Valley in Eastern Molokai.
Hawaii ó After we heard buzzing overhead in the thick
Hawaiian jungle for the second or third time, I asked our
ponytailed guide, Gregorson Rider, the source of the
from Maui," he replied, referring to Molokaiís
famous neighbor, 15 miles to the southeast. "Itís
seemed especially so in that moment. Five fellow visitors
from the mainland and I were deep in the lush Halawa
Valley, admiring a large, sloping rock shaped something
like a recliner. Rider said that, according to legend,
native women used it for giving birth 1,000 years ago.
Trace his lineage back, he said, and his ancestors likely
entered the world there.
helicopter buzzed away, and we continued down the dirt
trail, the only noise once again our shuffling boots and
the birds chirping invisibly in the trees above. We were
headed to a waterfall for lunch and relaxation in Molokaiís
told us about himself on the way. Born and raised in
central Illinois, he moved back to his ancestral home of
Hawaii, first working in the crowded bars of Honolulu on
Oahu. He soon discovered that he longed to discover his
roots, which led him to move with his teenage daughter to
Molokai. He made more money in a week of bartending than
in a month of leading tours in the Halawa Valley, but he
was free of regret.
whole Western thing wasnít for me," Rider said.
"Iím trying to walk the path as much as
is the place to do it.
visit big resorts and drink colorful, umbrella-capped
drinks, there are five other Hawaiian islands appropriate
for that. For a taste of a Hawaii barely touched by
tourism, there is Molokai. The breezes are just as sweet
and the palms sway just as gently, but it is a Hawaii free
of cliche: no 18-hole golf courses, no beachfront resorts
and few, if any, surf lessons. The island doesnít even
have a stoplight.
the fewest annual visitors of the major Hawaiian islands,
Molokai is home to just one hotel and a handful of
restaurants. There is virtually no night life and even
less luxury. The lack of development leads to some
sacrifices, like astronomical prices ($9 for a gallon of
milk) and a less-than-scintillating restaurant scene.
itís a more-than-worthy trade-off for the traveler who
relishes long, quiet highways and unspoiled beauty.
Molokaiís simplicity leads some to suggest that the
island can be experienced as a day trip. Thatís a sad
misconception. Molokaiís pristine vistas deserve more
time for exploration, not less.
day I arrived, I met Dave Blair, a retired welder from
Erie, Pa., who was winding down a week on the island with
his wife. They had worked hard to be there, flying from
Erie to Philadelphia to Phoenix to Maui to Molokai. No
other islands were on their itinerary.
already done all that," Blair said. "This is
less commercialized, and I like that. A guy I work with,
he went to Oahu, and he said, ĎI went to Hawaii.í I
said, ĎNo, you went to Oahu.í"
a fair point. Oahu and Molokai share a history and a state
flag, but thatís about it. According to the Hawaii
Tourism Authority, Oahu draws 3.2 million visitors per
year. Molokai, a little less than half Oahuís size, gets
17,500. The disparity is precisely what draws people like
Liz Pepper and Beth Bowe, friends from Homer, Alaska, whom
I met on a beach along Molokaiís western edge, where
30-foot waves pounded the coast, exploding against rock
formations like fireworks. The three of us were the only
people there on a weekday afternoon.
is slow," Pepper said, "and thatís why we love
not for everyone," Bowe said. "But itís for
much of Hawaii, Molokai offers several landscapes in one
tidy land mass. The eastern edge, which I explored with
Rider, is rolling, mountainous and thick with jungle
valleys. The western shore is an array of impossibly wide,
quiet beaches interspersed with rocky outcroppings. North
is the Kalaupapa Peninsula, a fascinating, historic
leprosy colony. And, in all directions, is the swaying
little action that can be found lives in the sleepy town
of Kaunakakai, on the southern coast. On an 80-degree
afternoon (which describes most Molokai afternoons),
locals filled the downtown, shuffling into and out of
modest shops, restaurants and supermarkets. On the
sidewalk, sitting in the shade and strumming an acoustic
guitar, was Butch Mahiai, known by everyone as Uncle
Butch. A cynic might expect an upturned hat full of change
at his feet (guilty!), but there was none. He was playing
just to play.
play at home, and when I get tired of doing that, I come
down here," Mahiai said. "It makes the day go by
laughed and continued strumming as a white-haired local
took a seat to listen. When that man moved on, another
local, a young woman named Kealoha Laemoa, took his place.
We listened for a few minutes. Laemoa asked if it was my
first time in Molokai.
