Molokai - Fodor's Maui (2016)

Fodor's Maui (2016)


Main Table of Contents

Welcome to Molokai

Exploring Molokai


Where to Eat

Where to Stay

Water Sports and Tours

Golf, Hiking, and Outdoor Activities

Shops and Spas

Entertainment and Nightlife

Welcome to Molokai

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Top Reasons to Go | Getting Oriented | What’s Where | Planning | The Settlement’s Early Days | Father Damien’s Arrival | Kalaupapa Today

Updated by Heidi Pool

With sandy beaches to the west, sheer sea cliffs to the north, and a rainy, lush eastern coast, Molokai offers a bit of everything, including a peek at what the Islands were like 50 years ago. Large tracts of land from Hawaiian Homeland grants have allowed the people to retain much of their traditional lifestyle. A favorite expression is “Slow down, you’re on Molokai.” Exploring the great outdoors and visiting the historic Kalaupapa Peninsula, where Saint Damien and Saint Marianne Cope helped people with leprosy, are attractions for visitors.

Molokai is generally thought of as the last bit of “real” Hawaii. Tourism has been held at bay by the island’s unique history and the pride of its predominantly native Hawaiian population. Only 38 miles long and 10 miles wide at its widest point, Molokai is the fifth-largest island in the Hawaiian archipelago. Eight thousand residents call Molokai home, nearly 60% of whom are Hawaiian.

Molokai is a great place to be outdoors. There are no tall buildings, no traffic lights, no streetlights, no stores bearing the names of national chains, and nothing at all like a resort. You will, however, find 15 parks and more than 100 miles of shoreline to play on. At night the whole island grows dark, creating a velvety blackness and a wonderful, rare thing called silence.


Molokai was created when two large volcanoes—Kamakou in the east and Mauna Loa in the west—broke the surface of the Pacific Ocean to create an island. Afterward, a third section of the island emerged when a much smaller caldera, Kauhako, popped up to form the Kalaupapa Peninsula. But it wasn’t until an enormous landslide sent much of Kauhako Mountain into the sea that the island was blessed with the sheer sea cliffs—the world’s tallest—that make Molokai’s north shore so spectacularly beautiful.


Molokai is named in chants as the child of the moon goddess Hina. For centuries the island was occupied by native people, who took advantage of the reef fishing and ideal conditions for growing taro.

When leprosy broke out in the Hawaiian Islands in the 1840s, the Kalaupapa Peninsula, surrounded on three sides by the Pacific and accessible only by a steep trail, was selected as the place to exile people suffering from the disease. The first patients were thrown into the sea to swim ashore as best they could, and left with no facilities, shelter, or supplies. In 1873 a missionary named Father Damien arrived and began to serve the peninsula’s suffering inhabitants. He died in 1889 from leprosy and was canonized as a saint by the Catholic Church in 2009. In 1888, a nun named Mother Marianne Cope moved to Kalaupapa to care for the dying Father Damien and continue his vital work. Mother Marianne stayed at Kalaupapa until her death in 1918 (not from leprosy), and was canonized in 2012.

Although leprosy, known now as Hansen’s disease, is no longer contagious and can be remitted, the buildings and infrastructure created by those who were exiled here still exist, and some longtime residents have chosen to stay in their homes. Today the area is Kalaupapa National Historical Park. Visitors are welcome but must prebook a tour operated by Damien Tours of Kalaupapa. You can reach the park by plane, by hiking, or by taking a mule ride down the steep Kalaupapa Trail.


Tradition has it that, centuries ago, Lailai came to Molokai and lived on Puu Nana at Kaana. She brought the art of hula and taught it to the people, who kept it secret for her descendants, making sure the sacred dances were performed only at Kaana. Five generations later, Laka was born into the family and learned hula from an older sister. She chose to share the art and traveled throughout the Islands teaching the dance, although she did so without her family’s consent. The yearly Ka Hula Piko Festival, held on Molokai in May, celebrates the birth of hula at Kaana.

Molokai is generally thought of as the last bit of “real” Hawaii. Tourism has been held at bay by the island’s unique history and the pride of the island’s predominantly native Hawaiian population, despite the fact that the longest white-sand beach in Hawaii can be found along its western shore. Exploring the great outdoors and visiting the historic Kalaupapa Peninsula, where St. Damien and St. Marianne Cope helped people with leprosy, are attractions for visitors.


Kalaupapa Peninsula: Hike or take a mule ride down the world’s tallest sea cliffs to a fascinating historic community that still houses a few former Hansen’s disease patients.

A waterfall hike in Halawa: A fascinating guided hike through private property takes you past ancient ruins, restored taro patches, and a sparkling cascade.

Deep-sea fishing: Sport fish are plentiful in these waters, as are gorgeous views of several islands. Fishing is one of the island’s great adventures.

Closeness to nature: Deep valleys, sheer cliffs, and the untamed ocean are the main attractions on Molokai.

Papohaku Beach: This 3-mile stretch of golden sand is one of the most sensational beaches in all of Hawaii. Sunsets and barbecues are perfect here.


Molokai is about 10 miles wide on average and four times that long. The north shore thrusts up from the sea to form the tallest sea cliffs on Earth, while the south shore slides almost flat into the water, then fans out to form the largest shallow-water reef system in the United States. Kaunakakai, the island’s main town, has most of the stores and restaurants. Surprisingly, the highest point on Molokai rises to only 4,970 feet.


West Molokai. The most arid part of the island, known as the west end, has two inhabited areas: the coastal stretch includes a few condos and luxury homes, and the largest beaches on the island; nearby is the fading hilltop hamlet of Maunaloa.

Central Molokai. The island’s only true town, Kaunakakai, with its mile-long wharf, is here. Nearly all the island’s eateries and stores are in or close to Kaunakakai. Highway 470 crosses the center of the island, rising to the top of the sea cliffs and the Kalaupapa overlook. At the base of the cliffs is Kalaupapa National Historical Park, a top attraction.

Kalaupapa Peninsula. The most remote area in the entire Hawaiian Islands is accessible only by air, on foot, or on a mule. It’s a place of stunning beauty with a tragic history.

East Molokai. The scenic drive on Route 450 around this undeveloped area, also called the east end, passes through the green pastures of Puu O Hoku Ranch and climaxes with a descent into Halawa Valley. As you continue east, the road becomes increasingly narrow and the island ever more lush.



If you’re keen to explore Molokai’s beaches, coral beds, or fishponds, summer is your best bet for nonstop calm seas and sunny skies. The weather mimics that of the other Islands: low to mid-80s year-round, slightly rainier in winter. As you travel up the mountainside, the weather changes with bursts of downpours. The strongest storms occur in winter, when winds and rain shift to come in from the south.

For a taste of Hawaiian culture, plan your visit around a festival. In January, islanders and visitors compete in ancient Hawaiian games at the Ka Molokai Makahiki Festival. The Molokai Ka Hula Piko, an annual daylong event in May, draws premier hula troupes, musicians, and storytellers. Long-distance canoe races from Molokai to Oahu are in late September and early October. Although never crowded, the island is busier during these events—book accommodations and transportation six months in advance.


Air Travel

If you’re flying in from the mainland United States, you must first make a stop in Honolulu, Oahu; Kahului, Maui; or Kailua-Kona, the Big Island. From any of those, Molokai is just a short hop away. Molokai’s transportation hub is Hoolehua Airport, a tiny airstrip 8 miles west of Kaunakakai and about 18 miles east of Maunaloa. An even smaller airstrip serves the little community of Kalaupapa on the north shore.

From Hoolehua Airport, it takes about 10 minutes to reach Kaunakakai and 25 minutes to reach the west end of the island by car. There’s no public bus. A taxi will cost about $27 from the airport to Kaunakakai with Hele Mai Taxi. Shuttle service costs about $28 per person from Hoolehua Airport to Kaunakakai; call Molokai Outdoors. Keep in mind, however, that it’s difficult to visit the island without a rental car.

Hele Mai Taxi. | 808/336-0967 , 808/646-9060 | .
Molokai Outdoors. | 808/553-4477 , 877/553-4477 | .

