A March 2003 trip
to Molokai by lcampbell
Quote: The often-seen signs around Molokai say it all: "Slow Down! This is Molokai!" Tourism on Molokai is low-key. What you will NOT find is prepackaged Hawaiian, highrises, or stoplights. Rather, you will encounter large quantities of rural beauty and aloha spirit.
Molokai is a place for travelers, NOT for tourists. Tourists are not catered to in the slightest. Your experience will not be handed to you on a platter; you will need to create it yourself.
A visit to Molokai should be more to soak up the friendly atmosphere and live life at a much slower pace. With dimensions of only 38 miles by 10 miles, and a small population of only 7000 people, Molokai is cozy. Everyone knows everyone, and you will start recognizing people after a day or two. It is one of the last places to find the real Hawaii – it is rural with over half of the people with Hawaiian blood.
When I visited Molokai, I think I did almost everything there is to do. See my second Molokai journal "Activities and Adventure on Molokai" to get additional information. Of course, there are still some things that I would have liked to do but didn’t get a chance to. But I guess it is always best to leave some things to do in favorite places, so you have an excuse to come back!
If possible, try to come to Molokai via the ferry from Lahaina, Maui. This way, you will get a free whale watch tour along with your transportation. I also met some wonderful local people who commute via the ferry. They welcomed me to Molokai before I even got there!
I was camping, so I did not get to see any of the hotels, resorts, or B and Bs up close. The Hotel Molokai looked very charming and had a great location. Puu o Hoku Ranch on the east side was remote – perfect for outdoor lovers and those wanting to get away from it all. The west side condos did not impress me from the outside, and looked uncrowded (for a reason??). The Molokai Ranch is hub of activity and lodging, but is expensive.
My favorite place to eat was Kamuelas Cookhouse in Kualapuu.
Contact the Molokai Visitor Association at (800)800-6367 for information.
But the brochure is dated August, 2001, so I’m not sure how accurate this information is.
I took the Molokai Princess boat ferry from Lahaina, Maui (see separate journal entry).
A rental car is the best way to have freedom of movement on Molokai. There is no such thing as public transportation, and hitchhiking will be hit or miss. If you are an outdoor enthusiast, you will definitely want a four-wheel drive vehicle to explore the mountain areas. A regular car will do for beach visits and the other activities covered in my two Molokai journals.
The rental car companies listed for Molokai are:
Island Kine Auto Rental(866)527-7368
I rented from a new company called Molokai Rent A Car (866)239-3929, which had great prices, but they forgot to leave my rental car at the ferry dock like they were supposed to, so I was stranded. They made it right, and I had an adventure until I finally got a car, but it is just something to keep in mind.
Attraction | "The ferry to Molokai - Molokai Princess"
Leaving Lahaina: Monday-Wednesday-Friday-Saturday at 7:30am and 5:15pm.
Leaving Kaunakakai: Monday to Saturday at 5:45am and daily at 3:00pm.
The trip takes 1.5 hours, and is relaxing and beautiful when the water is calm. Both my channel crossings were smooth, but some of the local folks who take the ferry often said that sometimes it can be very rough. Hold on to your stomachs!
My two favorite parts of the ferry trip were meeting local people (which ended up really helping me when my rental car company failed to leave my rental car at the dock like they were supposed to–-see my entry on "Why Molokai is the Friendly Isle") and whale-watching. Who needs to spend money on a whale-watching trip when you can see dozens of whales from the ferry! Most of the whales I saw were at a distance, but twice the whales surfaced directly next to the boat. On the return trip I also saw dolphins!
On clear days the views of Maui, Lanai, and Molokai from the ferry really knock your socks off. As I was leaving Lahaina, I had a great view back to the wharf and town. The West Maui mountains shot straight up, covered in green, and once again taunting me to hike into them. Toward Lanai, I saw that Lanaihale Peak (3370 feet) was a more humble mountain, roundly curved and not drastically vertical like the West Mauis. Along the coast of Lanai, I also saw Shipwreck Beach, recognizable by the large stationary dark ship. Finally, looking at the south short of Molokai, the mountains and valleys seem to be a combination of the other two island peaks. Steep, with deeply trenched valleys, the Molokai mountains are beautifully colored and interesting to look at. Looking at the south side of Molokai, you have no idea of that the north side holds the steepest sea cliffs (pali) in the world (according to Guinness Book of World Records), the highest at 3300 feet and more than 55 degrees gradient.
