Kaumualii Highway on Kauai is the long stretch of road that takes people to the western end of the island. The scenic ocean drive recently made headlines when – in just three days – waves eroded nearly 15 feet of the highway shoulder, prompting the governor to sign a disaster proclamation authorizing emergency repairs to this section of road.
Where once the Kekaha Beach lifeguard tower stood, now lies a graveyard of ironwood trees.
Repair to the highway is expected to take more than a year, but what’s really got the town talking is the disappearing beach. I had the chance to drive through the Kekaha area a few days ago and couldn’t believe how much sand had been swallowed by the ocean. When we drove that way a few years ago, I remember there being at least half a football field of sandy beach. People from all over would come to Kekaha Beach to surf, swim, fish and tan. The area affront where the lifeguard tower used to be was a gathering place. You would’ve probably seen trucks parked up and down the beach as well; now, there’s barely anywhere to park along the road. Waves crash right up against the highway, sending salt spray onto passing cars.
The erosion has been so prominent that the county twice relocated its Kekaha Beach lifeguard tower farther down the beach. Some of the locals I talked to speculate that recent renovations and dredging to the nearby Kikiaola Small Boat Harbor may be the cause behind this “disaster.” The renovations make the harbor more accessible to larger boats, but at what cost?
Now when you drive past this section of highway, you’ll see yellow cautionary tape and cement barriers marking the area in most need of repair. It’s a steep 10-foot drop lined with a wall of sandbags. I got this eerie feeling when I peered over the edge of eroded land. A graveyard of dead trees washed back and forth on the tiny strip of sand that was left.