Car Travel

If you want to explore Molokai from one end to the other, you must rent a car. With just a few main roads to choose from, it’s a snap to drive around here. The gas stations are in Kaunakakai. Ask your rental agent for a free Molokai Drive Guide.

Alamo maintains a counter at Hoolehua Airport and will pick you up at Kaunakakai Harbor. Make arrangements in advance, because the number of rental cars on Molokai is limited. Be sure to check that the vehicle’s four-wheel drive is working before you depart from the agency. There is a $75 surcharge for taking a four-wheel-drive vehicle off-road.

Alamo. | 888/233-8749 | .
Molokai Car Rental. | 808/336-0670 | .

Ferry Travel

The Molokai Ferry crosses the channel four days per week between Lahaina (Maui) and Kaunakakai. Boats depart from Lahaina at 6 am, and from Kaunakakai at 5 pm. The 1½-hour trip takes passengers but not cars, so arrange ahead of time for a car rental or tour at the arrival point. TIP All voyages may be subject to cancellation if a minimum of 20 confirmed passenger reservations per voyage leg are not received 48 hours in advance.

Molokai Ferry. | 800/667-5553 | .


There are many locations on the island where cell-phone reception is difficult, if not impossible, to obtain. Your best bet for finding service is in Kaunakakai.


Molokai appeals most to travelers who appreciate genuine Hawaiian ambience rather than swanky digs. Most hotel and condominium properties range from adequate to funky. Visitors who want to lollygag on the beach should choose one of the condos or home rentals in West Molokai. Travelers who want to immerse themselves in the spirit of the island should seek out a condo or cottage, the closer to East Molokai the better.

Destination Molokai Visitors Bureau.
Ask about a brochure with up-to-date listings of vacation rentals operated by this agency’s members. | 12 Kenoi St., Suite 200 | Kaunakakai | 808/553-5221 | .

Molokai Vacation Properties.
This company handles condo rentals and can act as an informal concierge, including arranging for a rental car, during your stay. There is a three-night minimum on all properties. Private rental properties, from beach cottages to large estates, are also available. | 800/367-2984 , 808/553-8334 | .


Dining on Molokai is simply a matter of eating—there are no fancy restaurants, just pleasant low-key places to eat out. Paddlers’ Inn currently has the best dinner offerings. Other options include burgers, plate lunches, pizza, coffee shop-style sandwiches, and make-it-yourself fixings.


Destination Molokai Visitors Bureau. | 12 Kamoi St., Suite 200 | Kaunakakai | 808/553-5221 | .
Maui Visitors Bureau. | 808/244-3530 , 800/525-6284 | .

Kalaupapa Peninsula: Tragedy and Triumph

Today, it’s hard to picture how for over a century Molokai’s remote Kalaupapa Peninsula was “the loneliest place on earth,” a feared place of exile for those suffering from leprosy (now known as Hansen’s disease).

But for visitors who crave drama, there is no better destination than this remote strip, where the scenery blends with quintessential facets of small-town life.

The world’s tallest sea cliffs, rain-chiseled valleys, and tiny islets dropped like exclamation points along the coast emphasize the passionate history of the Kalaupapa Peninsula. You’ll likely be tugged by emotions—awe and disbelief, for starters. It’s impossible to visit this stunning National Historical Park and view the evidence of human ignorance and heroism without responding.

Getting to the peninsula is still not easy, and there are only three ways: you can hike or take a guided mule trip down the dizzying switchback trail, or you can fly into the small Kalaupapa Airstrip. The strenuous hike takes about an hour down and 90 minutes up; the mule trip takes even longer—about two hours each way. Once on the ground, you must join a guided tour.

Daily tours are offered Monday-Saturday through Damien Tours or on the Kalaupapa Guided Mule Tour; be sure to reserve in advance. Visitors under 16 are not allowed at Kalaupapa, and photographing patients without their written permission is forbidden. Whatever your experience here may be, chances are you’ll return home feeling that the journey to present-day Kalaupapa is one you’ll never forget.


In 1865, pressured by foreign residents, the Hawaiian Kingdom passed “An Act to Prevent the Spread of Leprosy.” Anyone showing symptoms of the disease was to be permanently exiled to Kalawao, the north end of Kalaupapa Peninsula—a spot walled in on three sides by nearly impassable cliffs. The peninsula had been home to a fishing community for 900 years, but those inhabitants were evicted and the entire peninsula was declared settlement land.

The first 12 patients were arrested and sent to Kalawao in 1866. More banishments followed. People of all ages and many nationalities were taken from their homes and dumped on the isolated shore. Officials thought the patients could become self-sufficient, fishing and farming sweet potatoes in the stream-fed valleys. That was not the case. Settlement conditions were deplorable.


Belgian missionary Father Damien was one of four priests who volunteered to serve the leprosy settlement at Kalawao on a rotating basis. His turn came in 1873, and there were 600 patients on the island already. When his time was up, he refused to leave. Father Damien is credited with turning the settlement from a merciless exile into a place where hope could be heard in the voices of his recruited choir.

Sixteen years after his arrival, in 1889, he died from the effects of leprosy, having contracted the disease during his service. Renowned for his sacrifice, Father Damien was canonized in 2009.


Kalaupapa today exudes bittersweet charm. Signs posted here and there remind residents when the bankers will be there (once monthly), when to place annual barge orders for nonperishable items, and what’s happening around town. It has the nostalgic, almost naive ambience expected from a place that’s essentially segregated from modern life.

About eight former patients remain at Kalaupapa (by choice, as the disease is controlled by drugs and the patients are no longer carriers), and all are now quite elderly. They never lost their chutzpah, however. Having survived a lifetime of prejudice and misunderstanding, Kalaupapa’s residents haven’t been willing to be pushed around any longer—in past years, several made the journey to Honolulu from time to time to testify before the state legislature about matters concerning them.

To get a feel for what residents’ lives were like, visit the National Park Service website ( ) or buy one of several heartbreaking memoirs at the park’s library-turned-bookstore.

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Exploring Molokai

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West Molokai | Central Molokai | Kalaupapa Peninsula | East Molokai

The first thing to do on Molokai is to drive everywhere. It’s a feat you can accomplish comfortably in two days. Depending on where you stay, spend one day exploring the west end and the other day exploring the east end. Basically you have one 40-mile west-east highway (two lanes, no stoplights) with three side trips: the nearly deserted little west-end town of Maunaloa, the Highway 470 drive (just a few miles) to the top of the north shore and the overlook of Kalaupapa Peninsula, and the short stretch of shops in Kaunakakai town. After you learn the general lay of the land, you can return to the places that interest you most. Directions on the island—as throughout Hawaii—are often given as mauka (toward the mountains) and makai (toward the ocean).

TIP Most Molokai establishments cater to the needs of locals, not tourists, so you may need to prepare a bit more than if you were going to a more popular destination. Pick up a disposable cooler in Kaunakakai town, then buy supplies in local markets. Don’t forget to carry some water, and bring sunscreen and mosquito repellent to the island with you.


Papohaku Beach is 17 miles west of the airport; Maunaloa is 10 miles west of the airport.

The remote beaches and rolling pastures on Molokai’s west end are presided over by Mauna Loa, a dormant volcano, and a sleepy little former plantation town of the same name. Papohaku Beach, the Hawaiian Islands’ second-longest white-sand beach, is one of the area’s biggest draws.

Getting Here and Around

The sometimes winding paved road through West Molokai begins at Highway 460 and ends at Kapukahehu Bay. The drive from Kaunakakai to Maunaloa is about 30 minutes.


Although the late-1960s Kaluakoi Hotel and Golf Club is closed and forlorn, some nice condos and a gift shop are operating nearby. Kepuhi Beach, the white-sand beach along the coast, is worth a visit. | Kaluakoi Rd. | Maunaloa .

Built in 1923, this quiet community at the western end of the highway once housed workers for the island’s pineapple plantation. Many businesses have closed, but it’s the last place you can buy supplies when exploring the nearby beaches. If you’re in the neighborhood, stop at Maunaloa’s Big Wind Kite Factory. You’ll want to talk with Uncle Jonathan, who has been making and flying kites here for more than three decades. | Maunaloa Hwy. | Maunaloa .


