Roads in Hanalei bring new meaning to the phrase, “You can’t get there from here.” In fact, there is essentially only one main road on the island. This is Highway 50, known as Kuhio Highway. It encircles three-fourths of the island from a little way past the turn off to Waimea Canyon—about midway on the western coast—and across the southern part of the island to Lihue and the island’s only airport. Here it turns into Highway 56 and travels north up the eastern coast to Princeville. Taking advantage of car rentals on the island allows you to drive this route, past idyllic taro fields, rice paddies, and fruit plantations, access points for several beaches, and numerous excellent dining spots.
West of Princeville, the highway turns into narrow Highway 560 that follows the gently curving crescent of Hanalei Bay through the town of Hanalei to Kee Beach on the eastern border of Na Pali Coast State Park. There are no Hanalei roads on the remaining one-quarter of the island’s land past Kee Beach, as the ruggedly beautiful Na Pali Coast and its interior are virtually impassable.
You will cross over seven Hanalei bridges as you drive through the town. These bridges in Hanalei span the rivers and streams that rise in the interior mountains and have carved the gullies, gulches, and breathtaking canyons that are some of Kauai’s most scenic attractions. The historic one-lane Hanalei Bridge, which spans the river of the same name, is the first of the bridges in Hanalei after you pass Princeville. It was originally built in 1912, and the recently completed new bridge, finished in 2005, closely follows the design of the original landmark structure. These bridges, all narrow and with weight restrictions limiting heavy traffic, are the main reasons that development along this portion of the coast has been limited, preserving the pristine beauty of the area.
Other Hanalei bridges provide access to Hanalei Beach, Waioli Beach, Secret Beach, and the Kilaua Lighthouse. Even if you’re staying at one of the Hanalei resorts, it is worth obtaining a rental car just to enjoy the lovely drive from Princeville to Kee Beach. You can stop along the way for wonderful views and to explore sites such as the Hanalei Church and Waininiha Bay. Several small Hanalei roads extend off Highway 560, leading to other attractions including the Hanalei National Wildlife Refuge, which is one of three wildlife refuges in the vicinity and has excellent opportunities for kayaking.
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