The price for a one-way crossing is $40 plus tax (total $42.40). Bring exact change to the ferry dock, or you can pay in advance by credit card. There is usually plenty of room-–it is a good-sized boat-–but you can put your name on a list ahead of time by calling (808)667-6165 or (800)275-6969. For more information, see the ferry website. You should be able to arrange with the rental car companies for a pickup at the ferry, or sometimes they will leave the car and keys if you are coming in late.
Member Rating 4 out of 5 on April 7, 2003
Molokai Princess Whale Watching
Wharf Road and Kaunakakai Place
Kaunakakai, Hawaii 96748
+1 808 667 6165
Attraction | "Camping on Molokai"
The two county campgrounds are One Alii Park and Papohaku Beach Park.
One Alii Park
Located 3 miles east of the town of Kaunakakai on Hwy 450, this park has a lot of traffic going by and driving through. The park is located on the shore, so the sound of waves is nice, although there is no discernable beach. There are flush toilets, cold showers, and water available. This is the driest of the camping areas.
Papohaku Beach Park
Papohaku Beach is very wide and an amazing three miles long, the second largest beach in Hawaii. It has soft, golden-yellow sand and is a perfect sunset-watching location. I never saw more than 10 people here, so this is the place for quiet, with only the sounds of waves (and raindrops!). Disadvantages include distance from food (30 minutes) and wetter climate. Papohaku also has flush toilets, water, and cold showers.
Permits for the two county campgrounds are available at the Department of Parks and Recreation window at the Mitchell Pauole Center in Kaunakakai (808-553-3204). Camping fees are $3 per person per night. The office hours are limited (8am-4pm Monday to Friday), and there is no self-registration at the parks, so if you arrive late or on a weekend, you may have to go ahead and camp without a permit (which seems to be tolerated at campgrounds all over Hawaii).
The two state parks described below have a fee of $5 per person per night. Permits are available at the Department of Land and Natural Resources office, call (808)567-6923 for information and directions. The state campgrounds are Pala’au and Waukolu Lookout.
Pala’au State Park
Located at the end of Hwy 470, this is where the Kalaupapa Overlook is found. There is also a short hike to Kauleonanahoa, or Phallic Rock, where women hoping to become pregnant are allowed to camp. The small campground is a grassy spot in the trees located directly on Hwy 470 but there is little traffic at night. There is a restroom, but no water, so bring plenty. This area is also cooler and quite rainy.
Those with four-wheel drive can try to camp at Waikolu Lookout, at 3600 feet in the mountains of central Molokai. The view from the lookout is spectacular, but be prepared for cold temperatures and lots of rain. There are pit toilets and no water is available.
In addition to the above official campgrounds, I also witnessed local families camping at the parking areas of some of the west side beaches, and at Hale O Lono harbor. These would work in a pinch, but I still vote for Papohaku as the best choice.
This area really reminded me of a ghost town. At one time it was supposedly a hopping resort area–-the brochure from the visitors' association says it still is, but I didn’t see much action. I read somewhere that the main condominium resort had gone bankrupt recently and the golf course was turning brown. There must be a new owner, because the golf course is green again and there were a few people floating around the condos. But it was far from busy, and I wonder how long they will stay in business. If you want to stay in the area, it would be best to contact the Visitor Association for the current situation: (800)800-6367. Also, there are no stores or restaurants, so bring your own supplies.
Kepuhi Beach is near the condos. Access is from a small parking lot on Kaiaka Road. From here there is also a short walk up a gated dirt road to the top of Puu o Kaiaka, 110 feet. There is a great view of Papohaku Beach to the south from here, and back to the rolling ranchlands east.
The largest beach on Molokai is Papohaku Beach, a real beauty. Papohaku is super wide and is three miles long, the second largest beach in Hawaii. I loved walking on the soft golden sand, which reminded me of cornmeal (or maybe I was hungry that day!). I never saw more than 10 people on this beach, although hundreds of people could be there and it still wouldn’t be crowded. This is also a perfect sunset location. The best place to access Papohaku is Papohaku Beach Park, which has restrooms, showers, a small campground, and picnic tables. See my "Camping on Molokai" entry for camping info. This is not the safest beach for swimming, unfortunately. Beware of strong currents, and maybe stick to the far north end, which looked tamer, for swimming.
