A trickle of visitors on Wednesday enjoyed the panoramic view at Nuuanu Pali State Wayside — more popularly known as Pali Lookout — on the first day of its reopening since the COVID-19 pandemic struck in March.
State officials had closed the park and scenic lookout for months due to crowding concerns as well as budgetary constraints.
Officials announced the park would reopen on Wednesday, with daily hours of 6 a.m. to 6 p.m., and new vehicle parking fees for nonresidents. The gates to the park’s access roads will be unlocked and secured daily by officers from the Honolulu Police Department.
Residents and visitors alike took in the view of Windward Oahu from the platform on what turned out to be a rare, windless day, absent of the usual high gusts. There were no crowds, as was the case before pandemic-related closures.
“It’s really nice to be able to come back,” said Alexis Gomes of Kaaawa, who brought her kids, along with a visiting family friend, to take in the views and snap some photos.
Mark Klintworth of Ewa Beach also made a stop during a “puka shell tour” of the island he was giving a friend visiting from Colorado.
Although he grew up in Maunawili, he had not been to Pali Lookout in years.
The Hawaii Division of State Parks had closed Pali Lookout due to challenges in maintaining physical distancing, particularly with the volume of visitors prior to March, according to State Parks Administrator Curt Cottrell.
Right now, however, tour buses are largely absent from the lookout, which means the volume of visitors is much lower. Prior to COVID-19, Pali Lookout’s parking fees generated about $250,000 a year in revenue, Cottrell said.
Currently, the Division of State Parks is losing about $500,000 a month in revenue from entrance, parking, concession, lodging and camping fees due to COVID-19 related restrictions, which has put it in serious cost-cutting mode.
Pali Lookout and the Diamond Head State Monument are two of the most popular parks among visitors to Oahu.
Diamond Head has not yet reopened due to numerous challenges, said Cottrell, but may reopen some time after Thanksgiving.
Cottrell said a new traffic control system at the entrance tunnel meant to minimize two-way traffic and offer more room for pedestrians is still being fine-tuned. Physical distancing is also difficult to maintain on the popular hike, especially in certain areas, including the tunnel.
State officials are considering how to reopen it safely, by requiring masks in the tunnel, as well as determining the capacity for summit areas. When it reopens, entry fees for Diamond Head will be $10 per vehicle (up from $5), and $5 for walk-ins (up from $1) for visitors. It will now be free for Hawaii residents.
“We’re eager to reopen it, but we don’t want to compromise public health and safety,” said Cottrell.
State officials also remind visitors there are no legal hikes beginning from Pali Lookout, which has been a long-standing issue. Violators are subject to citations and fines.
New parking fees also have gone into effect at Pali Lookout for out-of-state residents, at $7 per vehicle ($3 per vehicle previously). For commercial vehicles, including tour buses, new rates range from $15 to $50 per vehicle, depending on the number of passengers.
A parking attendant monitors the lot, although fees can be paid using a credit card at an automatic machine, which dispenses a ticket to display on one’s dashboard.
Hawaii residents are not subject to parking or entry fees at any Hawaii state parks.