If you've ever stayed in Kaanapali, chances are you've strolled along the three-mile Kaʻanapali Beachwalk. Beloved by residents and visitors alike, the concrete path runs the length of Kaʻanapali Beach and serves as a scenic pedestrian path to resorts, restaurants, shops, and different sections of the beach. But following a series of strong south swells, erosion has caused portions of the Kaanapali Beachwalk to collapse— potentially changing the famous walkway as we know it forever.
In mid-July 2022, the largest south swell in 20 years walloped the islands, compromising sections of the Kaanapali Beachwalk— and taking with it what little sand remained at the southern end of Kaʻanapali Beach. Weeks later, another strong swell intensified the erosion, causing the beachwalk in front of the Kaʻanapali Aliʻi to start crumbling into the ocean. Today, the scene is disastrous: palms are toppling, plumes of dirt and sediment are dirtying up the nearshore waters, giant root balls and concrete slabs are strewn across the beach, and PVC pipes, sandbags, and plastic road barriers from previous erosion mitigation are peeking through the sand.
Beach access is now cut off in front of the Kaʻanapali Aliʻi Resort, and pedestrians are being rerouted.
The devastation is leaving past, current, and future visitors with many questions.
The worst of the devastation is in front of the Kaʻanapali Aliʻi Resort. Beach access here is closed for the time being. You can still access the beach from either the north or south side of the resort, although the sand seems to be diminishing quickly on the southern side.
This is likely one of the worst erosion events in Kaʻanapali Beach history.
Erosion is nothing new in Kaanapali. Sand ebbs and flows seasonally with the swells, and the beach has seen several major erosion events since 1990. However, coastal experts, resort employees, residents, and return visitors all agree: time is different. That said, the erosion poses no immediate threat to the Kaʻanapali Aliʻi— the beach and boardwalk are seeing the brunt of the damage.
It is unclear if the beachwalk will be rebuilt in its original form. Kaanapali Alii is consulting with private engineers and government officials about what to do next. Already, restoring the sidewalk looks unlikely. The path is privately owned and maintained, which means the Kaanapali Alii would have to get special permits from the county to rebuild— and it is uncertain whether the county will grant those permits. What's more, a resort operator official told the Maui News that rebuilding the walkway "will be an engineering challenge given the current conditions."
Kaanapali Beach sees chronic and seasonal erosion, but experts say sea level rise and strong summer swells were catalysts for this event.
The Kaʻanapali Aliʻi is not threatened at this time. Although the beach and boardwalk are closed, you can still access the beach north of the resort. Additionally, you can still access undamaged portions of the beachwalk via a short detour. You can still easily access Black Rock, Whalers Village, and other resorts in the area on foot.
Short term, the beach should (hopefully) start returning when winter swells start pushing sand toward the south end of Kaanapali Beach, but it's unlikely the boardwalk will be repaired quickly— if at all.
Long-term, well, it's impossible to say. Two fixes to Kaʻanapali's chronic erosion are being floated. One solution— which has been in the works since 2006— is beach restoration and berm enhancement. The project would double the width of Kaʻanapali Beach by bringing sand from offshore. However, some residents and activists oppose the project, saying it will only be a temporary fix and citing concerns about reef health.
On the other side of the coin, coastal activists are pushing for a managed retreat, hoping to mitigate erosion by restoring dunes and vegetation. This would allow the coastline to naturally ebb and flow without harming infrastructure or the environment. Some residents also point out that the state's previous mitigation measures haven't worked and, in some cases, have only made things worse. However, Wayne Hedani, president of the Kaanapali Operations Association, told the Maui News, "There will be nowhere to retreat to that will be viable at this time."
The solution to Kaʻanapali's erosion seems to lie somewhere between a rock and a hard place. For now, all we can do is hope the sand returns this winter and enjoy every day we get at Kaʻanapali Beach— one of the most beautiful beaches in Hawaii.
Mahalo to Maui Accommodations for sharing the photos and info.