Did Social Media + Guidebooks Help Spoil Things in Hawaii?

Did Social Media + Guidebooks Help Spoil Things in Hawaii?

Regular commentors Richard and David B. both raised an interesting topic. It has to do with places to see in Hawaii that were written about in guidebooks and social media, some of which had to temporarily or permanently close because of their popularity.

In pursuit of their instant social media glory, a small but significant number of Hawaii visitors and locals have trampled fragile and sacred ground, climbed boundary fences and trespassed, and otherwise damaged the environment to recreate a moment seen on social media or in books.

Which of us hasn’t seen that special Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, or other photo or post depicting the ultimate experience in Hawaii. And perhaps we have been guilty of experiencing that ourselves. So what’s the harm? Read what happened in 2011 below.

Guidebooks, websites, and Hawaii laws.

In 2011, a Hawaii bill sought to help eliminate social media and online website sharing of sites that require trespassing on private property. That bill passed through the House and could have ended much Hawaii travel writing. Although never passed into law (which we verified today with a legislative clerk), the bill sought to deter inviting visitors to places requiring trespass. Others felt that the bill was a violation of free speech and was opposed by The Association of American Publishers.

But because of it, things changed and guidebooks no longer promoted trespassing to reach hidden sights. In the popular Hawaii Revealed guidebooks by Andrew Doughty, he says “Don’t trespass…ever…for any reason…period.” Even if the place you want to reach is on public land, if access to it requires trespassing, the official word is not to go.

You’ll recall Kauai’s Kipu Falls near Lihue, which was swarmed by visitors when it was written about in guidebooks years ago. For over a century it was popular with no issues. But deaths and injuries resulted as more people came and, in the end, high and impenetrable fencing now prevents access due to safety and liability issues with the landowner.

Not that long ago, Hawaii seemed sleepy compared with today. At statehood in 1959, annual visitors were estimated at under one quarter million. In the next ten years, it jumped to one and three quarter million. It seemed back in the 70s, Hawaii still enjoyed a healthier situation. Did social media and discovering the spectacular and unique natural beauty of the islands help make it the stomping grounds for the 10 million annual visitors Hawaii saw prior to COVID? 

Today’s post started with a comment:

Richard (a Hawaii born mainland resident) went into depth about the closure of The Blue Pool located at Helele’ike’oha Falls on Maui. Before it was promoted in guidebooks, people were allowed by private landowners to visit the popular swim spot. But then a guidebook caused it to be overrun with visitors who trespassed on private land.

According to Richard, it got so bad that local landowners blocked the private road leading to the spot so that no one can now enjoy it.

Commentor David B. replied to Richard:

“People want to go someplace interesting and “safe” and visit “secret” and “special” places like the Maui blue pool… And social media obsession has magnified this 10 million percent. It’s all about the picture they post on Instagram or whatever.”

Social media sharing became our modern-day replacement for postcards.

Oh yeah, those. You’ll still find them all around Hawaii, although we suspect their sales are a fraction of what they once were.  

Why are the things we can’t have the ones we want the most?

Share your thought on this. There are so many experiences you can do in Hawaii, don’t let the one that is off-limits spoil your fun.

Beat of Hawaii © photo on Kauai.

29 thoughts on “Did Social Media + Guidebooks Help Spoil Things in Hawaii?”

  1. Aloha. The biggest problem I see is that some guidebooks listed places that were private and not to be trespassed. And, of course, some tourists think “no trespassing” applies to others, not them. We look forward to being able to visit again once Covid is more settled and the regulations are more consistent. We love Hawaii, her land, and her people.

  2. A good example of how locals are doing some of the damage is the Kuliouou Trail. The hikers block driveways, go into people’s yards to use water hoses, leave bags of dog __ on sidewalks, etc.
    Just go to the beginning of the trail and you will see dozens of bags of dog __ and they leave their dogs run loose, so just imagine how much trash and dog __ are on the trail and the city or county will do nothing about it!

  3. This is a slippery slope for sure. Hawai’i has always been obsessed with,”back in the day” reminiscence, when things were less crowded, less hectic, more welcoming, unspoiled.
    Social media and the internet has absolutely ruined it but it’s actually more the self entitled people who have ruined it rather than the internet itself.
    That’s kind of the way of the world today, in nearly every aspect of life.

