Polihale State Park is a remote wild beach on the western side of the Hawaiian island of Kauai. It is the western most publicly accessible area in the United States. The exception being the forbidden, privately owned island of Niihau and much of Alaska. The beach is miles away from the town of Kekaha, and it can only be reached via, poorly marked, dirt sugarcane roads, making a four wheel drive vehicle preferable. The park is several miles long, yet only Queen's Pond offers safe swimming.
The park is located at the western end of Kauai and has many miles of shoreline that averages about 300 feet from the barrier dunes to the surf line. Sand dunes along the beach can reach heights nearing 100 feet. Driving on the beach is permitted, but obtaining a tow truck would be expensive.
Driving on Polihale Beach
The only road to the park is dirt, with many ruts and potholes, and is difficult to access by non-4WD vehicles.
The park is located to the north of the Pacific Missile Range Facility. The beach is flanked to the north by the Na Pali Coast mountain ridges. On the east side park is adjacent to the field used for agriculture, that is in turn adjacent to the mountain ridge. Mountains are so close that at night park visitors can hear goats bleating on this ridge. Road access is west from the town of Kekaha. A good local map will be needed.
The park has running cold water, flush toilets, simple semi-private showers and a few pavilions. Visitors to the park should bring additional water, food and all supplies they feel they need. Nothing is available for purchase anywhere in the park. The only service visitors can enjoy is kayak rental that is available during the season. There is no medical facility or lifeguard available.
Except for the usual water-related activities the park is officially open to campers. Swimming is safe ONLY at the Queens Pond, located toward the southern end of the park. This is a wild beach. The shore is unprotected from the open ocean. The usual surfing, snorkeling, etc. are not safe activities along this beach. The beach drops off rapidly to deep water and rip currents along the shore are very strong, especially in the winter months.
History and mythology
This beach has a strong basis in Hawaiian mythology. Polihale means "House of the Po", and Po is the Hawaiian afterworld. Spirits would travel to the coastal plain adjacent to the beach, and stay in the temple, known as the heiau. From there, they would climb the cliffs to the north, jump off into the sea to get to the mythical Po. So strong was this belief that all the homes built in the vicinity of Polihale would have no east facing doors, so that no traveling spirit could become trapped within.
A sea lettuce called pahapaha grows in the waters near Polihale. A wreath made from pahapaha can fade and dry out, but when soaked in water, it will revive to its original freshness. Only the pahapaha from Polihale does this. According to mythology, Na-maka-o-Kaha'i, sister of Pele and Goddess of the Ocean, blessed Polihale's pahapaha with this special quality. Visitors once took home wreaths made from pahapaha from Polihale to prove they had indeed been there.
In December of 2008 flooding damaged facilities and closed the access road. With the park site closed and fearing the economic impact, numerous local residents and businesses volunteered to repair the road on their own rather than wait for the government to take action. The cost had been estimated at $4 million, an amount that the Department of Land and Natural Resources did not have budgeted, with repair time estimated at one to two years. On March 23, 2009, local volunteer residents and private businesses began repairing the road on their own and completed the job eight days later.