This mysterious island shrouded in afternoon mists off the coast of Maui offers a glimpse of the other Hawaii
Molokai - Hawaii for Hawaiians
(You’re Not in Honolulu Anymore)
They call it the “Friendly Isle”… You may come away thinking of Molokai as the “Indifferent Isle”…
But what did you expect?
If you’ve come to Molokai for the nightlife, you’ve been woefully misled. If you’ve come to Molokai to eat roasted pig at an “authentic” luau, while being entertained by “real Hawaiian hula dancers”; you’ve come to the wrong island…
But if you’ve come to Molokai to visit the place Hawaiians go to get away from it all, then you’ve come to the right place. The people of Molokai are friendly indeed, but happy to go about their business and let you do the same.
This is Hawaii for Hawaiians; Hawaii off the beaten path.
That’s why you want to go there, isn’t it? That’s why we wanted to go there…
“Molokai is quiet, uncrowded, and laid-back – even for Hawaii”, the guidebooks tell us prior to our departure. The guidebooks are right…
Taking advantage of a standing offer to “home exchange” our flat in San Francisco, we settle quietly into the little Hawaiian home tucked neatly into the peaceful little clutch of houses astride a long and sandy beach, along Molokai’s southeastern shore...
We arruve on a warm, mid-September afternoon with two suitcases, a set of keys, and some vague instructions on finding the “nicely rusted” car and the house - “turn right out of the airport, go to the main road and turn left. Stay on that road for a while. After the nineteen-mile marker, you’ll see a little stone church on your left. The house is right next to the church.”
And there it is! A beautiful island home complete with a “tree house” lanai to sit and watch the evening sun cast an orange glow across the channel on the western shore of Maui.
The coming days hold the promise of peacefully exploring the island with our new companion, Barkley. A Terrier mix, Barkley came with the house, and immediately adopted us and stole our hearts.
The Island of Mystery and Abundance
Molokai is a rural, agricultural community. Over half of the population of about eight thousand is native Hawaiian. Except for the private island of Niihau, near Kauai, Molokai is the only island where the majority of residents are native Hawaiian.
A mystical quality emanates from Molokai, reaching far back into its past. Ancient heiaus (temples) dot the landscape from which the kahunas – or sorcerers – weaved their magic. The sorcerers of Molokai were revered and respected among the people of neighboring islands, as were the fierce warriors that defended the agricultural bounty of the island.
The island rose up from the sea about two million years ago, the third oldest of the main Hawaiian Islands. Borne of three volcanoes, now either dormant or inactive, Molokai consists of Pa’u Nana to the west; Kamakou to the east and centered in the small peninsula jutting off the central northern coast is the Kauhako crater.
Molokai sits as the northern point in a triangle with Maui and Lanai. Between these islands are the Pailolo and Kalohi Channels.
Thirty-seven miles long and no more than ten miles wide, Molokai is the fifth largest island of the Hawaiian chain. The climate is dry and arid on the western side, green and lush on the eastern side. Depending on locale, average temperature ranges from seventy-five to eighty-five degrees. Thirty inches of rainfall is the yearly average.
Situated near the geographic center of the Pacific Ocean, Molokai is one of the most isolated spots on earth…
The Land of the Red Dust
The white, rusting Toyota sedan leans into the turn as we head west down route 480, toward the arid West End of Molokai; Past ranches and ramshackle cottages, where, by outward appearance, people live a hard life of continual Red Dust…,
A dog’s belly that should be white is dusted red; pickup trucks with a thin red film on the outside; the West End is a rose-colored land of sweeping vistas and lonely isolation.
It is from the steep cliffs of Molokai’s West End that legend tells of the origins of the ancient Hula. The modern history of this area includes vast pineapple plantations, ranchland, and lush pastures – aided by extensive irrigation. But from our vantage point as we drive down the lonely road, it is mostly Red Dust…
We drive to the little community of Maunaloa, the only town on this side of the island. The little village sports some watered grass and jaunty, green-colored buildings to soften the blow of the harsh surroundings, as does the shimmering ocean on the horizon, but there is little else to hold us for very long.
A few miles outside of town, we head northwest off the main road to an enclave of resort hotels and timeshares, curious as to where they tuck away all the tourists.
A stiff breeze blows in from the southeast as we walk the grounds of one resort. It is eerily quiet and a little spooky... The hotel seems oddly out of place. There are adequate attempts at lush, tropical vegetation; but ultimately, just underneath the surface - all around - is the Red Dust.
The area has access to an unobstructed vista of the open ocean. Oahu rests lazily in the distant haze of the western horizon. At the bottom of a cliff, a wide, sandy beach stretched along the shore for at least a mile.
Finishing our investigation of the area, we’re glad we had somewhere else to go. Clouds of Red Dust billow around our tires as we drive back up the windswept road toward Route 480. Heading home toward the cool, green paradise of the East End and our little home by the sea…
The Kalaupapa Peninsula ,The Land of Many Sorrows...