Kaunakakai is 8 miles southeast of the airport.

Most residents live centrally, near the island’s one and only true town, Kaunakakai. It’s just about the only place on the island to get food and supplies—it is Molokai. Go into the shops along and around Ala Malama Street. Buy stuff. Talk with people. Take your time, and you’ll really enjoy being a visitor. Also in this area, on the north side, is Coffees of Hawaii, a 500-acre coffee plantation, and the Kalaupapa National Historical Park, one of the island’s most notable sights.

Getting Here and Around

Central Molokai is the hub of the island’s road system, and Kaunakakai is the commercial center. Watch for kids, dogs, and people crossing the street downtown.

West and Central Molokai

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Coffees of Hawaii.
Visit the headquarters of a 500-acre Molokai coffee plantation, where the espresso bar serves freshly made sandwiches, lilikoi (passion fruit) smoothies, and java in artful ways. The “Mocha Mama” is a special Molokai treat. This is the place to pick up additions to your picnic lunch if you’re headed to Kalaupapa. Live music is performed on the covered lanai every Tuesday and Thursday at lunch time, and their Mocha Mama Gift Shop carries all things coffee. | 1630 Farrington Hwy., off Rte. 470 | Kualapuu | 877/322-3276 , 808/567-9490 , 808/567-6830 for espresso bar | | Café Mon.-Sat. 7-4, gift shop Mon.-Sat. 9-4 .

Central Molokai’s main town looks like a classic 1940s movie set. Along the one-block main drag is a cultural grab bag of restaurants and shops, and many people are friendly and willing to supply directions. Preferred dress is shorts and a tank top, and no one wears anything fancier than a cotton skirt or aloha shirt. | Rte. 460, 3 blocks north of Kaunakakai Wharf | Kaunakakai .

QUICK BITES: Kamoi Snack-n-Go.
Stop here for some of Dave’s Hawaiian Ice Cream. Sit in the refreshing breeze on one of the benches outside for a “Molokai rest stop.” Snacks, crack seed, water, and cold drinks are also available. | 28 Kamoi St. | Kaunakakai | 808/553-3742 .

Molokai Plumerias.
The sweet smell of plumeria surrounds you at this ten-acre orchard containing thousands of these fragrant trees. Purchase a lei to go, or for $25 owner Dick Wheeler will give you a basket, set you free to pick your own blossoms, then teach you how to string your own lei. For the latter, it’s best to call first for an appointment. | 1342 Maunaloa Hwy. | Kaunakakai | 808/553-3391 | | Weekdays 9:30-noon .

Palaau State Park.
One of the island’s few formal recreation areas, this 233-acre retreat sits at a 1,000-foot elevation. A short path through an ironwood forest leads to Kalaupapa Lookout, a magnificent overlook with views of the town of Kalaupapa and the 1,664-foot-high sea cliffs protecting it. Informative plaques have facts about leprosy, Saint Damien, and the colony. The park is also the site of Kaule O Nanahoa (Phallus of Nanahoa), where women in old Hawaii would come to the rock to enhance their fertility; it is said some still do. Because the rock is a sacred site, be respectful and don’t deface the boulders. The park is well maintained, with trails, camping facilities, restrooms, and picnic tables. To get here, take Highway 460 west from Kaunakakai and then head mauka on Highway 470, which ends at the park. | Rte. 470 | Kaunakakai | Free | Daily dawn-dusk .

Purdy’s Macadamia Nut Farm.
Molokai’s only working macadamia-nut farm is open for educational tours hosted by the knowledgeable and entertaining owner. A family business in Hoolehua, the farm takes up 1½ acres with a flourishing grove of 50 original trees that are more than 90 years old, as well as several hundred younger trees. The nuts taste delicious right out of the shell, home roasted, or dipped in macadamia-blossom honey. Look for Purdy’s sign behind Molokai High School. | Lihi Pali Ave. | Hoolehua | 808/567-6601 | | Free | Weekdays 9:30-3:30, Sat. 10-2 .

R.W. Meyer Sugar Mill and Molokai Museum.
Built in 1877, the fully restored, three-room sugar mill has been reconstructed as a testament to Molokai’s agricultural history. It is located next to the Molokai Museum and is usually included in the museum tour. Several interesting machines from the past are on display, including a mule-driven cane crusher and a steam engine. The museum contains changing exhibits on the island’s early history and has a gift shop. | Rte. 470, 2 miles southwest of Palaau State Park | Kualapuu | 808/567-6436 | $5 | Mon.-Sat. 10-2 .


Church Row.
Standing together along the highway are several houses of worship with primarily native-Hawaiian congregations. Notice the unadorned, boxlike architecture so similar to missionary homes. | Rte. 460, 5½ miles south of airport | Kaunakakai .

Kapuaiwa Coconut Grove.
From far away this spot looks like a sea of coconut trees. Closer up you can see that the tall, stately palms are planted in long rows leading down to the sea. This is a remnant of one of the last surviving royal groves planted for Prince Lot, who ruled Hawaii as King Kamehameha V from 1863 until his death in 1872. Watch for falling coconuts. | Rte. 460, 5½ miles south of airport | Kaunakakai .

Kaunakakai Wharf.
Once bustling with barges exporting pineapples, these docks now host visiting boats, the ferry from Lahaina, and the twice-weekly barge from Oahu. The wharf is also the starting point for fishing, sailing, snorkeling, whale-watching, and scuba-diving excursions. It’s a nice place at sunset to watch fish rippling the water. To get here, take Kaunakakai Place, which dead-ends at the wharf. | Rte. 450, at Ala Malama St. | Kaunakakai .

Post-A-Nut at Hoolehua Post Office.
At this small, rural post office you can mail a coconut to anywhere in the world. Postmaster Gary Lam provides the coconuts and colored markers. You decorate and address your coconut, and Gary affixes eye-catching stamps on it from his extensive collection. Costs vary according to destination, but for domestic addresses they start around $10. | 69-2 Puupeelua Ave. | Hoolehua | 808/567-6144 | Weekdays 8:30-noon and 12:30-4 .


The Kalaupapa Airport is in the town of Kalaupapa.

The most remote area in the entire Hawaiian Islands is a place of stunning natural beauty coupled with a tragic past. It’s here that residents of Hawaii who displayed symptoms of Hansen’s disease (formerly known as leprosy) were permanently exiled beginning in 1866. Today, the peninsula is still isolated—it’s accessible only by air, on foot, or on a mule. But a day spent here is, without a doubt, a profound, once-in-a-lifetime experience.

Getting Here and Around

Unless you fly (through Makani Kai Air; | 877/255-8532 | ), the only way into Kalaupapa National Historical Park is to travel down a dizzying switchback trail, either on foot or by mule. Going down on foot takes at least an hour, but you must allow 90 minutes for the return; going down by mule is even slower, taking two hours and the same going back up. The switchbacks are numbered—26 in all—and descend 1,700 feet to sea level in just under 3 miles. The steep trail is more of a staircase, and most of the trail is shaded. Keep in mind, however, that the footing is uneven and there is little to keep you from pitching over the side. If you don’t mind heights, you can stare straight down to the ocean for most of the way. It’s strenuous regardless of which method you choose.

The Kalaupapa Trail and Peninsula are all part of Kalaupapa National Historical Park (808/567-6802 | ), which is open every day but Sunday for tours only. Keep in mind, there are no public facilities (except an occasional restroom) anywhere in the park. Pack your own food and water, as well as light rain gear, sunscreen, and bug repellent.


Damien Tours.
The only way to explore Kalaupapa once you get there, this 3½-hour bus tour is operated by a resident family. You must bring your own snacks, lunch, and water if you travel by plane or hike in, and remain on the bus except for designated rest stops. No one may wander alone at Kalaupapa, and photographs are not allowed without prior permission of the subject. Remember this is home to the people here. No children under 16 are allowed. Both the mule ride and the plane meet this tour at Kalaupapa. The tour starts at 10 am; hikers must be down in the park by then. | Kalaupapa | 808/567-6171 | $60 | Mon.-Sat. 10-1:45. Closed Sun.

