Public Access Waterways

Jenine just asked an interesting question in a comment to my post about kayaking the Hanapepe River:

If you keep going up this river, does it lead you to Manawaiopuna falls? or Jurassic falls? Is the river county of kauai property? or does it become private property?

Manawaiopuna is the “Jurassic” falls, seen in the movie Jurassic Park, and yes it is a tributary of the Hanapepe River, although the upper segment of Hanapepe river is called Koula river. I found some great shots of this beautiful waterfall that I published in a previous post about helicopter landings.

This question is obviously trying to understand whether it is possible to visit these falls by following the river, given that all the surrounding land is private. And from my understanding, the answer is no.

Navigable rivers are State property, I believe, and open to the public from the ocean up to the point of highest navigation. Beyond that, I imagine they are part of the adjoining property. I am not a lawyer, and I don’t know how the laws define “navigable,” but I’ve taken that to mean anywhere you can paddle a kayak.

But Kaua’i rivers are all very short, and inland of the coastal plain, they are really just mountain streams with rocky bottoms. So you usually cannot paddle more than a mile or two inland before being blocked by rapids or shallow rocks. And unlike beaches that are public up to the highest reach of winter storm waves, there is no shoreline access along rivers. So as soon as you set foot on land next to a river, or in a non-navigable part of the river, you’re on someone’s property:

  • State Park: we’re fortunate to have the Wailua River state park to protect the land around the Wailua River. This lets tie up your kayak and explore the shore at the Fern Grotto and Secret Falls. But there are no other state parks along navigable rivers.
  • Wildlife Refuge: the National wildlife refuges along the Kilauea and Hule’ia Rivers are federal government property (the only federal parks on Kaua’i), but for the sake of the ecosystems they seek to protect, they are strictly off limits.
  • Private property: on the coastal plains, the land beside the rivers is often prime agricultural land, either fields or pastures. And understandably, the farmers don’t want anyone around their fields.

The upper valley of the Hanapepe river, from just beyond the small farms, is entirely owned by the Robinson family. They bought it almost 150 years ago to grow sugar cane and provide irrigation water. And I know they have some irrigation ditches, private access roads, and caretaker housing near the river further upstream from Hanapepe. So not only would you be tresspassing if you tried hiking up the Hanapepe River, you’d likely be found quickly by the workers there.

As with any private property, you can receive permission from the landowner to pass. But in the case of the Robinson property, I wouln’t know where to ask, and knowing how protective they are of their land, I doubt they would grant it.

In any case, even if there were public access, Manawaiopuna waterfall is far into the interior. It’s about 8 miles up the river from where you have to stop paddling, or about twice as far as you can see up the valley from the Hanapepe roadside lookout. Here is the Manawaiopuna waterfall in Google Maps; zoom out to see how remote this is:

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