Logout|My Dashboard
  • Subscribe

Na Pali Problems on Na Pali

Trash, noise, illegal campers sully pristine piece of nature

Font Size:
Default font size
Larger font size

Posted: Friday, October 11, 2013 2:00 am

Kauai’s Kalalau Trail is no stranger to heavy foot traffic or Top 10 awards.

It has been included among the World’s Best Hikes, America’s Most Dangerous Hikes and Scariest Cliff Walks. And earlier this year, USA Today ranked the Na Pali Coast as one of the “10 Most Beautiful Places in America.”

Although nothing short of spectacular, the Na Pali Coast State Park — home of the Kalalau — is also a persistent headache for the state Department of Land and Natural Resources.

“Kalalau is a large and remote location which is costly and difficult to monitor, maintain and enforce on a regular basis,” said Deborah Ward, information specialist at DLNR. “And it also offers many hiding places.”

Each year, large numbers of residents and visitors flock to the coastal trail, some for the short two-mile jaunt from Kee to Hanakapiai Beach, others for the 11-mile haul out to Kalalau Beach.

Then there are those who get to the tail’s end by boat — sometimes via illegal transport operators.

With the packs of visitors come trash and a lack of proper camping permits. In fact, the number of unpermitted campers frequently exceeds the permitted ones, Ward said.

Due to the uniqueness of the park and the large investment backpackers and paddlers make getting there, Ward said DLNR receives a greater number of pre-trip inquiries and post-trip complaints compared to other parks in the state.

Chronic problems include illegal camping, leftover rubbish and damage to ecosystems, according to Ward. And while there have been possible occurrences of theft, no formal complaints have been filed.

Then there is the damage to archeological sites by squatters, including moving foundation stones, building fires and excavating for gardens — activities Ward said “may end up destroying the very evidence we need in order to definitively date the sites in the future.”

Matthew Gilgan, of Ontario, Canada, described his recent experience into Kalalau as disheartening and disappointing. Gilgan had been visiting Maui with his wife and child when he decided to take a vacation to hike Kalalau alone.

While the trek itself was spectacular, he said the scene at the trail’s end was “crazy” — dozens of boats parked offshore, piles of trash and abandoned camping gear, loud helicopters buzzing overhead and upwards of 150 unpermitted campers on the beach.

Gilgan said he came to enjoy the solitude of what is supposed to be an “isolated gem,” but found something very different.

“You come to kind of get this peace and quiet and it’s just people sprawled all over,” he said. “There’s just no place to go and find some quiet.”

Ward said common activities at the beach — illegal boat transport operators yelling at people early in the morning, late-night drum circles and naked yoga fronting the campsites — “can be offensive and certainly take away from the serenity one normally expects” within backcountry and wilderness areas.

Kauai resident Kurt Bosshard, who has hiked the 11-mile trail dozens of times, said the problem is not the campers, and that year after year the state continues to make a big deal every time it has to haul out a load of trash.

While the toilets can be gross, trash does tend to pile up and it’s not uncommon to meet someone who has been camped out for several weeks or months, Bosshard said he believes the biggest problem in the Kalalau Valley is the degradation of historical sites by invasive plants and animals.

“The place has been abandoned to the ruin of these invasive species,” Bosshard said. “(DLNR) always want to point the finger at the campers, and the campers have almost no impact on the valley.”

Over the 20-plus years he has been hiking the trail, the situation has remained the same — a park functioning as an “abandoned place of extreme beauty” instead of a park, according to Bosshard.

“It’s a problem without a solution,” he said. “It’s a bunch of everything — some good, some bad. We don’t have the resources to change things.”

The number of permitted campers at Kalalau averages 60 per day, or more than 20,000 per year, according to Ward. In 2003, the DLNR estimates 537,000 hikers and campers took to the trail. In 2007, the number was 423,000.

“We have had individual day counts of over 2,000 hikers entering the Kalalau Trail,” Ward said.

DLNR’s Division of Conservation and Resource Enforcement (DOCARE), the agency in charge of daily enforcement and maintenance, conducts periodic  operations to remove illegal encampments and trash, and cite illegal campers.

“DOCARE has been sending officers to conduct enforcement sweeps utilizing State Parks helicopter blade time when Parks goes in to conduct maintenance and cleanup,” Ward said. “This summer two enforcement sweeps were conducted and 34 citations were issued.”

An additional sweep was conducted in September following an accident in which a private helicopter performing contract work for DLNR had a tarp blow into the rotor blades, damaging the aircraft.

Bosshard maintains that the DLNR simply doesn’t have the resources to maintain the park the way it should.

Ward agreed that resources are limited. Rather than focusing on more regular maintenance activities, workers have had to devote their time to collecting and hauling away trash and even human waste, as the composting toilets are sized only for legal camper capacity.

The ongoing issues involving illegals ultimately take away from time that could be spent on other critical maintenance and management activities, she said.

“We realize that one major shortcoming is the lack of continual or sustained presence in the park and on the trail,” Ward said.

To help out, DLNR’s Division of State Parks recently hired a full-time interpretive ranger for Haena-Na Pali. The ranger’s duties will be concentrated within the first two miles of the Kalalau Trail.

“It is anticipated that this ranger, among other duties, will be able to spot check for permits,” Ward said.

In the meantime, Gilgan said he has no intention of returning to Kalalau.

“Shame on me for going all the way out there to get my little slice,” he said, adding that a place as beautiful as Kalalau Beach should be cherished by locals and visitors alike.