Fodor’s Choice | Kalaupapa Guided Mule Tour.
Mount a friendly, well-trained mule and wind along a thrilling 3-mile, 26-switchback trail to reach the town of Kalaupapa, which was once home to patients with leprosy who were exiled to this remote spot. The path was built in 1886 as a supply route for the settlement below. Once in Kalaupapa, you take a guided tour of the town and enjoy a light picnic lunch. The trail traverses some of the highest sea cliffs in the world, and views are spectacular. TIP Only those in good shape should attempt the ride, as two hours each way on a mule can take its toll. You must be at least 16 years old and weigh no more than 250 pounds; pregnant women are not allowed. The entire event takes seven hours. Make reservations ahead of time, as space is limited. The same outfit can arrange for you to hike down or fly in. No one is allowed in the park or on the trail without booking a tour. | 100 Kalae Hwy. | Kualapuu | 808/567-6088 , 800/567-7550 || $199 | Mon.-Sat. check-in at 7:45 am (returns at 3:30 pm) .


Kalaupapa National Historical Park.
For 100 years, this remote strip of land was “the loneliest place on Earth,” a beautiful yet feared place of exile for those suffering from leprosy (now known as Hansen’s disease). Today, visitors to Molokai’s Kalaupapa Peninsula, open every day but Sunday, can admire the tall sea cliffs, rain-chiseled valleys, and tiny islets along the coast. The park tells a poignant human story, as the Kalaupapa Peninsula was once a community of about 1,000 people who were banished from their homes in Hawaii. It also recounts the wonderful work of Father Damien, a Belgian missionary who arrived in 1873 to work with the patients. He died in 1889 from leprosy and was canonized as a saint by the Catholic Church in 2009. Mother Marianne Cope, who continued St. Damien’s work after his death, was canonized in 2012.

Today there are about 8 patients still living in Kalaupapa—now by choice, as the disease is treatable. Out of respect to these people, visitors must be at least 16 years old, cannot stay overnight, and must be on a guided tour or invited by a resident. Photographing patients without their permission is forbidden. Guided tours of the settlement, which start at 10 am, are available by reservation only through Damien Tours if you’re hiking or flying in, or the Kalaupapa Guided Mule Tour if you’re riding. Reserve well in advance to avoid disappointment. Keep in mind that there are no public facilities (except an occasional restroom) anywhere in the park. Pack your own food and water, as well as light rain gear, sunscreen, and bug repellent.

Unless you fly with Makani Kai Air, the only way into Kalaupapa National Historic Park is on the dizzying switchback Kalaupapa Trail. The switchbacks are numbered—26 in all—and descend 1,700 feet to sea level in just under 3 miles. The steep trail is more of a staircase, and most of the trail is shaded. WARNING Footing on the Kalaupapa Trail is uneven and there is little to keep you from pitching over the side. Hikers should be in good physical condition. If you don’t mind heights, you can stare straight down to the ocean for most of the way. There is ample parking near the end of Highway 470. You can access Kalaupapa Trail off Highway 470 near Kalaupapa Overlook. | Hwy. 470 | Kualapuu | 808/567-6802 | .

The Truth About Hansen’s Disease

✵ A cure for leprosy has been available since 1941. Multidrug therapy, a rapid cure, has been available since 1981.

✵ With treatment, none of the disabilities traditionally associated with leprosy need occur.

✵ Most people have a natural immunity to leprosy. Only 5% of the world’s population is even susceptible to the disease.

✵ There are still more than 200,000 new cases of leprosy each year; the majority are in India.

✵ All new cases of leprosy are treated on an outpatient basis.

✵ The term “leper” is offensive and should not be used. It is appropriate to say “a person is affected by leprosy” or “by Hansen’s disease.”


Halawa Valley is 36 miles northeast of the airport.

On the beautifully undeveloped east end of Molokai you can find ancient fishponds, a magnificent coastline, splendid ocean views, and a fertile valley that’s been inhabited for 14 centuries. The eastern uplands are flanked by Mt. Kamakou, the island’s highest point at 4,970 feet and home to The Nature Conservancy’s Kamakou Preserve. Mist hangs over waterfall-filled valleys, and ancient lava cliffs jut out into the sea.

Getting Here and Around

Driving the east end is a scenic adventure, but the road narrows and becomes curvy after the 20-mile marker. Take your time, especially in the seaside lane, and watch for oncoming traffic. Driving at night is not recommended.

East Molokai

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Fodor’s Choice | Halawa Valley.
The Solatorio Ohana (family) leads hikes through the valley, the oldest recorded habitation on Molokai. It is home to two sacrificial temples and many historic sites. Inhabitants grew taro and fished from 650 until the 1960s, when an enormous flood wiped out the taro patches and forced old-timers to abandon their traditional lifestyle. Now, a new generation of Hawaiians has begun the challenging task of restoring the taro fields. Much of this work involves rerouting streams to flow through carefully engineered level ponds called loi. Taro plants, with their big, dancing leaves, grow in the submerged mud of the loi, where the water is always cool and flowing. Hawaiians believe that the taro plant is their ancestor and revere it both as sustenance and as a spiritual necessity. The 3.4-mile round-trip valley hike, which goes to Moaula Falls, a 250-foot cascade, is rated intermediate to advanced and includes two moderate river crossings (so your feet will get wet). A $60 fee per adult supports restoration efforts. | Eastern end of Rte. 450 | 808/542-1855 | | $60 .

OFF THE BEATEN PATH: Kamakou Preserve.
Tucked away on the slopes of Mt. Kamakou, Molokai’s highest peak, this 2,774-acre rain-forest preserve is a dazzling wonderland full of wet ohia forests (hardwood trees of the myrtle family, with red blossoms called lehua ), rare bogs, and native trees and wildlife. Guided educational tours, limited to eight people, are held one Saturday each month March-October. Reserve well in advance, as these excursions fill up several months in advance. | 23 Pueo Pl. | Kualapuu | 808/553-5236 | | Free .


Kalokoeli Fishpond.
With its narrow rock walls arching out from the shoreline, Kalokoeli is typical of the numerous fishponds that define southern Molokai. Many were built around the 13th century under the direction of powerful chiefs. This early type of aquaculture, particular to Hawaii, exemplifies the ingenuity of native Hawaiians. One or more openings were left in the wall, where gates called makaha were installed. These gates allowed seawater and tiny fish to enter the enclosed pond but kept larger predators out. The tiny fish would then grow too big to get out. At one time there were 62 fishponds around Molokai’s coast. | Rte. 450, 6 miles east of Kaunakakai | Kaunakakai .

A natural harbor used by small cargo ships during the 19th century and a favorite fishing spot for locals, Kamalo is also the location of the Church of St. Joseph’s, a tiny white church built by Saint Damien of the Kalaupapa colony in the 1880s. It’s a state historic site and place of pilgrimage. The door is often open; if it is, slip inside and sign the guest book. The congregation keep the church in beautiful condition. | Rte. 450, 11 miles east of Kaunakakai | Kaunakakai .

QUICK BITES: Manae Goods & Grindz.
The best place to grab a snack or picnic supplies is this store, 16 miles east of Kaunakakai. It’s the only place on the east end where you can find essentials such as ice and bread, and not-so-essentials such as seafood plate lunches, bentos, burgers, and shakes. Try a refreshing smoothie while here. | Rte. 450 | Kaunakakai | 808/558-8498 , 808/558-8186 .

Puu O Hoku Ranch.
A 14,000-acre private ranch in the highlands of East Molokai, Puu O Hoku was developed in the 1930s by wealthy industrialist Paul Fagan. Route 450 ambles right through this rural treasure with its pastures and grazing horses and cattle. As you drive slowly along, enjoy the splendid views of Maui and Lanai. The small island off the coast is Mokuhooniki, a favorite spot among visiting humpback whales, and a nesting seabird sanctuary. The ranch has limited accommodations, too. | Rte. 450, 25 miles east of Kaunakakai | Kaunakakai | 888/573-7775 | .

