The Strange Case of Queen’s Bath

Queen’s Bath in Princeville is notorious for its change of moods. It’s one of those controversial places outed by the Kaua’i Revealed guidebook as an undiscovered gem: a turquoise and emerald pool set in black lava with views of Bali Hai. Except it’s also a lava bench on the North Shore of Kaua’i exposed to the deadly winter surf–which is why I’m comparing it to the Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde.

Along with the increase in popularity, there has been an increase in accidents and drownings. Most of the incidents occur in the winter, when high waves sweep over the rocks, and unaware people get knocked into the churning waters. Google’s satellite view of Queen’s Bath was taken in the winter when the wash of the waves covers the pool. It should be about in the center of this view:


Source: maps.google.com

This impressive video shows high winter surf (12-15 feet) at Queen’s Bath itself. It goes to the start of the high surf when you click play:

After every incident or death, people talk about closing the access, essentially to protect visitors who are not familiar with ocean conditions. In fact, it was closed for a while in 2002 because of, you guessed it, a lawsuit against the county. It quickly reopened with disclaimer signs to remove any county liability—the typical signs that no one heeds.

QueensBathOldSigns
Click for large version

For the record, those signs read: “Warning – High Surf” and “This path and the natural areas below are treacherous. Proceed at your own risk.”

Then in 2007, somebody got a video of a kid getting swept off a ledge. Two things about this video: he was down on the ledge near the water on purpose to play in the water, and this is the cove before you get to Queen’s Bath, not the pool itself. Even on low surf days, the shape of this inlet amplifies the rise and fall of the wave.

More recently, there have been new signs tallying the deaths, in an attempt to really get people’s attention. This is reminiscent of the sign at the entrance to the equally dangerous Hanakapi’ai beach. These signs were put up by a concerned individual (the same guy who placed life buoys at ungarded beaches), but paradoxically, the county is against them, probably because they weren’t written by a lawyer (the county is allergic to anything that might give them liability).

QueensBathNewSigns
Click for large version

These say: “Warning – Waves break on ledge. Stand back.” and “Queen’s Bath drownings: 28 [with skull and cross-bones]. Unexpected large waves will knock you off rocks & out to sea.”

Despite the scare tactics, conventional wisdom is that Queen’s bath is safe in the summer. The surf is lower and barely washes over the rocks to refill the pool, and there are people walking on the rocks and swimming in the pool. I’ve experienced such conditions as early as April and swam there with my daughter. As seen in this overview, the actual Queen’s Bath pool is set back from the waves, and it drains in a channel that does not go directly back into the ocean, but curves around out the bottom of this photo:

QueensBathOverview

But just recently, I received some photos from a visitor who described the following situation last week (early July). Here are the conditions that this visitor encountered just before—typical summer low surf, with the sea level far below the dry rocks (Dr. Jekyll):

QueensBathDrJekyll
Source: Used by permission.
:

We also went to Queens Bath, found a great little pool to play in. My brother- in-law was standing on the rocks looking out over the ocean, when, a big wave came and knocked him down and almost into the raging ocean below. … And somehow, running from that wave, I got a picture of the wave picking him up.

Mr Hyde strikes:

QueensBathMrHyde
Source: Used by permission.

He was so very lucky!! Just a cut on his hand and a sore booty! We saw all the warning signs, so we were very careful. That wave just came from nowhere. Please everyone be very careful!

Moral of the story: I won’t be one of those people who tells you not to go, so be informed, get the surf report, don’t go onto the rocks if there are waves, and even if there aren’t big swells, don’t go close to the edge. I would add “don’t turn your back on the ocean and watch the swells,” but that’s exactly what this guy was doing, and he still got knocked down and injured.

Printed from: http://great-hikes.com/blog/queens-bath-incidents/.
© 2014.

5 Comments   »

  1. Teemu Torvelainen says:

    Hi!

    Well, I went to swim in the Queen’s Bath in Dec 29 2009. It was a nice day, not really big waves. Later I thought I might have been a bit more cautious.

    Teemu
    Helsinki, Finland

  2. Ann says:

    Hi-
    I had a most terrible accident on path to Queen’s Bath. I slipped on trail and broke my leg, and also tore several knee ligaments. It was an awful experience. I had to be carried out of the trail. It was our 2nd day of vacation. We had not read the online reviews of how VERY dangerous this QB is…or, we would not have gone.
    ~ Ann, Chicago

  3. Andy says:

    Hello Ann. Sorry to hear about your serious injury. Usually it’s the lava rocks exposed to big waves that are the danger at Queen’s bath, but you remind us that every trail can be treacherous. The trail to Queen’s bath is not well maintained, and it has some roots and rocks to step over and down. Also, it has some of the clay mud that gets very slippery when it rains (which is fairly often), so watch your step. Overall, the trail is not difficult, but Ann’s incident reminds us all to step carefully wherever we go.

    For people who don’t hike much or who didn’t bring their fancy hiking shoes, I highly recommend a hiking stick to help keep your balance. Sometimes you can find them near the trailhead, but the easiest is to pack a telescoping metal pole into your luggage. If you only have carry-on, ask the TSA whether yours is allowed, or buy one on the island.

  4. blaze says:

    Yeesh. Some brother in law. “He’s about to get swept to his death by a rogue wave, let’s take a picture!”

  5. Deb says:

    My 17 yr old daughter got swept off the rocks there..somehow crawled out of the ocean alive that day..others not so lucky I see

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