the main commercial corridor, Chocolat Hanalei, posted a sign announcing
it is temporarily closed and "will reopen as soon as the road to our
kitchen is opened."
Many visitors to the north are drawn by Hanalei's
postcard-perfect, half-moon bay, a sandy stretch of beach with a mountain
backdrop. The Hanalei River empties into the bay near the Hanalei Pier and
Black Pot Beach, and damage radiates out from where the two converge.
Severe ground cracks associated with a fissure from the Kilauea eruption opened up in the evacuated Leilani Estates neighborhood on the Big Island.
The pier is shattered close to shore, and the public
bathrooms of the adjacent park have slouched into the water. Three homes just
west of the pier are severely damaged. Though the beach is in relatively good
shape, some debris remains and several brown-water advisories are in effect for
the area. Hotel and tour operators in town said bookings for summer were 30% to
40% below normal.
"It's a thin line to walk. I think you have to be
honest with people who are thinking of coming," said Scott Olson, owner of
Hanalei rental shop Pedal 'N Paddle. "At least for the next month or so,
people will be limited in their activities up here. You can't go to Napali. You
can't snorkel Tunnels. I usually rent gear for people to go to Anini Beach, but
that has a brown-water advisory, too. I don't want to dissuade people, because
for some it's just the vibe and atmosphere of Hanalei they come for."
Visitors to the Hanalei area will find plenty of places to
stay and eat, but numerous local activities are temporarily closed or
inaccessible. Napali Coast State Wilderness Park, a bucket-list item for many
nature-oriented travelers, is closed. Also closed are Limahuli Garden, part of
the National Tropical Botanical Garden system; Haena State Park; portions of
Wailua River State Park; and Polihale State Park.
While single-lane access to the Wainiha area has been opened
for residents, the full reopening of the Kuhio Highway for two-way traffic is
not expected for three to four months, according to Kauai County officials.
Past the road closures, hotels and vacation rentals have
been forced to temporarily turn people away. The Hanalei Colony Resort in the
Wainiha area has canceled all bookings through July 1 and is housing some aid
workers while also serving as one of the community hubs for services.
Conditions on the ground, including beach and road closures,
are changing daily, and travelers planning to visit the north shore of Kauai
should check in advance regarding specific activities. Hawaii Gov. David Ige
recently requested federal disaster aid to bolster the recovery effort.
Already, Kauai residents, business owners and tourism
officials are discussing how the north shore community can come out stronger
after the cleanup.
"A lot of people think this could be an opportunity to
stop and think about traffic and parking to Napali and possibly setting up a
shuttle service from Hanalei out to the park," said Simon Potts, owner of
Hanalei Surfboard House. "This can also be a chance for some improvements."