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West Molokai | Central Molokai | East Molokai

Molokai’s unique geography gives the island plenty of drama and spectacle along the shorelines but not so many places for seaside basking and bathing. The long north shore consists mostly of towering cliffs that plunge directly into the sea and is inaccessible except by boat, and even then only in summer. Much of the south shore is enclosed by a huge reef, which stands as far as a mile offshore and blunts the action of the waves. Within this reef you can find a thin strip of sand, but the water here is flat, shallow, and at times clouded with silt. This reef area is best suited to wading, pole fishing, kayaking, or learning how to windsurf.

The big, fat, sandy beaches lie along the west end. The largest of these—the second largest in the Islands—is Papohaku Beach, which fronts a grassy park shaded by a grove of kiawe (mesquite) trees. These stretches of west-end sand are generally unpopulated. At the east end, where the road hugs the sinuous shoreline, you encounter a number of pocket-size beaches in rocky coves, good for snorkeling. Don’t venture too far out, however, or you can find yourself caught in dangerous currents. The island’s east-end road ends at Halawa Valley with its unique double bay, which is not recommended for swimming.

If you need beach gear, head to Molokai Fish & Dive at the west end of Kaunakakai’s only commercial strip, or rent kayaks from Molokai Outdoors at Kaunakakai Wharf.

Department of Parks, Land and Natural Resources.
All of Hawaii’s beaches are free and public. None of the beaches on Molokai have telephones or lifeguards, and they’re all under the jurisdiction of the Department of Parks, Land and Natural Resources. | 808/587-0300 | .


Molokai’s west end looks across a wide channel to the island of Oahu. This crescent-shape cup of coastline holds the island’s best sandy beaches as well as the sunniest weather. Remember: all beaches are public property, even those that front developments, and most have public access roads.

Kawakiu Beach.
Seclusion is yours at this remote, beautiful, white-sand beach, accessible by four-wheel-drive vehicle (through a gate that is sometimes locked) or a 45-minute walk. To get here, drive to Paniolo Hale off Kaluakoi Road and look for a dirt road off to the right. Park here and hike in or, with a four-wheel-drive vehicle, drive along the dirt road to beach. TIP Rocks and undertow make swimming extremely dangerous at times, so use caution. Amenities: none. Best for: solitude. | Off Kaluakoi Rd. | Maunaloa .

Kepuhi Beach.
The Kaluakoi Hotel is closed, but its half mile of ivory sand is still accessible. The beach shines against the turquoise sea, black outcroppings of lava, and magenta bougainvillea blossoms. When the sea is perfectly calm, lava ridges in the water make good snorkeling spots. With any surf at all, however, the water around these rocky places churns and foams, wiping out visibility and making it difficult to avoid being slammed into the jagged rocks. Amenities: showers; toilets. Best for: snorkeling; walking. | Kaluakoi Rd. | Maunaloa .

Fodor’s Choice | Papohaku Beach.
One of the most sensational beaches in Hawaii, Papohaku is a 3-mile-long strip of light golden sand, the longest of its kind on the island. There’s so much sand here that Honolulu once purchased bargeloads of the stuff to replenish Waikiki Beach. A shady beach park just inland is the site of the Ka Hula Piko Festival, held each year in May. The park is also a great sunset-facing spot for a rustic afternoon barbecue. A park ranger patrols the area periodically. TIP Swimming is not recommended, as there’s a dangerous undertow except on exceptionally calm summer days. Amenities: showers; toilets. Best for: sunset; walking. | Kaluakoi Rd., 2 miles south of the former Kaluakoi Hotel | Maunaloa .

Kapukahehu Bay.
The sandy protected cove is usually completely deserted on weekdays but can fill up when the surf is up. The water in the cove is clear and shallow with plenty of well-worn rocky areas. These conditions make for excellent snorkeling, swimming, and boogie boarding on calm days. Locals like to surf in a break called Dixie’s or Dixie Maru. Amenities: none. Best for: snorkeling; surfing; swimming. | End of Kaluakoi Rd., 3½ miles south of Papohaku Beach | Maunaloa .


The south shore is mostly a huge, reef-walled expanse of flat saltwater edged with a thin strip of gritty sand and stones, mangrove swamps, and the amazing system of fishponds constructed by the chiefs of ancient Molokai. From this shore you can look out across glassy water to see people standing on top of the sea—actually, way out on top of the reef—casting fishing lines into the distant waves. This is not a great area for beaches but is a good place to snorkel or wade in the shallows.

One Alii Beach Park.
Clear, close views of Maui and Lanai across the Pailolo Channel dominate One Alii Beach Park (One is pronounced “o-nay,” not “won”), the only well-maintained beach park on the island’s south-central shore. Molokai folks gather here for family reunions and community celebrations; the park’s tightly trimmed expanse of lawn could almost accommodate the entire island’s population. Swimming within the reef is perfectly safe, but don’t expect to catch any waves. Nearby is the restored One Alii fishpond (it is appropriate only for native Hawaiians to fish here). Amenities:showers; toilets. Best for: parties; swimming. | Rte. 450 east of Hotel Molokai | Kaunakakai .


The east end unfolds as a coastal drive with turnouts for tiny cove beaches—good places for snorkeling, shore fishing, or scuba exploring. Rocky little Mokuhooniki Island marks the eastern point of the island and serves as a nursery for humpback whales in winter and nesting seabirds in spring. The road loops around the east end, then descends and ends at Halawa Valley.

Halawa Beach Park.
The vigorous water that gouged the steep, spectacular Halawa Valley also carved out two adjacent bays. Accumulations of coarse sand and river rock have created some protected pools that are good for wading or floating around. You might see surfers, but it’s not wise to entrust your safety to the turbulent open ocean along this coast. Most people come here to hang out and absorb the beauty of Halawa Valley. The valley itself is private property, so do not wander without a guide. Amenities: toilets. Best for: solitude. | End of Rte. 450 | Kaunakakai .

Waialua Beach Park.
Also known as Twenty Mile Beach, this arched stretch of sand leads to one of the most popular snorkeling spots on the island. The water here, protected by the flanks of the little bay, is often so clear and shallow that even from land you can watch fish swimming among the coral heads. Watch out for traffic when you enter the highway. TIP This is a pleasant place to stop on the drive around the east end. Amenities: none. Best for: snorkeling; swimming. | Rte. 450 near mile marker 20 .

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Where to Eat

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Central Molokai

During a week’s stay, you might easily hit all the dining spots worth a visit and then return to your favorites for a second round. The dining scene is fun, because it’s a microcosm of Hawaii’s diverse cultures. You can find locally grown vegetarian foods, spicy Filipino cuisine, or Hawaiian fish with a Japanese influence—such as tuna, mullet, and moonfish that’s grilled, sautéed, or mixed with seaweed to make poke (salted and seasoned raw fish).

Most eating establishments are on Ala Malama Street in Kaunakakai. If you’re heading to West Molokai for the day, be sure to stock up on provisions, as there is no place to eat there. If you are on the east end, stop by Manae Goods & Grindz (808/558-8186 ) near mile marker 16 for good local seafood plates, burgers, and ice cream.


Central Molokai offers most of the island’s dining options.

Fodor’s Choice | Kanemitsu’s Bakery and Coffee Shop.
$ | CAFÉ | Stop at this Molokai institution for morning coffee and some of the round Molokai bread—a sweet, pan-style white loaf that makes excellent cinnamon toast. Take a few loaves with you for a picnic or a condo breakfast. You can also try a taste of lavash, a pricey flatbread flavored with sesame, taro, Maui onion, Parmesan cheese, or jalapeño. | Average main: $6 | 79 Ala Malama St.| Kaunakakai | 808/553-5855 | No credit cards | Closed Tues.

Kualapuu Cookhouse.
$ | HAWAIIAN | The only restaurant in rural Kualapuu, this local favorite is a classic, refurbished, green-and-white plantation house with a shady lanai. Inside, local photography and artwork enhance the simple furnishings. Typical fare is an inexpensive plate of chicken or pork served with rice, but at dinner there’s also the more expensive spicy crusted ahi. This laid-back diner sits across the street from the Kualapuu Market. | Average main: $10 | Farrington Hwy., 1 block west of Rte. 470 | Kualapuu | 808/567-9655 | No credit cards | No dinner Sun. and Mon.

