Home / US / After a year without tourists, Kauai reopens the rugged coastline

After a year without tourists, Kauai reopens the rugged coastline

HĀ'ENA, Hawaii – To reach the northeast corner of Kauai Island, one has to drive or cycle along a winding dual carriageway flanked by mountains and the sea. There are rocky outposts interspersed with sandy strips, which are protected by reefs.

A three-kilometer section of the Kūhiō Highway reopened this week after being shut down since April 2018 due to landslides triggered by record-breaking rains. Now parts of the mountain are being held back with wireframes reaching a height of 40 feet on a highway repair project estimated at at least $ 85 million. Three narrow bridges built in 1

912 were destroyed and only one was completely repaired. The other two are partially completed, with makeshift wooden guardrails and cones that prevent cars from crashing into the Pacific Ocean.

With no tourists bothering wildlife, indigenous plants and animals recovered, and even the local community grew stronger. The highway leads to the Hā'ena State Park, which once attracted more than 2,000 visitors a day. Although tourism is Hawaii's most important economic factor, officials are revising its position as host to nearly 10 million tourists a year on the six islands open to visitors. To preserve its unique natural and cultural resources, Hawaii is trying to move from encouraging to limiting tourists. With the reopening of the Kūhiō Highway, the number of visitors to the park will be halved by new regulations, a goal that is not sufficient in the view of some locals.

After more than a year's absence, tourists now return to restaurants and shops in Hanalei. Marco Garcia / for NBC News

The highway connects the small communities of Wainiha, Lumaha'i and Hā'ena and leads to attractions such as Ke'e Beach in Hā'ena State Park and the once-populated Hawaiian Nā Pali Coast State Wilderness Park, the intricate rock faces buildings that still covered part of the landscape.

In the 1960s, when pineapple and sugar plantations left the island, the nudist colony Taylor Camp moved into today's Hā'ena State Park. As tourism has boomed in recent years, parking was always full and drivers were driving illegally past the roadside, making it difficult for rescue workers to reach the area when the inexperienced snorkelers pulled currents into the open sea.

] "It was just this godless horror before, with the tide of double-parked rental cars and packed coaches," said John Wehrheim, a resident of Kauai who photographed Taylor Camp in the 1960s. "It was an ecological catastrophe with the tan lotion and oil on the reefs."

After the floods, only about 750 residents and some horses, pigs and dogs, and scientists at the University of Hawaii in Mānoa suddenly lived on the coast who studied fish stocks after the flood saw more Hawaiian sea turtles, large red lipped parrot fish and schools of red mackerel, and researchers Jade Delevoux and Kosta Stamoulis will return next June to see what impact tourism's return to fish had.

A horse graz It on the shoulder of the Kūhiō Highway After the flood of more than a year of road closures for the remote North Shore area of ​​Kauai, the region's wildlife migrated across the car-free roads. Marco Garcia / for NBC News

"We were definitely impressed with the F ll of the young blue tit, when we went, "Stamoulis said. "In most places in Hawaii, you might see one or two, and usually on their own, but in Hā'ena in the last round of surveys last week, we only saw schools of them."

While life in the sea might recover The closure of the Kūhiō Highway was devastating for businesses and holiday apartments that depended on traffic flow. Hanalei Bay Colony Resort, the only hotel in Hā'ena, has been closed since the floods.

"It was very difficult for us. Very hard, "said plant manager Steven Ng, who grew up nearby. "We depend on tourists."

Last year, after the road was closed, the resort set up a food and clothes bank for residents and set up a paramedic room. They also converted guest rooms into classrooms for children who were unable to attend school. Many residents said they felt they knew their neighbors because they were the only people on the beach.

"It brought us back to what it was," said Kelii Alapai, who grew up in H''ena and now is the vice president of Hui Maka'āinana o Makana, a non-profit organization that uses traditional Hawaiian administrative practices to cover old taro fields in the Hā'ena State Park.

A wire mesh covers a slope to prevent rockfalls on the Kūhiō Highway near Hanalei, Hawaii. The devastating floods of 2018 damaged roads and bridges on the north coast of Kauai and shut down the main highway in the region for more than a year. The aim was to reduce the number of tourists in the region from 2,000 to 900 per day. Schedules include parking or driveway pre-reservations, community-sponsored shuttle service and fines ranging from $ 35 to $ 200 for roadside parking.

When the park reopened on Monday lunchtime, dozens of park attendants turned off rental cars filled with tourists. The attendant Maria Valle said that some visitors had bought entrance vouchers to gain access to the car park.

However, Denver honeymooners Shannon and Brett Janssen bought both morning and afternoon park vouchers before traveling to the Hanakapi'ai Falls at Nā Pali, using the same parking lot as the Hā & ena State Park.

"We made the reservations on Saturday morning," said Shannon Janssen of Denver, who had estimated the 8-meter round-trip with her husband. Take at least six hours.

The new parking lot in Hā'ena State Park. Marco Garcia / for NBC News

"The idea is to create a better experience for residents and visitors and then reduce the impact on the park," said Joel Guy, director of the Hanalei Initiative, one charitable organization that launches the North Shore Shuttle. "I think it's a pretty unique model that hopefully can be used elsewhere."

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