“Seems some people weren’t doing their part to take care of what was there.”

© 2016 Thegardenisland.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

More about

More about

Rules of Conduct

  • 1 Keep it Clean. Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually-oriented language.
  • 2 Don't Threaten or Abuse. Threats of harming another person will not be tolerated. AND PLEASE TURN OFF CAPS LOCK.
  • 3 Be Truthful. Don't knowingly lie about anyone or anything.
  • 4 Be Nice. No racism, sexism or any sort of -ism that is degrading to another person.
  • 5 Be Proactive. Use the 'Report' link on each comment to let us know of abusive posts.
  • 6 Share with Us. We'd love to hear eyewitness accounts, the history behind an article.

Welcome to the discussion.


  • beefcake posted at 10:41 am on Wed, Oct 16, 2013.

    beefcake Posts: 2

    Another example of people exercising their "rights" and ignoring their responsibilities. I have heard other horror stories about the campsites before Kalalau as well -- these are truly man-made environmental disasters we can all agree on and remedy.

  • Tiki808 posted at 12:38 pm on Sat, Oct 12, 2013.

    Tiki808 Posts: 1159

    Thanks to the many visitors and locals who have already hiked this Kalalau trail, one can easily see how anyone might not go back for a long time. Too treacherous terrains and too itchy. Does your cell phone work in this region of the island, just in case someone gets stuck anywhere on the trail and can't find their way back off this 11-mile hike?

    Is there a shop open at 24 hours nearby, just in case someone were to come out of the trail, 11 p.m. or 12 p.m. midnight? I've notice the high school football team has started already, and was wondering if they're the people who always go camping and hiking? This was a topic that came up during summer. Survival of the fittest so to speak. Why not make it part of the 3 high schools? If it's not too dangerous to hike.

  • Bullwinkle posted at 12:24 am on Sat, Oct 12, 2013.

    Bullwinkle Posts: 348

    No real surprises here, somethings just never change.

  • MSK posted at 3:52 pm on Fri, Oct 11, 2013.

    MSK Posts: 1

    We made reservations online while home in Canada this August and were very excited to hike the Na Pali and Kalaulau Trail. We were actually shocked, given the various warnings and threats of repercussions on the state website, when we arrived at the beach to find dozens of people getting dropped off by Zodiacs and large boats with coolers, gear, and tons of booze--and no permits.

    People were definitely friendly enough, but the number of non-permitted campers definitely exceeded those with permits. The rates for the experience are not cheap compared to other US State Parks and National Parks, but we did expect that the restrictions were actually in place and there would be a limit on the number of people on the trail.

    We definitely enjoyed ourselves on our five days along the trail and we do hope to return. I can't see why we'd pay the reservation fees, however, as that seemed to be totally unnecessary from the attitude of most of the folks there.

    We spent lots of time up the head of the Kalaulau Valley and found that the settlers really had much less impact than the boatloads on the beach. Many of the settlers gave us all sorts of local information and we really enjoyed our interaction with them. We were a wee bit concerned for some, as they appeared to be fairly near to being in orbit, but they also seemed rather harmless.

    While nudity seemed the norm, we were in no way bothered by that. Our main concern was overuse along the beach and the flagrant flaunting of the rules that we believed were in place. Garbage is fairly widespread along the beach front and it appears to be the local contractors who are involved in the actual clean-up, some going so far as to ship garbage and who knows what else out by Zodiac on nearly every day as the boats come in with loads and are set to return empty...

  • Bjesquire posted at 11:37 am on Fri, Oct 11, 2013.

    Bjesquire Posts: 30

    It is all about personal responsibility -- but some people just don't care. That is why there should be at least one ranger at the trailhead from sunrise until sunset and another hiking the trail. They should ask anyone carrying camping equipment for a permit -- if they don't have one they can't hike the trail. Period. The rangers would also be there to answer questions, warn hikers of bad weather and trail conditions and help with emergencies. What is the excuse for not hiring these rangers? Underfunding. Again, the HTA should not be given millions when vital services are lacking.

  • KLK posted at 9:55 am on Fri, Oct 11, 2013.

    KLK Posts: 1

    I was taught that when finished with your camping trip leave the site better than what it was when you arrived and you do not mis-use or disrespect the natural place you are camping at. Why should DLNR be responsible to haul out trash. Hikers and campers brought it in THEY should take it out. Limit camping at Kalalau to 3 nights and no long term camping. If a person cannot carry out their trash for their 3 night stay, no permit. Lack of personel responsibility and respect for Kalalau camp area by some people there is the problem. If DLNR continues to haul out excessive trash without reacting to those misusing Kalalau then those people will continue their current unacceptable habits and mis-use of Kalalau.

  • Bjesquire posted at 8:35 am on Fri, Oct 11, 2013.

    Bjesquire Posts: 30

    Another sad example of how the environment on Kauai is abused, the agencies that are supposed to protect it are underfunded, but the Hawaii Tourism Authority is given millions every year by the State to to promote Hawaii -- a destination already famous all around the world -- only to have the tourists disappointed. It's disgraceful, stupid and wasteful. The HTA is required by law to fund environmental projects. They should be audited and investigated. The HTA budget in 2013 is $71 million...why? The scientists trying to stop the coral disease killing the reefs on Kauai are begging the state for any funding, while the HTA spends millions on advertising. The press needs to investigate this. Budgets are tight for every agency in Hawaii except the HTA. This is a scandal.


Online poll


Most Popular

Follow us on Facebook