Hawaii’s hush-hush getaway
Cliffs blanketed in emerald forests drop into the azure seas of Molokai. (Lee Foster/LPI)
Moloka’i's composure can be attributed to its residents, who have ensured tourism happens on their terms. The result of this is that there is very little tourist infrastructure on Moloka’i, and anti-development sentiment is strong. You will possibly sense a reserved vibe here, but bear in mind that almost half of Moloka’i’s population claims Native Hawaiian ancestry, and don’t really want their home to turn into an overdeveloped playground for visitors.
But do not think Moloka'i is unwelcoming toward tourists. If you slow down, respect the island and its values and take some time to explore and chat with the residents, you are sure to have a rewarding glimpse into old Hawaii.
Kalaupapa National Historical Park
The infamous leprosy settlement (which still has a handful of residents) is a beautiful, remote peninsula with the world's highest sea cliffs - and a national park. To visit, you must go with Damien Tours (+1- 808567 6171), as independent access is forbidden. Call them in the early evening to make reservations. The tour is via bus, which starts at the bottom of the cliffs. Many visitors forgo the strenuous route down and do it by mule with Moloka'i Mule Ride. If you decide to hike down the two miles of stairs, make sure you leave by 8 am - sharing a trail with a bunch of mules is no fun.
Drive the east side and hike Halawa Valley
The 30-mile drive along the eastern end of Moloka'i is a panoply of quiet beauty: green fields, small coves and beaches, lush forests, steep mountains, sea cliffs, sweet churches, ancient fishponds and a few heiau (ancient temples). It is easy to miss the "sights" as most are either off the main road or just do not look like much, so make sure you have your guide handy and follow the mile markers. The road ends in Halawa Valley - to hike the two miles to the falls you will need to hire a local guide, as the trail crosses private property. You can book a guide through Moloka'i Fish & Dive or just ask around.
Eat at Mana'e Goods & Grinds and Kamuela Cookhouse
Eating in Moloka'i is hardly a gourmet romp, but these two places are an exception. Mana'e Goods & Grinds (+1 808 558 8498) is a lunch counter near Puko'o (around the 16-mile marker) serving up delicious, reasonably priced seafood burgers and lunch plates. The Kamuela Cookhouse (+1 808 567 9655) in Kualapu'u is Moloka'i's best dinner option. This casual little café serves up delectable mains like mahi mahi with lilikoi sauce and grilled lamb chops. And chocolate and macadamia nut pie. Do not forget the chocolate and macadamia nut pie.
Chill on the west end beaches
You will find Moloka'i's best beaches on the west end. Take the turn off for the Kaluakoi Resort before Maunaloa and head south. Papohaku Beach is huge, and usually you will only have to share it with a handful of other folks, but it can get pretty windy and swimming is usually off due to strong tides. You will find more beachgoers at Dixie Maru, a protected little cove where the swimming is fantastic and the winds are at a minimum.
Take a tour of local industries
Purdy's Macadamia Nut Farm is a family-run enterprise that gives hourly tours (Mon-Sat). In the small orchard at the front of the farm, Tuddie Purdy explains how macadamia nuts are grown, harvested and shelled, and gets you to participate in the process. Caffeine-addicts can head to the Moloka'i Coffee Company, which offers two tours through their coffee farm and has a gift store with delicious coffee samples. Visit the authentically restored RW Meyer Sugar Mill then keep the sweetness going with a visit to the seemingly run-down Kanemitsu Bakery (+1 808 553 5855), which is responsible for the Moloka'i sweet bread, sold statewide. Show up between 10 pm and midnight every night except Monday for fresh hot bread sold from the back door.
When you look up at those lush, green mountains, you are gazing at the Kamakou Preserve, a native ecosystem managed by the Nature Conservancy. This preserve is remote and difficult to reach (4WD is essential; call ahead for road conditions at +1 808 553 5236). Pepe'opae Trail is the most popular hike.
Post-a-Nut at the Hoolehua Post Office
Gary, the nicest postmaster you will ever meet, provides free coconuts and art supplies so you can address and decorate them as a postcard alternative.
Moloka'i is most easily accessed from Maui or O'ahu. There are two ferries trips in each direction between Lahaina (Maui) and Kaunakakai - one in the early morning and one the late afternoon. Various inter-island airlines offer flights to and from O'ahu and Maui airports. Once you arrive on Moloka'i, renting a car is essential. Book ahead with Island Kine (+1 808 553 5242), the only locally owned car rental.
Currently, there is only one real hotel on the island (Hotel Moloka'i) but there are other rental options available, from simple studios to luxury condos. Kaunakakai, Moloka'i's only town, can set you up with all the commodities you will need.