HAWAII, USA — Molokai gets relatively few visitors, especially by comparison to the four Hawaiian Islands that are larger and more populous (Hawaii, Maui, Oahu, and Kauai). There are quite a few reasons why this is so, and they all start with the word “no” – no resorts, no spas, no valet parking, no commercial luau, no movie theaters, no white-linen gourmet restaurants, no Lamborghinis for rent. That sounds pretty negative until you start thinking about what else is not there – no traffic signals, no traffic, no city lights, no noise, no crowds, no tension, no hype, and no chance that you’ll ever get lost.
The fact that this island has very little tourism infrastructure at all reflects the distinct temperament of its people. Instead of having tourists, they would rather have guests. Interactions with residents tend to be spontaneous and authentic. Molokai is traditionally known as “the friendly isle,” and her people are friendly the way you probably expect your very own friends to be.
Moomomi Preserve — This stunning, wild nature preserve managed by The Nature Conservancy, contains one of Hawaii’s finest examples of an intact, thriving coastal ecosystem. There are lots of stories waiting to be told about the sand dune system, the caves, the native beach flora and fauna, even the extinct duck whose bones were found here.
Molokai Ka Hula Piko Festival — This is one of the most powerful and authentic hula festivals anywhere in Hawaii. Presented each May at beautiful Papohaku Beach Park, it is a day of unforgettable hula and Hawaiian music (and local-style food!). The festival honors the ancient origins of hula, and before dawn that day the public is invited to a nearby hilltop for a somber and spiritually moving ceremony.
Kalaupapa National Historical Park and Saint Damien — This community, which is also a national historical park is one of the world’s great humanitarian sites. In the late 19th century the peninsula was established as a quarantined community for patients with Hansen’s Disease (then known as leprosy). Belgian priest Father Damien was canonized in 2009 for his years of caring for the patients there. Today a limited number of visitors can visit Kalaupapa by taking an exciting mule ride down the switchback trail to the remote community.
East: At the east end of Molokai, ancient wisdom and a smarter future could be one and the same. On Molokai the sunrise first strikes the rocky headland of Mount Kamakou, which at just under 5,000 feet in elevation is the highest point on the island. The peak is high enough to catch a good amount of moisture from the trade winds, so the East End is the wetter part of the island. It’s a steep landscape rich with vegetation and scattered with evidence of human history – weathered wooden houses a century old, churches older than that, and an abundance of stacked-stone structures created by the native Hawaiians untold hundreds of years ago.
Central: The hub of island life, central Molokai is deceptively quiet, full of surprises. The 5th-largest Hawaiian island, Molokai consists of less than 400 square miles of dry land and a population of less than 8,000 souls. Although these people live in various locations all over the island, they all intersect in one place – the town. The only town.
West: Close to the land, Molokai’s west end offers lots of sun, serenity, and soul. When the setting sun touches the horizon off the “West End” of Molokai, it floods the sky with silent glory. This atmospheric dazzle sprawls over a hushed and open landscape. The West End is big-sky country – by day clean and powder blue, by night velvet black and loaded with stars, the breezes moving freely over a calm and uncivilized landscape.
Kalaupapa: The adventure of Kalaupapa National Historical Park. Like a Gettysburg battlefield or an Anasazi cliff dwelling, the national park at Molokai’s Kalaupapa Peninsula tells a rich and important story about being human. But its human drama tends to overshadow another fact – one that’s equally compelling. Kalaupapa is one of the most thrilling landscapes on Earth. Taken as a one-day adventure, the trek repays your moderate exertion with maximum inspiration.
Getting around on Molokai: Options are more varied than you might suppose. …in a place without traffic lights and almost literally without traffic – this is the one. This is the one because it rewards the slow driver and the frequent stopper. If you drove like mad, the place would seem to be just a long hilltop of red dirt and short grass – not to mention its incredible coastline, with the beautiful islands Maui and Lanai in the offing. But the curious traveler, even the one who explores no farther than the paved roadways, will discover many subtle surprises on Molokai.
The Water Story: The sea has many moods on Molokai. Here’s how to paddle, boat, dive, float to find them. It’s just after dawn on the beach at Aqua Hotel Molokai, and the light is brilliant. The wind and the sea are perfectly matched – both are barely moving and slightly cool. You pull your bright yellow kayak slushing across the beach, sleekly into the water, and jump in. Right away you know what to do – start paddling. It’s instinctive. It’s what people have been doing here for thousands of years…
Agritourism: Molokai people live close to the earth. So when you visit Molokai, visit the farms. At eight a.m. on a Saturday, it’s already getting warm in Kaunakakai, the central and only town of Molokai. Along the town’s two-block commercial strip, the two grocery stores are getting ready for a busy day. So is the fish-and-dive shop, the bakery, the pharmacy, and the bike shop. But the island’s farmers are ahead of them all, for they’ve already rigged their booths and tents in a vacant corner lot. They’ll be done by noon, when they’ll head back to the land they’ve cultivated all week. Or maybe they’ll go fishing. Or maybe they’ll go home and clean out the imu, the underground oven, getting ready for a backyard luau.
Where to stay: Down-home Molokai is free of resorts. So how can a visitor know where to stay? It’s dusk on the island of Molokai. You pull your car out onto the main highway, heading to a restaurant for dinner. This is the busy part of the island, near the main town of Kaunakakai. Then you notice something strange and marvelous – nothing.