story by Luci Yamamoto
photo by Monte Costa
For decades, navigating Kaua‘i’s northeast coast has been an adventure. Sure, you could work your way down an abandoned cane road to a hidden beach, but that meant bushwhacking through cattle grass and braving tire-deep potholes.
Today that once-sketchy shoreline route is neatly paved and open to pedestrians, bicyclists and other nonmotorists. On any given day, the stretch near Kapa‘a is a town square in motion: joggers, power walkers, tourists on coaster bikes, strolling families, a rollerblader or two. The path parallels Highway 56 but, sans car, the busy Eastside’s natural beauty comes alive: the steady tradewinds, the blazing sunrises, the quiet roar of waves rolling in from the sea.
The first path of its kind in Hawai‘i, Ke Ala Hele Makalae (“The Path that Goes by the Coast”) will eventually span 16 miles along the east coast, from Lihu‘e to Anahola. The six-phase project is currently a third complete, with 2.5 miles in Wailua and another four miles from Kapa‘a Beach Park to ‘ahihi Point, part of which opened last summer.
Forward-thinking county officials first promoted the idea in the early 1990s, but given the premium on beachfront real estate, it was slow to reach fruition. It took a decade for the county to secure $30 million in federal funding. In 2002 the developer of Kealia Kai gave the county 59 acres along Donkey Beach, and the pipe dream of a continuous, shared-use path along one of the world’s most scenic shorelines became a reality.
Despite its popularity, the path has stirred controversy among those who prefer nature left au naturel—without fences, signs and concrete. But proponents respond with three words: public shoreline access. In Hawai‘i all beaches are by law public, but access is often blocked when private landowners post no-trespassing signs and set up gates, or when access trails are deemed unsafe by authorities. But Ke Ala Hele Makalae “assures public access not just to the coast but along the coast—in perpetuity,” says Thomas Noyes, board secretary of the community organization Kaua‘i Path.
When compared with progressive places like Portland and Vancouver, Hawai‘i is notoriously bike- and pedestrian-unfriendly. But Ke Ala Hele Makalae could be a first step in getting Island residents out of their cars. O‘ahu is currently revamping its own bicycle network to integrate two-wheelers into the island’s teeming transportation system. HH