A regrettable, roughshod ride along the old Kaena Point road


POSTED: Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Henry had an old car, one of those sofa-on-wheels sedans that rode high and bouncy above the road. Its curvy profile was trimmed with touches of rust and army blankets and towels covered frayed fabric seats.

We didn't care.

Going for a ride in Henry's car was adventure regardless of destination. Tanoue's saimin stand? Great. Pali Lookout? Super. Hanauma Bay? Yippee!

He and his girlfriend were 20-somethings, old enough to be entrusted with the care of a bunch of adolescents in the church youth fellowship group, yet young enough to be considered “;with it”; by teenagers reluctant to accept adult supervision.

I don't remember the make or model of Henry's car, just that it was black, had a manual transmission and hummed loudly when in reverse. I also don't remember much about the individual outings, except for one.

It was during summer and we met at the church parking lot, laden with bentos, leaky Thermoses of Exchange Orangeade and bottles of strawberry soda to be tucked into a dented metal ice chest that was jammed into the car's trunk.

We were going to Mokuleia by way of the Pali highway and the Windward coast, a rare holoholo for town girls who were parent-dependent for distance travel.

Near midday, we arrived at the beach, unloaded the cooler and scarfed lunch. We swam a little in the rough waves, played rounds of trumps until it was time to head home.

I don't recall who suggested we drive the old road around Kaena Point, but we did. Henry expertly maneuvered over the ruts and dips, the car chugging slowly near the rocky coastline as ocean spray misted the windows.

But after awhile, it was hard to tell if we were on track. Henry had to get out several times to get our bearings.

By then, the sun slanted into our eyes. Heat from outside and inside the car had us peeling down to swimsuits again. Constant jolting and swaying threatened revisits of orangeade and shoyu chicken.

When we finally made the turn south and east from the point, we were relieved. Then, suddenly, the car pitched forward.

We'd hit a narrow cleft opened either by natural or vehicular erosion. The front tires, fortunately, had bridged the gap, but the undercarriage was stuck on the rocks.

The car came loose eventually, but only after Henry repeatedly jammed the ice chest cover into the ground, removing enough material to drive it forward.

At the time, I didn't think about the damage we caused in that single car trip. More recently, I've seen how innumerable vehicles that have passed since then have mutilated the earth, particularly on the Mokuleia side.

Huge craters and gouges cut into the bare ground overflow with muddy runoff into the ocean. Four-wheeler clubs and off-roading Web sites tout the area as an easily accessible place for “;twisties”; and climbs, inviting further ruin of the land.

Local residents, some of whom have been fishing and camping there for generations, are adamant about their “;rights”; to continue tradition and claim the need to transport gear and fishing equipment by vehicles.

Others dump junk, tramp off trail and generally disregard good stewardship.

To control damage, legislation has been proposed; the state and the Hawaii Tourism Authority are planning to install an “;ambassador”; to “;educate”; visitors about the area, put up fences and charge fees. There is opposition, divisions framed as tourism vs. tradition vs. conservation, as usual.

I've hiked many times around the point from both Yokohama Bay and the North Shore, probably walking healed segments I previously rode over.

Kaena has the last undamaged coastal dunes on Oahu. Most of it is uncompromisingly natural in scenery, sounds and scents. Part of the land is designated a natural reserve for monk seals and rare birds and plants. Other sections are state park lands. All of it is open to the best and worst of human behavior.


Cynthia Oi can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).