Molokai Burger.
$ | BURGER | Clean and cheery, Molokai Burger offers both drive-through and eat-in options. Burgers may be ordered on a whole wheat bun. Healthier items include breakfast sandwiches without cheese and mayonnaise, and salads featuring Kumu Farms-certified organic veggies. | Average main: $6 | 20 W. Kamehameha V Hwy. | Kaunakakai | 808/553-3533 | | Closed Sun.

Molokai Pizza Cafe.
$ | AMERICAN | Cheerful and busy, this is a popular gathering spot for local families and a good place to pick up food for a picnic. Pizza, sandwiches, salads, pasta, and fresh fish are simply prepared and served without fuss. Kids keep busy at the nearby arcade, and art by local artists decorates the lavender walls. | Average main: $15 | 15 Kaunakakai Pl., at Wharf Rd. | Kaunakakai | 808/553-3288 .

Paddlers’ Inn.
$ | AMERICAN | There aren’t many dinner options on Molokai, but this popular spot is a great place to grab a decent meal while rubbing elbows with locals. Hearty portions of ribs, pork chops, and chicken-fried steak come with two side dishes at a reasonable price. Fish options include salmon and mahimahi. There is live music on Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday at 6:30 pm. Don’t be surprised if the bass player is also a teacher at the local elementary school. | Average main: $14 | 10 N. Mohala St. | Kaunakakai | 808/553-3300 | .

Sundown Deli.
$ | DELI | Small and clean, this deli focuses on freshly made take-out food. Sandwiches come on a half dozen types of bread, and the Portuguese bean soup and chowders are rich and filling. It’s open weekdays 10:30-2. | Average main: $8 | 145 Ala Malama St. | Kaunakakai | 808/553-3713 | No credit cards | Closed weekends. No dinner .

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Where to Stay

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West Molokai | Central Molokai | East Molokai

The coastline along Molokai’s west end has ocean-view condominium units and luxury homes available as vacation rentals. Central Molokai offers seaside condominiums. The only lodgings on the east end are some guest cottages in magical settings and the cottages and ranch lodge at Puu O Hoku. Note that room rates do not include 13.42% sales tax.

Note: Maui County has regulations concerning vacation rentals; to avoid disappointment, always contact the property manager or the owner and ask if the accommodations have the proper permits and are in compliance with local ordinances.


If you want to stay in West Molokai so you’ll have access to unspoiled beaches, your only choices are condos or vacation homes. Note that units fronting the abandoned Kaluakoi golf course present a bit of a dismal view.

Ke Nani Kai.
$ | RENTAL | These pleasant, spacious one- and two-bedroom condos near the beach have ocean views and nicely maintained tropical landscaping. Look for bougainvillea-laden trellises and spacious interiors decorated with rattan and pastels. Each unit has a washer and dryer and a fully equipped kitchen. Pros: on island’s secluded west end; uncrowded pool; beach is across the road. Cons: amenities vary from unit to unit; far from commercial center; some units overlook abandoned golf course. | Rooms from: $125 | 50 Keuphi Beach Rd. | Maunaloa | 808/553-8334 , 800/367-2984 | | 120 units | No meals .

Fodor’s Choice | Paniolo Hale.
$ | RENTAL | Perched high on a ridge overlooking a favorite local surfing spot, this is Molokai’s best condominium property and boasts mature tropical landscaping and a private serene setting. Elegant studios and one- or two-bedroom units have beautiful screened lanai, well-equipped kitchens, and washers and dryers; some have spectacular ocean views. Pros: close to beach; quiet surroundings; perfect if you are an expert surfer. Cons: amenities vary; far from shopping; golf course units front abandoned course. | Rooms from: $125 | 100 Lio Pl. | Kaunakakai | 808/553-8334 , 800/367-2984 | | 77 units | No meals .


There are two condo properties in this area, one close to shopping and dining in Kaunakakai, and the other on the way to the east end.

Hotel Molokai.
$ | HOTEL | At this local favorite, Polynesian-style bungalows are scattered around the nicely landscaped property, many overlooking the reef and distant Lanai. Guest rooms are bright and comfortably furnished, and the pool is quite pretty. The full-service bar is a popular hangout. A new hotel restaurant, Hale Kealoha, has opened at Hotel Molokai with a limited menu. Plans call for a full-service restaurant serving breakfast, lunch, and dinner daily. Live music on Friday features Na Kapuna, a lively local ukulele jam session (4-6 pm). The activities desk in the lobby will book any island adventure. Pros: five minutes to town; some units have kitchenettes; authentic Hawaiian entertainment. Cons: not many frills; lower-priced rooms are small and plain; late-night live music can be loud. | Rooms from: $179 | 1300 Kamehameha V Hwy. | Kaunakakai | 808/660-3408 , 877/553-5347 | | 40 rooms | No meals .

Molokai Shores.
$ | RENTAL | Many of the units in this three-story condominium complex have a view of the ocean, and there’s a chance to see whales in season. One-bedroom, one-bath units or two-bedroom, two-bath units all have full kitchens and furnished lanai, which look out on 4 acres of lawn. There’s a great view of Lanai in the distance. Pros: convenient location; some units upgraded; near water. Cons: older accommodations; units close to highway can be noisy. | Rooms from: $169 | 1000 Kamehameha V Hwy. | Kaunakakai | 808/553-8334 , 800/367-2984 | | 100 units | No meals .

$ | RENTAL | This 5-acre oceanfront condominium complex is convenient if you want to explore the east side of the island—it’s 13 miles east of Kaunakakai—with access to a beautiful reef, excellent snorkeling, and kayaking. Individually decorated one- and two-bedroom units all have full kitchens; each has a furnished lanai, and some have views of Maui and Lanai. Be sure to ask for an updated unit when you reserve. The oceanfront pool has a covered barbecue area. Pros: convenient location for divers; good value; nicely maintained grounds. Cons: amenities vary; far from shopping; area sometimes gets windy. | Rooms from: $125 | Rte. 450, near mile marker 13 | Kaunakakai | 800/367-2984 , 808/553-8334 | | 126 units | No meals .


Puu O Hoku Ranch, a rental facility on East Molokai, is the main lodging option on this side of the island. The ranch is quite far from the center of the island.

Puu O Hoku Ranch.
$$ | B&B/INN | At the east end of Molokai, these ocean-view accommodations are on 14,000 isolated acres of pasture and forest—a remote and serene location for people who want to get away from it all or meet in a retreat atmosphere. One-, two-, and four-bedroom cottages are available, and for large groups—family reunions, for example—the ranch has a lodge that can accommodate up to 22 guests, with 11 bedrooms, 9 bathrooms, and a large kitchen; it goes for $2,300 nightly (rooms are not available on an individual basis). Pros: ideal for large groups; authentic working ranch; great hiking. Cons: on remote east end of island; road to property is narrow and winding. | Rooms from: $200 | Rte. 450 near mile marker 25 | Kaunakakai | 888/573-7775 , 808/558-8109 | | 3 cottages, 1 lodge | No meals .

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Water Sports and Tours

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Body Boarding and Bodysurfing | Deep-Sea Fishing | Kayaking | Scuba Diving | Snorkeling | Whale-Watching

Molokai’s shoreline topography limits opportunities for water sports. Sea cliffs dominate the north shore; the south shore is largely encased by a huge, taming reef. TIP Open-sea access at west-end and east-end beaches should be used only by experienced ocean swimmers, and then with caution because seas are rough, especially in winter. Generally speaking, there’s no one around—certainly not lifeguards—if you get into trouble. For this reason alone, guided excursions are recommended. At least be sure to ask for advice from outfitters or residents. Two kinds of water activities predominate: kayaking within the reef area, and open-sea excursions on charter boats, most of which tie up at Kaunakakai Wharf.


You rarely see people body boarding or bodysurfing on Molokai, and the only surfing is for advanced wave riders. The best spots for body boarding when conditions are safe (occasional summer mornings) are the west-end beaches. Another option is to seek out waves at the east end around mile marker 20.