South of Papohaku are a few of small beaches marked by small wooden "Beach Access" signs. Poolau and Pakaa are both very rocky areas, not "beaches" at all. Dixie Maru Beach, farthest south, is a sandy crescent-shaped beach is in a protected cove. This is the safest beach for swimming and the snorkeling is supposed to be good. I went exploring on the rocky point to the south and found some tidepools.
Finally, there are supposed to be one or two beaches north of the condominiums. I tried to go to these, but discovered I needed a four-wheel drive vehicle to reach them. The adventurous might want to try hiking or biking.
Member Rating 3 out of 5 on April 7, 2003
West End Beaches
Around mile marker 3 is One Alii Beach Park. This is a small campground and picnic area.
There are two historic churches next along the drive. At around mile marker 10, there is St. Joseph’s Church, built by Father Damien in 1876. Our Lady of Seven Sorrows Church, a few miles farther on the left, is a reconstruction of another Father Damien church. This one was built in 1966.
All along the southern coast of Molokai you will see fishponds. These fishponds are pre-European (from about 13th-century on), and Molokai was supposed to have more than 60 productive fishponds. The fishponds were built with lava rock. The rock walls made an enclosure that had small gates going in from the ocean. Small fish could swim in through the small gates, then they were handfed breadfruit and sweet pototoes. They became large enough that they couldn’t swim back out, and were easily caught. These fish were used to feed royalty, and commoners were not allowed to eat them. Many of the original fishponds are degraded, but recent efforts have been made to restore these historical structures.
The Neighborhood Store N Counter is the only place on the east end for groceries or lunch. It is near mile marker 16.
At mile marker 20 is the unoriginally named Twenty-Mile Beach. This is a nice sandy beach on the sunniest and driest part of the island. If you get rained out elsewhere, try coming to Twenty Mile. There is another smaller beach a mile back at mile marker 19 called, you guessed it, Nineteen-Mile Beach.
At this point the road becomes curvier and hillier. You are driving directly on the coast at this point, and you will see picturesque bays and Mokuhooniki Island, which is a seabird sanctuary. Next you pass near Puu o Hoku Ranch, which is supposed to have guest accommodations. I didn’t see any signs of life, but I think the main buildings are farther off the main road than I could see. The ranch can be contacted at (808)558-8109.
After the ranch, there are some gnarly curves and one-lane sections of road for the final three miles. Drive slowly and be careful of oncoming traffic. Also, be careful to pay attention to the road. I know that I came around one curve to find myself face to face with the most stunning valley that I have ever seen. It was Halawa Valley, and it was virtually exploding with waterfalls. One waterfall was the largest I’ve seen in Hawaii. I think there is a hiking trail that goes into the valley, but I don’t know how long it is or if it is on private or public land. One thing I read (from the Visitors Association) says it is accessible only by guided hike, and something else I read said that some local folks are saying it is private but it actually is a public right-of-way. So I didn’t try hiking it, even though I wanted to more than anything.
At the very end of the road is scenic Halawa Bay. It is actually two separate coves. One can be dangerous when Halawa Stream is flowing fast, and the other is more calm. Parking, restrooms, and picnic tables are available at Halawa Park (the end of road).
Gabe spent the rest of the 1.5 hour ferry ride checking on me occassionally, bringing me a juice, and talking with me some more. Also on the ferry ride I meet Pat. She is a 75-year-old woman who early in the conversation proclaimed herself to be a "recluse." She was down on her luck because the car she keeps on Maui for work was broken into that day. I listened with a sympathetic ear, and Gabe gave her a hug, and she cheered up some. The three of us had a nice time watching the sunset from the ferry together.
When the ferry arrived in Molokai, I set off to look for my rental car, which was supposed to be left at the ferry dock for me. I had a description and license plate number. After checking three times, I realized it wasn’t there. I had no idea what to do next. Just then, Pat pulled up to check on me. When she found out what happened, she immediately offered me a ride and a place to stay at her house (I had been planning to camp after I got me rental car). Her passenger (who I had never met) also offered me a place, and Gabe came over and also offered me a place. I have never encountered such generosity!
