2nd Iconic Hawaii Attraction Closes Down, 3rd Now Needs Reservations

by SharonKurheg

In September 2021, the Honolulu City Council voted to remove the 3,922-step Haiku Stairs. While the site was already not open to the public because it was (A) private property and (B) deemed too dangerous, too many people were trespassing on the property to climb the stairs because of the Instagram appeal. Just another example of certain people ignoring laws and basic common sense for the sake of creating content.

Now another popular Hawaii visitor destination, this one on the Big Island, has been closed indefinitely. Waipo Valley is officially off limits to visitors.

The Hawaii County Mayor closed Waipio Valley Road in February in an emergency ruling due to hazardous conditions on the steep road. The road is only about a mile and a half long, but it’s also one of the steepest in the United States – somewhere between a 40 and 45% grade. It was decided that, along with the grade, the narrow, crumbling one-lane road was too dangerous for both vehicles and pedestrians.

a curved road with trees on the side

Waipo Valley Rd. – PC: Wasif Malik / Wikimedia

“Waipio Valley Road is in imminent threat of slope and roadway failure threatening the health, safety and welfare of the people,” the rule stated. Any sort of tourism activities, including driving on the road, hiking, horseback riding and camping, as well as volunteer stewardship programs are prohibited.

“This is not something that we wanted to do, it’s something that we had to do,” Mayor Roth said in a April community meeting. “This is purely about safety.”

Located on the Hamakua Coast, the sacred Waipio Valley was the boyhood home of King Kamehameha I, and an important center for political and religious life in Hawaii. Not only is “The Valley of the Kings” an important site for Hawaiian history and culture, it’s also a place of dramatic tropical beauty, with a beach at the bottom of the valley, where it meets the ocean.

a green hills and a body of water with Waipio Valley in the background

Waipo Valley – PC: Terry Ott / flickr

The road has been a point of contention for years. Residents of the valley have been frustrated with overcrowding on the roadway, saying that up to 200 pedestrians on the path each day, combined with tourists’ cars and tour buses, make it seemingly impossible for farmers to commute the already dangerous route.

A community organization filed a lawsuit against the county in April, the mayor and the Public Works director, saying the closure is unlawful.

The only people who are now allowed in Waipo Valley are valley residents, farmers and property owners.

Meanwhile, back on Oahu…

It was recently announced that one of the most one of the most sought after and visited attractions in Hawaii will soon require reservations for access/entry.

The Department of Land and Natural Resources (DLNR) announced last week that out-of-state tourists will soon need a reservation to visit Diamond Head State Monument. Reservations for entry will begin on May 12th. The system opened on April 28th.

a city next to a beach

Waikiki Beach, with Diamond Head in the background

Hawaii residents will still be offered reservation-free access, but even their entry may depend on parking availability, the DLNR said in a release.

Diamond Head will be the third park in the Hawaii State Park system to require advanced reservations for out-of-state visitors. Hā‘ena State Park (Kauai) and Waiʻānapanapa State Park (Maui), already have reservation systems in place. The systems have improved the quality of visitor experiences and have reduced impacts on adjacent communities and resources.

“The reservation system is an important part of the destination management action plan,” Gov. David Ige said last week. “We want to reduce the impact of visitors and really ensure that our residents have access to these desirable places.”

From Hawaii.gov:

Prior to the pandemic, during the 2019 winter holiday period, the park had a record visitation day of over 6,000 people. The new reservation system is intended to reduce hiker congestion along the narrow and winding trail to the summit, reduce the load on the comfort station and reduce vehicle congestion entering and exiting the sole access tunnel at Diamond Head. The DLNR Division of State Parks (DSP) hopes to also reduce parking issues in urban neighborhoods outside of Diamond Head.

This is the second time that officials have tried to decrease the number of visitors to Diamond Head. In 2020, they increased fees from $1 for walk-ins and $5 per car to $5 for walk-ins and $10 per car. Apparently it didn’t help.

a group of people standing on a cliff overlooking Diamond Head

View of Honolulu from Diamond Head PC: Famarton / Wikimedia

The reservation system will rely on QR codes to confirm reservations. This will make the entrance cashless, thereby reducing the time it takes to enter Diamond Head.

After May 12, out-of-state visitors won’t be allowed to enter without an advanced reservation. Commercial tour and trolley patrons will need to have to have reservations, as well.

Visitors parking vehicles in the crater will be required to book in two-hour time slots beginning at 6 a.m. (two consecutive slots can be booked). Walk-in and drop-off visitors will be subject to one-hour entry time slots. Arrival and exit times will be enforced to assure adequate turnover to allow for later arrivals.

DLNR didn’t say what the limits on visitors will be when the reservation system goes into effect. However an official suggested that adjustments and tweaking may be necessary to achieve the desired balance between patronage, parking, trail capacity, and duration of time slots.

Feature Image (cropped): Eric Tessmer / flickr

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