I told her.
thing about this island is you get a lot of aloha
spirit," Laemoa said.
is what?" I asked.
cares for one another," she said. "Aloha for
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is a lot of talk about "aloha" on Molokai, and
most everyone will tell you it is far from a generic
greeting among tourists. For instance: At the Friendly
Market, down the block from Mahiaiís performance, a sign
warned shoppers: "Aloha spirit required here. If you
canít share it today, please visit us some other
say "aloha spirit" is what keeps the island
close to its roots even as its neighboring islands embrace
tourism with both hands. That and a fierce opposition to
what locals consider overdevelopment.
donít think weíll ever get a Wal-Mart or a
Costco," said William Kamakeeaina, whom everyone
calls William Junior, as he sliced papaya behind the bar
at Hotel Molokai. "We have too many activist people
signs and bumper stickers with some form of discontent are
frequent on Molokai, whether opposing a wind farm (and
accompanying undersea cable) or Monsanto, which operates a
wide swath of land on the island ("Monsanto ó Keep
pesticides away from my home and family," screams one
simplicity and rugged beauty continue to rule on Molokai,
and thatís especially true at its most iconic site:
Kalaupapa, a flat peninsula below Molokaiís towering
cliffs that has only three ways down: plane (a five-minute
flight from the islandís main airport), mule (the most
popular option) and foot (my choice). It has been a colony
for leprosy patients since the mid-1800s, and on my last
day, I visited.
met a couple at the trailhead from Maui visiting Molokai
for the first time, and together the three of us walked
down, down and farther down the 3-mile trail, descending
1,664 feet to the peninsula, spread across the ocean like
a giant green blanket.
the bottom we piled onto a rusted yellow school bus with
the tourists who had come down by mule, then spent a
sun-drenched, breezy afternoon riding through the village
that once was home to 1,000 people but now is down to
fewer than 100, including about 15 former patients
(leprosy is now treatable, hence they are considered
"former patients"). That day we saw none of
them, however; they tend to stay inside when the daily
crop of visitors appears.
its dwindling population, many of Kalaupapaís original
buildings are gone; what remains is a tidy, quiet village
of modest houses and nicely trimmed lawns, along with the
buildings essential to any town (library, convenience
store, a small church, government buildings). Traffic, be
it car, bicycle or foot, is rare.
spent about three hours on the peninsula, finishing up
with a lunch facing a row of jagged green cliffs tumbling
stunningly to a perfect blue sea. We didnít see a single
was undamaged in the recent storms, so thereís no
concern with infrastructure.
there: The only flights to Molokai come from Oahu and Maui
on airlines that include Mokulele Airlines (mokuleleairlines.com)
and Makani Kai Air (makanikaiair.com). They generally cost
about $50 one way. There also is daily passenger-only
ferry service from Maui (molokaiferry.com). Renting a car
is a must, and rental companies include Alamo at the
airport (I made my reservation through
molokairentalcar.com) and in Kaunakakai, Molokai Car
Hotel Molokai (877-553-5347, hotelmolokai.com), the only
hotel on the island, isnít fancy, but it is clean,
charming and boasts the islandís only oceanfront bar.
Rates begin at $159. Also check rental web sites such as
Molokai Vacation Properties (molokai-vacation-rental.com),
Molokai Land and Homes (molokailandandhomes.com) and
Friendly Isle Realty (friendlyislerealty.com), where
islandwide listings can be found (the west side is closer
to beaches; the east is lusher and more tropical).
Restaurants are the weak link on the island, but there are
some solid options, like Paddlerís Inn (molokaipaddlersinn.com),
which has traditional bar fare (plus an excellent pupu
platter of meats and seafood) and one of the islandís
few full bars. Kualapuu Cookhouse (102 Farrington Ave.,
808-567-9655), in the town of Kualapuu, offers fresh
lunches and dinners that are widely considered the best
food on the island. Also in Kualapuu, Coffees of Hawaii (coffeesofhawaii.com)
offers locally roasted coffee and a small food menu ideal
for breakfast on the way to Kalaupapa Peninsula. Options
in Kaunakakai, the islandís biggest town, include
Kanemitsuís Bakery & Restaurant (79 Ala Malama Ave.,
808-553-5855) and Elsaís Kitchen (17 Ala Malama Ave.,
Molokai offers an impressive variety of landscapes and
attractions. On the north coast, Kalaupapa Peninsula, a
national historical park (nps.gov/kala) has a stunning
landscape and fascinating history in what has been a
leprosy colony for generations; it allows a maximum of 100
tourists per day, six days per week. Tours, snorkeling,
whale watching, diving and hikes are available through
Molokai Fish and Dive (molokaifishanddive.com) and Molokai
Outdoors (molokai-outdoors.com). On Molokaiís west coast
are some of Hawaiiís best beaches, which are worth