For Molokai people, as in days of yore, the ocean is more of a larder than a playground. It’s common to see residents fishing along the shoreline or atop South Shore Reef, using poles or lines. Deep-sea fishing by charter boat is a great Molokai adventure. The sea channels here, though often rough and windy, provide gorgeous views of several islands. Big fish are plentiful in these waters, especially mahimahi, marlin, and various kinds of tuna. Generally speaking, boat captains will customize the outing to your interests, share a lot of information about the island, and let you keep some or all of your catch.


Molokai Fish & Dive.
If you’d like to try your hand at fishing, you can rent or buy equipment and ask for advice here. | 53 Ala Malama St. | Kaunakakai | 808/553-5926 | .


Alyce C. This 31-foot cruiser runs excellent sportfishing excursions in the capable hands of Captain Joe. The cost for the six-passenger boat is $550 for a full-day trip, $450 for four to five hours. Gear is provided. It’s a rare day when you don’t snag at least one memorable fish. | Kaunakakai Wharf, Kaunakakai Pl. | Kaunakakai | 808/558-8377 | .

Fun Hogs Sportfishing.
Trim and speedy, the 27-foot flybridge boat named Ahi offers four-hour ($450), six-hour ($550), and eight-hour ($600) sportfishing excursions. Skipper Mike Holmes also provides one-way or round-trip fishing expeditions to Lanai, as well as sunset cruises and whale-watching trips in winter. | Kaunakakai Wharf, Kaunakakai Pl. | Kaunakakai | 808/567-6789 | .

Molokai Action Adventures.
Walter Naki has traveled (and fished) all over the globe. He will create customized fishing expeditions and gladly share his wealth of experience. He will also take you to remote beaches for a day of swimming. If you want to explore the north side under the great sea cliffs, this is the way to go. His 21-foot Boston Whaler is usually seen in the east end at the mouth of Halawa Valley. Prices start at $300. | Kaunakakai | 808/558-8184 .


Molokai’s south shore is enclosed by the largest reef system in the United States—an area of shallow, protected sea that stretches over 30 miles. This reef gives inexperienced kayakers an unusually safe, calm environment for shoreline exploring. TIP Outside the reef, Molokai waters are often rough, and strong winds can blow you out to sea. Kayakers out here should be strong, experienced, and cautious.


South Shore Reef.
This reef’s area is superb for flat-water kayaking any day of the year. It’s best to rent a kayak from Molokai Outdoors in Kaunakakai and slide into the water from Kaunakakai Wharf. Get out in the morning before the wind picks up and paddle east, exploring the ancient Hawaiian fishponds. When you turn around to return, the wind will usually give you a push home. | Kaunakakai .


Molokai Fish & Dive.
At the west end of Kaunakakai’s commercial strip, this all-around outfitter offers guided kayak excursions inside the South Shore Reef. One excursion paddles through a mangrove forest and explores a hidden ancient fishpond. If the wind starts blowing hard, the company will tow you back with its boat. The fee is $69 for the half-day trip, which includes sodas and water. | 53 Ala Malama St. | Kaunakakai | 808/553-5926 | .

Molokai Outdoors.
This is the place to rent a kayak for exploring on your own. Kayaks rent for $42 per day or $210 per week, and extra paddles are available. | 9 Hio Pl. | Kaunakakai | 808/553-4477 , 877/553-4477| .


Molokai Fish & Dive is the only PADI-certified dive company on Molokai. Shoreline access for divers is extremely limited, even nonexistent in winter. Boat diving is the way to go. Without guidance, visiting divers can easily find themselves in risky situations with wicked currents. Proper guidance, however, opens an undersea world rarely seen.

Molokai Fish & Dive.
Owners Tim and Susan Forsberg can fill you in on local dive sites, rent you the gear, or hook you up with one of their PADI-certified guides to take you to the island’s best underwater spots. Their 32-foot dive boat, the Ama Lua, can take eight divers and their gear. Two-tank dives lasting about five hours cost $145; three-tank dives lasting around six hours cost $295. They know the best blue holes and underwater-cave systems, and can take you swimming with hammerhead sharks. | 53 Ala Malama St. | Kaunakakai | 808/553-5926 | .


During the times when swimming is safe—mainly in summer—just about every beach on Molokai offers good snorkeling along the lava outcroppings in the island’s clean and pristine waters. Although rough in winter, Kepuhi Beach is a prime spot in summer. Certain spots inside the South Shore Reef are also worth checking out.


During the summer, Kepuhi Beach, on Molokai’s west end, offers excellent snorkeling opportunities. The ½-mile-long stretch has plenty of rocky nooks that swirl with sea life. Take Kaluakoi Road all the way to the west end, park at the now-closed Kaluakoi Resort, and walk to the beach. Avoid Kepuhi Beach in winter, as the sea is rough here.

At Waialua Beach Park, on Molokai’s east end, you’ll find a thin curve of sand that rims a sheltered little bay loaded with coral heads and aquatic life. The water here is shallow—sometimes so shallow that you bump into the underwater landscape—and it’s crystal clear. Pull off the road near mile marker 20.


Rent snorkel sets from Molokai Fish & Dive in Kaunakakai. Rental fees are nominal ($7-$10 per day). All the charter boats carry snorkel gear and include dive stops.

Fun Hogs Sportfishing.
Mike Holmes, captain of the 27-foot Ahi, knows the island waters intimately, likes to have fun, and is willing to arrange any type of excursion—for example, one dedicated entirely to snorkeling. His two-hour snorkel trips leave early in the morning and explore rarely seen fish and turtle sites outside the reef. Trips cost $70 per person; bring your own food and drink. | Kaunakakai Wharf, Kaunakakai Pl. | Kaunakakai | 808/567-6789 | .

Molokai Fish & Dive.
Climb aboard a 31-foot twin-hull PowerCat for a snorkeling trip to Molokai’s pristine barrier reef. Trips cost $79 per person and include equipment, water, and soft drinks. | 53 Ala Malama St. | Kaunakakai | 808/553-5926 | .


Although Maui gets all the credit for the local wintering humpback-whale population, the big cetaceans also come to Molokai December-April. Mokuhooniki Island at the east end serves as a whale nursery and courting ground, and the whales pass back and forth along the south shore. This being Molokai, whale-watching here will never involve floating amid a group of boats all ogling the same whale.


Alyce C. Although this six-passenger sportfishing boat is usually busy hooking mahimahi and marlin, the captain will gladly take you on a three-hour excursion to admire the humpback whales. The price, around $75 per person, is based on the number of people in your group. | Kaunakakai Wharf, Kaunakakai Pl. | Kaunakakai | 808/558-8377 | .

Ama Lua. The crew of this 31-foot dive boat, which holds up to 12 passengers, is respectful of the whales and the laws that protect them. A two-hour whale-watching trip is $79 per person; it departs from Kaunakakai Wharf at 7 am daily, December-April. Call Molokai Fish & Dive for reservations. | 53 Ala Malama St. | Kaunakakai | 808/553-5926 | .

Fun Hogs Sportfishing.
The Ahi, a flybridge sportfishing boat, takes you on 2½-hour whale-watching trips in the morning, December-April. The cost is $70 per person; bring your own food and drink. | Kaunakakai Wharf, Kaunakakai Pl. | Kaunakakai | 808/567-6789 | .

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Golf, Hiking, and Outdoor Activities

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Biking | Golf | Hiking

Activity vendors in Kaunakakai are a good source of information on outdoor adventures on Molokai. For a mellow round of golf, head to the island’s only golf course, Ironwood Hills, where you’ll likely share the greens with local residents. Molokai’s steep and uncultivated terrain offers excellent hikes and some stellar views. Although the island is largely wild, all land is privately owned, so get permission before hiking.


Cyclists who like to eat up the miles love Molokai, because its few roads are long, straight, and extremely rural. You can really go for it—there are no traffic lights and (most of the time) no traffic.

Molokai Bicycle.
You can rent a bike here for $28-$32 per day, depending on the model, with reductions for additional days or week-long rentals. Bike trailers (for your drinks cooler, perhaps) are also available for $12 a day or $60 for a week. | 80 Mohala St. | Kaunakakai | 808/553-5740 , 800/709-2453 | .


Molokai is not a prime golf destination, but the sole 9-hole course makes for a pleasant afternoon.