We settled on Pat giving me a ride to the campground, which was on her way home. From there I would walk to town (4 miles) or call the car rental company. The only problem was that I had to be at The Nature Conservancy office by 7:30am to volunteer with them for the day. I had no clue how or if I’d make it there. But at this point I knew I was just going to go with the flow. I have learned in recent years that things usually work out in the end, so try not to stress out too much. It’s not healthy! Or fun!
On the way home, Pat decides to stop at Hotel Molokai for a drink and dinner. I was just a passenger in her car, so I guessed I’d check out Hotel Molokai too. I ended up buying Pat a drink and dinner for all her help. Pat introduced me to the manager of the hotel, and she told him my dilema. He called his wife, who works in the rental car business, and found out that she didn’t have anything and that all the rental cars were sold out for the weekend. Oh boy! Here we go again!
Al, the hotel manager, also gave me a better camping option since it was only 2 miles from town (and Pat was a bit tipsy anyway). I could camp behind the kayak rack as long as I was cleared out of there by 7am, so the guests wouldn’t see me. He even got me a lounge chair to sleep on, after assuring me it wouldn’t rain. It was great! Molokai folks sure understand the word hospitality!
I cleared out early in the morning and walked to town by 6:30am. But, of course the rental car folks were not in the office yet. I pondered my situation over coffee from the deli. I finally broke down an called The Nature Conservancy at 7:15am and told them my problem, and how disappointed I was to miss a chance to volunteer with them (it was the only day they were going in the field during my visit to Molokai). Lickety split, one of them was off to pick me up! Meanwhile, the rental car mechanic showed up. I explained that I was stranded the night before. He said the office people don’t arrive until 10am. I told him my name, where I was going, that I still needed a car, and that I’d be back late in the afternoon.
Lovely (and friendly!) Lori picked me up in town and took me for a super enjoyable day at Kamakou Preserve. The hard work and sweat therapy did wonders for my stress level, and my three coworkers were fantastic! Stephanie said that if I didn’t get a rental car, that I could use hers since she was going to Oahu for the weekend anyway. Could I just make sure to take it to the charity car wash on Saturday? She also offered me to stay at her place. I smiled and said "You’ve only known me for one day!" She smiled and said "That’s OK!" The aloha spirit is STRONG on Molokai. I told her that I might take her up on the car offer if I couldn’t get a rental car, but thanks anyway for now.
We got back to The Nature Conservancy office late–-almost 5pm. I was really really really hoping the rental car people had not gone home for the day. I hopped out of the work truck as soon as we pulled in, so that I could rush inside and call before 5pm. Before I even reached the door, the secretary came out and gave me a phone message from the car rental company. The mechanic must have remember where I was going.
I called back and the owner profusely apologized. She said she had a car for me, super cheap, and her husband would pick me up at The Nature Conservancy. I took a quick shower, and he was arriving just when I walked out. At the office, the owner explained that there was a new girl who was making a lot of mistakes. She assured me that she yelled at her for me…. I told the new girl that it was OK, everyone makes mistakes. No worries. No problem. I was thanked for being so understanding. I paid $48 for four days with a rental car. Don’t get angry-–get adventurous! Everyone has a bad day, it all worked out in the end, and I met some friendly folks along the way. Now on with the rest of my vacation.
The next days were very nice-–uneventful, but I had enough excitement for a while. When I returned to the ferry dock to go back to Maui, I found Gabe waiting for me. He said he had looked all over for me at the campgrounds, but we must have missed each other. He wanted to check on me, or hang out. He rode all the way back to Maui with me (even though he immediately turned around and went back to Molokai). We decided that he was definitely building up some good karma, with all that looking out for me.
I saw Pat a few weeks later in Lahaina. She was tipsy again and didn’t remember me at all! Life is so funny!
Molokai has definitely inspired me to practice Aloha every day in my life. In the December 2002 issue of National Geographic, Puna Dawson explains: "Everyone says Aloha, but I don’t know how many really know what it means. Each letter has its own thought. The first is Akahoi, to be kind. The second is Lokahi, to be inclusive. The third is Olu’olu, to be agreeable. Ha’aha’a is the fourth, to be humble. Ahonui is the last and means patience. There are the characteristics of Hawaiian people."
Port Angeles, Washington