Tovin Lapan
Tovin Lapan

The Napali Coast on Kauai's North Shore has long drawn adventure seekers and nature lovers to its rugged, steep cliffs, tangled in jungle vines, that plunge into the cobalt blue waters of the Pacific. Hikers on the famed 11-mile Kalalau Trail venture past narrow valleys, stone-wall terraces (where ancient Hawaiians cultivated taro), waterfalls, streams and hidden beaches. It is considered one of the most arduous and breathtaking hikes in the world, attracting thousands of international visitors annually.

Since April 2018, following record rainfall that turned into devastating flooding and landslides, the North Shore of Kauai and the trail have been shut off to visitors. Both Napali Coast State Wilderness Park and Haena State Park, jewels of the Garden Isle, have been closed, and road access to the communities in the area has been limited to residents, also cutting off visitor access to the popular Tunnels and Kee beaches.

More than a year later, the area is finally reopening to the general public after extensive repairs, and Kalalau Trail access is being restored. The time off has given local officials the chance to implement a new tourism management system, easing a parking quagmire and also limiting the total number of visitors for an area that many, particularly locals, felt had become overrun.

The reopening of the road and state parks will also boost Hanalei, the postcard-perfect beach town that serves as a gateway to the Napali Coast, which also suffered significant damage in the floods of 2018.

Kuhio Highway from Hanalei to Haena State Park reopened to the public on June 17, but repairs and temporary road closures are ongoing. Permits are being issued for Kalalau hikes, but some dates are dark for continued maintenance and repairs. Additionally, visitors should be respectful upon their return to the area. A group of North Shore residents staged a protest on June 18, temporarily blocking tourist vehicles from using the road when it reopened while arguing the area was not yet ready for an influx of traffic, according to an Associated Press report.

As Kuhio Highway reopens, there are several changes in store for visitors to the two state parks and other sites in the area.

Under the new Haena State Park Master Plan, daily visitors will be capped at 900, and non-Hawaii residents will be required to obtain an advance online reservation. Previously, the parking lots at Haena would fill by midmorning and there were frequently cars parked illegally on the side of the road.

Now, total parking has been reduced while a new shuttle system between Princeville Makai Golf Club to Haena State Park has been introduced. The shuttle will run every half hour from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. seven days a week.  Hikers headed into Napali State Park through Haena are not allowed to park overnight , but are exempt from the 900-person daily limit when they show their camping permit.

The shuttle will include stops in Hanalei and popular beaches along the way, as well as Limahuli Garden and Preserve, part of the National Tropical Botanical Garden, which also reopened in June after more than a year of repairs. Those destined for the Kalalau trail must obtain permits in advance, and the trail entrance is inside Haena State Park before leading into Napali Coast State Wilderness Park.

Hawaii Gov. David Ige and his wife hiked a short portion of the trail prior to its reopening, and he attended a community blessing to reopen Haena State Park.

"As I've traveled around the state, I've heard more and more about 'How much is too much?' I think everybody acknowledges that the visitor industry is our number one industry," Ige said at the ceremony. "Everybody wants to support that ... but when you see these kinds of trails and Haena State Park, where everyone wants to visit, clearly too many people is just not a good experience for visitors or residents."

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