After a year of natural devestation, Hawaii is open for tourism.
A series of disasters clobbered the islands in 2018, disrupting Hawaii’s typically idyllic forecast of glassy surf, sunshine and rainbows with a hurricane, a devastating flood and a ruinous volcanic eruption. Yet while residents are still rebuilding roads and homes, relatively few of the archipelago’s popular tourist attractions are ffected.
Visitor arrival and spending totals in the islands are strong and 2019 is poised for another record-breaking year.
The Hawaii you want to visit —Waikiki, Pearl Harbor, Maui’s golden beaches —are unvarnished by stormy weather and still very much worthy of your vacation dollars.
And if you’re a savvy, in-the-know traveler or a repeat Hawaii visitor, it’s still possible to go further afield to see the new earth created by last summer’s explosive lava flows at the foot of Kilauea volcano.
Read on and we’ll show you how.
The Big Island
One of the world’s most active volcanoes is Kilauea on the Big Island of Hawaii. Famed for her large lava lake, Kilauea has been continuously erupting since 1983, attracting more than two million annual visitors to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.
Last May, a summer-long eruption began in Kilauea’s lower East Rift Zone, a residential area many miles from the summit. As the dramatic eruptions intensified along the palm tree-lined streets of residential Puna, lava spewed high in the sky, falling back down to form dangerous, fast-moving rivers.
Accompanied by thousands of earthquakes, lava tormented the lower Puna district until the eruptions ceased in early August. By that point, lava had already smothered highways, burned up businesses and eliminated 700 houses.
During this time thousands of people in the Puna district were evacuated—and for good reason. Although the threat of danger from lava scared off most visitors, the spectacle of it generated a new wave of at-your-own-risk lava tourism. Some of them paid a price for their adventurous spirit. Almost two-dozen sightseers were injured when a basketball-sized glob of lava crashed onto a tour boat traveling near the lava’s ocean entry point.
All told, lava erupted from two dozen fissures in Kilauea’s lower East Rift Zone, transforming the Puna area over a period of three months from a network of off-the-grid neighborhoods to a giant, bleak lava field. Hundreds of acres of cooled lava now exist where there was previously open ocean, virtually expanding the Big Island’s footprint.
In addition to homes, farms and businesses, casualties of the eruption include the dazzling, volcanically heated Waiopae Tidepools (popularly called the Kapoho Tidepools), a world class snorkeling spot that was completely inundated with lava. Lava also evaporated Hawaii’s largest lake, a hidden gem in Puna.
The lava delivered some gifts, though, including the world’s newest black sand beach at Pohoiki. The beach can be found on the east side of what’s known as Isaac Hale Beach Park.
At Kilauea’s summit, a transformation took place where a giant lava lake once filled the caldera. The lava lake — a spectacular sight for visitors — first appeared inside the caldera in 2008 and its depth fluctuated over the next decade.
Then, when the May eruptions took hold, the summit crater collapsed, erasing all signs of the lava lake. In place of the lake, there is now a giant depression measuring more than 1,600 feet deep. The depression can now be safely viewed by visitors.
Most of Hawaii Volcanoes National Park has reopened to the public. But the park’s treasured Jaggar Museum, perched on an increasingly unstable ledge overlooking where the lava lake used to be, is indefinitely closed.
Kauai’s freak storm
In April, a freak storm on the island of Kauai produced the most rainfall ever recorded in U.S. history during a 24-hour period. In one day, more than four feet of water deluged large sections of the island’s north shore, carving massive sinkholes, unleashing landslides and battering more than 350 homes.
The flooding subsided quickly, but the damage is still under repair. A portion of Kauai’s vital Kuhio Highway remains closed to visitors, severing access to several bucket-list beaches, popular snorkeling areas and a breathtakingly beautiful (but exceptionally difficult) 11-mile coastal hiking trail. Hundreds of rental homes and hotel units remain off-limits, as well.
The following attractions are indefinitely closed: Haena State Park (home of Ke’e Beach and the starting point of the Kalalau Trail), Haena Beach Park (the gateway to Mauka Bay, also known as Tunnels), Limahuli Garden and Preserve and all other sites along the northernmost reaches of Kuhio Highway between the Hanalei Bridge and what’s fondly known by locals as the “end of the road.”
No reservations are available at the Hanalei Colony Resort. Many private vacation rental homes are also inaccessible.
Although Hanalei absorbed the brunt of the flood damage, this quaint town of big surf and waterfall-drenched mountains has mostly recovered. There’s one big exception: Due to a flood-ravaged section of Weke Road, visitors can no longer drive to Black Pot Beach, a popular recreational area on Hanalei Bay. The beach, however, is accessible by foot.
Hawaii’s world-famous holiday hotspot was spared by Hurricane Lane, a Category 5 storm that weakened to a tropical cyclone and swerved to avoid a direct hit on the islands. Although hundreds of thousands of tourists hunkered down in the high-rise hotels of Waikiki as meteorologists predicted severe flooding and winds, the late August storm was largely a swing-and-a-miss.
The storm caused some destruction, mostly in the form of mild and moderate flooding. Lane is now the wettest tropical cyclone on record in Hawaii, delivering more than four feet of rain in some places. But Waikiki, and the rest of the state, weathered the storm with no lasting visible damage.