I stand high above the little peninsula, jutting out from the central north coast of Molokai. From the high cliffs of the Kalaupapa Lookout, the little village below rests lazily in the late morning sun. The deep blue of the ocean silently encircles the four-mile wide peninsula. Our exploration this day starts along route 470, north to the Palaau State Park. From the parking lot, a short trail leads through tall forest to the lookout and the scenic serenity below. The serenity belies the troubled past of the Kalaupapa peninsula...
On May 10, 1873, Father Joseph Damien deVeuster came ashore at the Kalaupapa Peninsula, carrying with him only a prayer book and the clothes on his back. He voluntarily came where others are banished; to Molokai’s infamous “leper colony”.
Father Damien spent many years caring for these unfortunate people. He used his political skills to focus the Church, and finally the world, to the inhumane living conditions these people were forced to endure. This attention would lead to outrage and indignation, and finally to change.
Father Damien gave himself so completely to his life’s work that he himself succumbed to leprosy (now more commonly known as “Hansen’s Disease”) and died in 1889, sixteen years after his unceremonious arrival on the island. On the day he died, Father Damien became forever known as “The Martyr of Molokai”
This four-mile-square peninsula jutting off the central northern coast of Molokai was not always home to such misery. Before the establishment of the colony in 1865 by King Kamehameha V, natives lived in a village on the western side of the peninsula; raising pigs, growing sweet potatoes, and fishing.
Kauhako forms the peninsula, and at the bottom of this extinct volcano lays a large lake more than 800 feet deep. At one time used as a burial site the lake still supports a variety of shrimp not found anywhere else in the world.
The Department of Health maintains jurisdiction over the peninsula, but forced isolation of the residents of the village was abolished in 1969. A cure for “Hansen’s Disease” has been around since the 1940’s
Access to the village is restricted to guests of residents, or those on an official tour of the peninsula. You must be at least sixteen years old to participate in the tours.
Thoughts of the dark past of this little peninsula fade from view as the sun shimmers on the breaking surf far below.
To the End of the Road...
Clouds hang heavy on the horizon, the gray mid-morning light silhouettes the sharp rise of Maui, looming across the channel. My eyes are getting droopy and the book in my hand begins to slip. A gentle, moist wind blows in off the coast, while an occasional drop of rain taps lightly on the awning... The sound of the surf fills my brain, warm and drowsy.
By early afternoon, the day brightens somewhat. It is shaping up as a perfect day for drive to the End of the Road at the northeast tip of Molokai; the Halawa valley
The weather alternates between brief, light rain showers and bands of sunlight breaking through the clouds. We pack dog, water bottles, and cameras in the car and head east.
After a mile or two, the road narrows, hugging the coast, waves occasionally break over the stone seawall, splashing across the road. Barkley strains against the car door as she sticks her face into the wind. Turning and twisting, each bend in the road offers a magnificent view of the coast, cliff, and sea. After climbing a bit, the road turns inland at the eastern tip of the island. The terrain flattens and we drive through small tracts of ranch land, making our way across the tip of the island and into the jagged cliffs of the northeast coast. The road cuts through the side of a mountain, debris from rock and mudslides litter the road. We are now in the most verdant and green part of the island, truly a tropical rainforest. The misting rain and gray overcast contrast with the lushness of the surrounding woodland; a foggy, enchanted forest.
Just beyond the 27 mile marker is the end of the road – the Halawa valley. To the north is a large tidal pond. A small boat anchored on the opposite shore, with two small structures just beyond are the only clue that any other people exist at all in the world.
We walk along the shoreline of the tidal pool, underneath an expansive banyan tree, toward the pounding surf of the north coast.
The protective reefs that line the southeast coast disappear as you make your way around the eastern tip of the island. The sea comes crashing ashore with all her might and glory.
Behind us, the steep, green ridges rise up, sheathed in lush, tropical rainforest, and shrouded in mist and fog...
Two waterfalls cascade silently in the distance down the side of one ridge.
A rare peace and serenity lit softly upon me like the mist on the hills.
We are at the end of the road, and it is like the end of the earth...
The precious commodity of solitude, so hard to find in this modern world full of distraction and noise, falls softly on us watching the magnificent ocean crash into the shore...
This is what Molokai has to offer the world-weary traveler - a little peace and quiet, far from the madding crowd.
Leave the resort hotels to Oahu, Maui, and the Big Island; when you come to Molokai, find a good rental house, condo, or arrange a home exchange. Then relax, shake off the noisy world, and get into the groove of Hawaii – for Hawaiians.
If you plan to visit Molokai, visit http://visitmolokai.com/ for information and resources;
Or visit the Molokai tourist bureau’s website at: http://molokai-hawaii.com/