More than a tropical rainstorm

It was just a little bit more than a year ago, April 2018, that the first pictures showed up on Facebook and in the media. Hanalei Town, Kauai, under water. After nearly a month of prolonged rain (we spent most of that month inside our vacation rental looking at the rain) the north end of Kauai experienced the single highest 24 hour rainfall total on record anywhere in the United States–49 inches. And the Hanalei River could not be contained.

We returned to Hanalei this March, 2019, nearly a year later. We have been coming to the north end of Kauai for over a decade and know the area very well. Much changed because of the 24 hour deluge a year ago.

Recovery is slow. Very, very slow. While the main commercial areas are up and doing their usual brisk business, damaged roads and homes are much slower to bounce back. And we have to imagine that the cost of flood repairs to restaurants and shops, plus the reduction in tourism for much of last spring was a huge financial hit for the business community and the people who work there.

The road leading north out of Hanalei Town has been closed to all traffic except for repair crews and residents. It is the last 7 miles before you reach the impenetrable, spectacular Napali Coast with some of the most beautiful coastline, beaches, and mountain views in the world—Bali Hai of South Pacific fame, the Tunnels snorkeling and scuba diving reef, the gorgeous Ke’e beach beach, and the beginning of the breathtaking Kalalau hiking trail. Residents can only travel in escorted caravans. Job one is not yet completed — repairing the old one lane bridges so they can support the equipment needed to repair the roads. The damage was compounded in an August storm and a year later that task is yet to be finished. Meanwhile, we heard rumors of a controversy about whether or not tourist traffic should even be allowed to return (3,000 plus cars a day made the trip to the end of the road before the disaster)–parking was always a nightmare at the Kalalau trailhead. Some have suggested shuttles from Hanalei Town instead. But change comes slowly in this corner of the world.

Repairs to the several homes undercut by the flooding on Hanalei Bay near the pier and Black Pot beach have become a tourist site. Nearly everyone walking down the beach stopped to watch the demolition work or take pictures of the repairs. We suspect the homeowners had always worried about water damage coming from the ocean during hurricanes or a tidal wave. Last spring it was the rain and river that got them when much of the valley flooded, creating a new, temporary river bed. The multi-million dollar homes in the path of that river were destroyed.

It is hard to conceive how these homes will be rebuilt. Would insurance even be available? As we walked the beach at high tide, strong northerly winds pushed the waves up into the channel created by flood waters a year ago. And once more, the house was surrounded.

Weke Road to Black Pot, running parallel to the ocean remains closed south of the pavilion where much of the road was totally destroyed as this local newspaper photo shows from a year ago.

Repair efforts to homes along the road seem to be moving even more slowly than elsewhere. Signs warn that that water around these homes is still contaminated.

The waterfront homes familiar to many from the movie “The Descendents” seem just fine. George Clooney could still knock on the front door or jog down the beach in front of the homes as he did in the film.

The biggest impact to tourists (and locals seeking some beach time) is the lack of parking now that Black Pot beach is closed and the parking lot there is being rebuilt. Hanalei never had enough parking and now it is even worse.

Plus the beaches seem more crowded than ever. Is it because the beaches further west are inaccessible? And with less parking the sunbathing, surfing and swimming crowds pack the beach in front of the pavilion. Only a few hearty souls and surfing school students hike down to the pier.

Nonetheless, the three mile arc of the bay remains as beautiful as always. And walking the beach still can’t be beat. Despite the weather trauma, Hanalei Bay endures.