It’s one of the most scenic highways in the world but its popularity is starting to take a toll on the Hana community.
But there’s one group that’s trying to make the road safer while raising cultural awareness.
East Maui residents say more and more people are driving the Road to Hana.
For those who don’t want to drive the 52 miles and face the 600 hairpin turns, they can take a tour—but residents say that too is getting out of hand.
“In 2016, as a resident and a manager of a tour company, I realized there was rapid unlicensed commercial activity going on along the Road to Hana,” said Napua Hueu, Hana Highway Regulation committe chair.
The next year the Hana Community Association asked Hueu to be on their board, and asked her to adopt the Hana Highway Regulation.
“Initially I had reached out to the state agencies and federal agencies that are in charge of commercial activity and access to the National Park. I presented all the evidence that there was unlicensed commercial activity going on,” she said.
She was told agencies had lack of staff to thoroughly regulate the rural area.
“So we decided it would have to be the community to put pressure on these illegal tour operators directly in order to have some sort of effect,” she said.
When she first started doing road side surveys in 2016 she said there were 23 illegal operators.
Today, there’s 16.
“These illegal operators are taking people to our state parks, our county facilities but for the most part, because they lack any government oversight, they take people to sacred sights, places that are on private property or beyond private property and they don’t have anybody looking over them,” Hueu said.
Hueu and other residents can write down tour operator’s information and put it on their website.
“Ultimately the PUC will follow through with fining these illegal tour operators or not providing them with a certificate when they want a certificate to operate,” she said.
She says the other big issues are illegal parking and trespassing.
“Illegal parking causes hazardous driving conditions; trespassing on private property causes emergency rescues, injuries, and fatalities; unlicensed commercial activity causes economic adversities for our legal providers; and commercial activity within sacred sites causes overcrowding and desecration of these sacred sites,” she said.
She says Red Sand Beach, Bamboo Forest and Waioka Pond are the most overcrowded and deadly sites.
She recalls four fatalities in 2018.
“From cliff jumping on the ocean side to flash flooding of the streams at the Bamboo Forest, or visitors falling off the sides of Red Sand Beach, we have quite a few [fatalities] every year,” she said.
“Those sites see thousands of people trespassing over private property every month and an absorbent amount of illegal parking because there’s no legal parking stalls for these sites,” she adds.
Waikani Falls was became impassable at times due to cars parked along the side of the narrow two-lane highway.
Hana Highway Regulation took note and sent their findings to state highway officials who ended up putting delineators along the road where people were parking.
Hueu says educating people has been the most effective way to help combat illegal parking and trespassing.
“We’ve seen a 96% decrease in people causing all of this chaos if somebody’s there to go back and forth with them and tell them why it’s not okay to do this,” she said.
“It’s very important to have people placed at the head of all of these trails to not only detour people from going there but also give them the culture significance of the area and provide them with the education that’s not in the tour books and what not,” she said.
She explains sites like Red Sand Beach or Kaihalulu.
“People don’t realize it’s a site where royalty was born, Queen Kaahumanu was born there and people are writing nude beach and frolicking about with no clue as to what the significance of that site is,” she said.
She wants to get more residents involved in the Hana Highway Regulation.
“We’d like to see the implementation of 28 resident volunteers during the summer of 2019,” she said.
The group is currently crowd funding so they can buy equipment and uniforms.
She says the group’s ultimate goal is to enhance visitor safety while diminishing the amount of injuries, and fatalities.
“We need to put our residents out on the road and we’d like to make them stipend positions to give a little bit of incentive to stand post and provide visitor education, awareness and to help detour all of this chaos,” she said.
If you happen to go to one of the sacred sites and plan on showing off your photo, be mindful that you might hear from the group.
“We do a lot of web surveillance looking up all our sacred site locations that are tagged on social media,” she said.
The group will ask you to delete the post out of respect to the community. It’s part of the Hana Highway Regulation’s Code of Conduct, which can be found here.