Ironwood Hills Golf Course.
Like other 9-hole plantation-era courses, Ironwood Hills is in a prime spot, with basic fairways and not always manicured greens. It helps if you like to play laid-back golf with locals and can handle occasionally rugged conditions. On the plus side, most holes offer ocean views. Fairways are kukuya grass and run through pine, ironwood, and eucalyptus trees. Carts and clubs are rented on the honor system; there’s not always someone there to assist you. Bring your own water. Access is via a bumpy, unpaved road. | Kalae Hwy. | Kualapuu | 808/567-6000 | | $18 for 9 holes, $24 for 18 holes | 9 holes, 3088 yards, par 34 .


Rural and rugged, Molokai is an excellent place for hiking. Roads and developments are few. The island is steep, so hikes often combine spectacular views with hearty physical exertion. Because the island is small, you can come away with the feeling of really knowing the place. And you won’t see many other people around. Much of what may look like deserted land is private property, so be careful not to trespass—seek permission or use an authorized guide.


Kalaupapa Trail.
You can hike down to the Kalaupapa Peninsula and back via this 3-mile, 26-switchback route. The trail is often nearly vertical, traversing the face of the high sea cliffs. You can reach Kalaupapa Trail off Highway 470 near Kalaupapa Overlook. Only those in excellent condition should attempt it. You must have made prior arrangements with Damien Tours (808/567-6171 ) in order to access Kalaupapa via this trail. | Off Hwy. 470 | Kualapuu .


Fodor’s Choice | Halawa Valley Falls Cultural Hike.
This gorgeous, steep-walled valley was carved by two rivers and is rich in history. Site of the earliest Polynesian settlement on Molokai, Halawa is a sustained island culture with its ingeniously designed loi, or taro fields. Because of a tsunami in 1948 and changing cultural conditions in the 1960s, the valley was largely abandoned. The Solatorio Ohana (family) is restoring the loi and taking visitors on guided hikes through the valley, which includes two of Molokai’s luakini heiau (sacred temples), many historic sites, and the trail to Moaula Falls, a 250-foot cascade. Bring water, food, and insect repellent, and wear sturdy shoes that can get wet. The 3½-mile round-trip hike is rated intermediate to advanced and includes two moderate river crossings. | 808/542-1855 | | $60 .

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Shops and Spas

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Shopping | Spas


Molokai has one main commercial area: Ala Malama Street in Kaunakakai. There are no department stores or shopping malls, and the clothing is typical island wear. Local shopping is friendly, and you may find hidden treasures. A very few family-run businesses define the main drag of Maunaloa, a rural former plantation town. Most stores in Kaunakakai are open Monday-Saturday 9-6.


Arts and Crafts

Big Wind Kite Factory and Plantation Gallery.
The factory has custom-made kites you can fly or display. Designs range from Hawaiian petroglyphs to pueo (owls). Also in stock are paper kites, minikites, and wind socks. Ask to go on the factory tour, or take a free kite-flying lesson. The adjacent gallery carries an eclectic collection of merchandise, including locally made crafts, Hawaiian books and CDs, jewelry, handmade batik sarongs, and an elegant line of women’s linen clothing. | 120 Maunaloa Hwy. | Maunaloa | 808/552-2364 | .


Maunaloa General Store.
Stocking meat, produce, beverages, and dry goods, this shop is a convenient stop if you’re planning a picnic at one of the west-end beaches. It’s open Monday-Saturday 9-6 and Sunday 9 am to noon. | 200 Maunaloa Hwy. | Maunaloa | 808/552-2346 .


Arts and Crafts

Molokai Art From the Heart.
A small downtown shop, this arts and crafts co-op has locally made folk art like dolls, clay flowers, silk sarongs, and children’s items. The shop also carries original art by Molokai artists and Giclée prints, jewelry, locally produced music, and Saint Damien keepsakes. Store hours are weekdays 10-4:30 and Saturday 9-2. | 64 Ala Malama St. | Kaunakakai | 808/553-8018 | .

Clothing and Shoes

Imports Gift Shop.
Across from Kanemitsu Bakery, this one-stop shop offers fancy and casual island-style wear, including Roxy and Quicksilver for men, women, and children. The store is open Monday-Saturday 9-6 and Sunday 9-1. | 82 Ala Malama St. | Kaunakakai | 808/553-5734 .

Molokai Island Creations.
Try this shop for aloha wear, beach cover-ups, sun hats, and tank tops. | 53 Ala Malama St. | Kaunakakai | 808/553-5926 .


Friendly Market Center.
The best-stocked supermarket on the island has a slogan (“Your family store on Molokai”) that is truly credible. Sun-and-surf essentials keep company with fresh produce, meat, groceries, and liquor. Locals say the food is fresher here than at the other major supermarket. It’s open weekdays 8:30-8:30 and Saturday 8:30-6:30. | 90 Ala Malama St. | Kaunakakai | 808/553-5595 .

Home Town Groceries & Drygoods.
For those staying at a condo on Molokai, this store will come in handy. It is like a mini-Costco, carrying bulk items. | 93 Ala Malama St. | Kaunakakai | 808/553-3858 .

Kumu Farms.
This is the most diverse working farm on Molokai, and the place to purchase fresh produce, herbs, and gourmet farm products. It’s open Tuesday-Friday 9-4. | Hua Ai Rd., off Mauna Loa Hwy., near Molokai Airport | Kaunakakai | 808/567-6480 .

Molokai Wines ‘n’ Spirits.
Don’t let the name fool you; along with a surprisingly good selection of fine wines and liquors, the store also carries cheeses and snacks. It’s open Sunday-Thursday 9-7, and Friday and Saturday until 7:30 pm. | 77 Ala Malama St. | Kaunakakai | 808/553-5009 .


Imports Gift Shop.
You’ll find soaps and lotions, a small collection of 14-karat-gold chains, rings, earrings, and bracelets, and a jumble of Hawaiian quilts, pillows, books, and postcards at this local favorite. The shop also special orders (takes approximately one week) for Hawaiian heirloom jewelry, inspired by popular Victorian pieces and crafted here since the late 1800s. | 82 Ala Malama St. | Kaunakakai | 808/553-5734 .

Sporting Goods

Molokai Bicycle.
This bike shop rents and sells mountain and road bikes as well as helmets, racks, and jogging strollers. It supplies maps and information on biking and hiking and will pick up and drop off equipment nearly anywhere on the island. Call ahead for an appointment, or stop by Wednesday 3-6 or Saturday 9-2 to arrange what you need. | 80 Mohala St. | Kaunakakai | 808/553-5740 , 800/709-2453 | .

Molokai Fish & Dive.
This is the source for your sporting needs, from snorkel rentals to free and friendly advice. This is also a good place to pick up original-design Molokai T-shirts, water sandals, books, and gifts. | 53 Ala Malama St. | Kaunakakai | 808/553-5926 | .


Molokai Acupuncture & Massage.
This relaxing retreat offers acupuncture, massage, herbal remedies, wellness treatments, and private yoga sessions by appointment only. | 40 Ala Malama St., Suite 206 | Kaunakakai | 808/553-3930 | .

Molokai Lomi Massage.
Allana Noury of Molokai Lomi Massage has studied natural medicine for more than 35 years and is a licensed massage therapist, master herbalist, and master iridologist. She will come to your hotel or condo by appointment. | 808/553-8034 | .

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Entertainment and Nightlife

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Local nightlife consists mainly of gathering with friends and family, sipping a few cold ones, strumming ukuleles and guitars, singing old songs, and talking story. Still, there are a few ways to kick up your heels. Pick up a copy of the weekly Molokai Dispatch and see if there’s a concert, church supper, or dance.

The bar at the Hotel Molokai is always a good place to drink. The “Aloha Friday” weekly gathering here (4-6 pm) is a must-do event, featuring Na Kapuna, a group of accomplished kupuna (old-timers) with guitars and ukuleles.

For something truly casual, stop in at Kanemitsu Bakery on Ala Malama Street in Kaunakakai for the nightly hot bread sale (Tuesday-Sunday beginning at 8 pm). You can meet everyone in town and take some hot bread home for a late-night treat.