  4. Aloha Guys!

    The fact is that it’s going to take education (or re-education) of people, including Hawaii locals, to show that the history and culture (as well as the beautiful landscapes) need preservation and enrichment through our individual actions. The reality is that this not only applies to Hawaii, but “modern” cultures across the entire World, for that matter.

    I agree with much of what people have said in this thread. Social Media has definitely created a paradigm shift in the modern world’s cultural ethics and values, and the truth is there’s no going back at this point. We can only do what it takes in the “here and now” to do the above, as we move forward. Frankly (in my opinion), it’s going to take another paradigm shift of enlightenment, with a large chunk of the population, to actually do it. Although, “Rome wasn’t built in a day”, as the saying goes…

    Mahalo, Rob and Jeff, for such a unique and thought provoking topic!

      1. I am also humbled that you’ve quoted my response to Richard’s comment that inspired this post. I addition to the scourge of social media, I also mentioned in that response that the population of the world has nearly tripled during my life time, and the sheer number of people that are eager-able to travel is surging, soaring, skyrocketing, spiking, especially with airfare being so inexpensive. But, the number of cool and interesting (and “safe”) places to visit is static, and nothing is secret anymore.

        OT – but the waves have been giant for the last few days, peaking today (40′ plus). They breached our beach dune, and several places along the road. The ocean is flexing its muscle. Stay out!

        1. Hi David.

          Thanks. There are really big waves today at the North Shore and a ton of people checking them out.


        2. I’m just remembering that, while the volume of visitors has increased therefore the damage has increased, all these same complaints were being made back in the 70s when the “hippies” had invaded the island (we were on Kauai). And as half-year residents, we were religiously following Robert Kaplan’s guide books, believing if he wrote about it, it was permissible to follow his guidance for how to access his suggested locations. No doubt not all were. Even then we always traveled with a trash bag to bring out whatever refuse we found left by others, and in “hippie” days that could be a lot!. Too bad the size of the islands can’t grow in proportion to the number of people who wish to experience paradise. And tragic that we are not all taught to take nothing, leave nothing.

  5. I moved to Kauai when I was 19 in 1999. I spent a week on Polihale camping and saw 2 other people the whole time. It was actually welcome to see them! Since have moved back to the mainland but have been to Polihale about 6 times since. Last time was crazy busy. I get it. Its a magical place. People love it. I live and am from Utah. All my favorite desert places are overrun with Sprinter vans these days. You can’t be mad at people for doing stuff that you like to do or places you like to go. Yes, it will never be the same. But I still love going to those amazing places and reliving some old memories and making new ones as well. Hey, maybe even make some friends in the meantime! ALOHA!

  6. Aloha BOH

    Glade you found my post interesting enough for a topic.

    My conversation with Roy my now transplanted friend from Kihei was an exchange of how we felt about Hawaii and current travel issues on the islands.

    He spoke to how his local retired friends were enjoying a break from the crush of tourist and tourism. I believe that’s when he brought up the subject of the travel guide books.

    I was moved by his description of the Pool Blue and his fond memories of the place. It was sad to hear him speak of how he’d never again have the opportunity to visit this special place.

    He said anytime a travel guide revealed(Like That) a special place on the island it was soon over run with tourist and either closed or trampled and trashed.

    I’ve been following BOH for about 6 months or so, I’ve found most posters here are concerned about preservation of not only land, but of Hawaiian culture and language.

    Unfortunately there are to many folks who don’t hold those same beliefs.

    1. Hi Richard.

      Thanks for the inspiration. And we appreciate your more than 100 comments to date.


    2. THank you for speaking out. We are a family who feels the way you do. Living in a tourist place too the FOMO selfie thing is a destroyer of beauty and places for sure. Big hotels etc don’t help either. Looks like many who seem angry at restriction won’t be returning. Maybe that can turn the tide. We will wait for Hawaii when she’s ready. Mahalo 🌈

  7. Can you please tell me how to actually access a Safe Travel Hawaii app? I did go online and filled out all prearrival information but many places they refers to an App?

  8. Visiting Arlington, Boston Common, La Brea Tar Pits, and all tourist attractions, advertised or secret, deserves the utmost respect for the such as well the surrounding neighborhoods. Hawaii no different, loving care for the aina and the people.

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