Earlier this year, record rainfall on Kauai’s north shore caused flooding and landslides that reshaped the coastline and closed the only access road to the communities north of Hanalei town. Some of Kauai’s most famous beaches and trails are still mostly inaccessible, and north shore residents and businesses are still rebuilding. Click here for my original post on how to help.
Before the April flooding, Ke’e Beach was the “end of the road” on the north shore, where Hwy 560 dead-ended into the sheer cliffs of the Na Pali coast. When I moved to Kauai in 2001, Ke’e was a beautiful, crystal clear lagoon filled with colorful fish, sheltered from the wild surf by a fringing reef. Over the years, more and more visitors to the area made it difficult to access the beach. I stopped seeing colorful fish in the lagoon. My last visit to Ke’e Beach was in 2013, before moving to Oregon the following year. When I fly back to visit each year, friends and family don’t want to go to Ke’e: it’s too crowded, no parking, dangerous road. Now, that road is blocked by a checkpoint for residents only, escorted at 5 miles per hour down the single lane that has been cleared.
Below are two of my plein air watercolors of the same view at Ke’e Beach, painted seven years apart. From the beach, you see the same beautiful lagoon and sheer sea cliffs. You don’t see the changes that took place below the waterline, and behind the trees. What further changes have taken place since the floods?
This aerial view is my most recent painting of the Ke’e Beach area, completed shortly before the flood. I used a reference photo taken from an airplane in 2013. The view includes the famous lagoon at the center, a restored heiau and hula platform on the right, and restored taro fields on the left.
The popular beaches at Haena and Lumahai are also past the new “end of the road” in Hanalei. All the businesses north of Hanalei are closed. With local traffic only, residents have said it feels like “old times” – quiet, peaceful, and slow.
Some reefs are still smothered by sediment washed out from the flood, but there have also been reports of fish returning to the reefs.
This is not a story of good or bad, just the changes I’ve seen in a small span of time. Like all landscapes, Kauai is a living place.