Adventure on Moloka'i
Molokaʻi is ranked #10 among the 111 island destinations of the world according to a recent survey by National Geographic Magazine. It cited Molokaʻi's pristine breathtaking tropical landscape, environmental stewardship, rich and deep Hawaiian traditions (the island's mana), and visitor-friendly culture. Molokai is a rural, relaxed paradise boasting the highest sea cliffs in the world and tallest waterfall in Hawaii. Molokai, the "Friendly Isle," is for travelers looking to explore natural wonders and the desire to experience the ultimate in authentic Hawaiian adventures. There are no direct flights from the mainland to Molokai, so you will have to fly into Honolulu and then take a commuter plane to Molokai.
Day 1: Arrival & Kaunakakai
You'll land in Molokai Airport the principal airport servicing the island of Molokai approximately 7 miles from the main city of Kaunakakai. If you are staying in a vacation rental, head into Kaunakakai and stock up on food, drinks, snacks and other supplies.
Explore this quaint 3 block "city" around the old two-street town and check out the mom and pop stores. Downtown Kaunakakai has a general store, restaurants, a post office, a library, and a courthouse in a former church.
Don't miss stopping at Kanemitsu Bakery, a Molokai institution. The Kanemitsu signature hot seller is their famous Molokai bread -- baked since 1935 in a cast-iron, kiawe-fired oven. A variety of fun flavors to choose from such as apricot-pineapple to coconut or strawberry. But the white, wheat, cheese, sweet, and onion-cheese breads are classic favorites. Adjacent to the bakery is their coffee shop/deli with hamburgers and egg-salad sandwiches that are popular and inexpensive.
Bread lovers will not want to miss the hot bread run -- a Molokai late night ritual (except for Mondays). Line up alongside other die-hard bread fans at the bakery's back door beginning at 10pm, when the bread hot out of the oven is served to hungry patrons. Order your fresh bread with butter, jelly, cinnamon, or cream cheese, which they'll slice and slather down the middle so it melts. Try the cream-cheese-and-jelly bread -- Yum!!
Leaving the bread run for another night? Plan an early evening stop at the Kapuaiwa Coconut Grove/Kiowea Park to watch the sunset. Two miles west of Kaunakakai this royal grove of 1,000 coconut trees on 10 acres planted in 1863 by the island's high chief Kapuaiwa is a popular roadside stop.
This shoreline park is a choice spot for photographers and tourists. Bring your camera and get ready to take some amazing photos of the coconut trees silhouetted against the evening sky. Across the street, a handful of late 19th-century churches stand along the picturesque Church Row. The simple architecture reflects the lifestyle of Hawaii's early missionaries.
Get a good night's sleep for your early morning adventure to the historic Kalaupapa National Park.
Day 2: Kalaupapa
You should have no problem getting up early and getting out to the Molokai Mule Ride, as your internal clock is still set for mainland time. In the cool Molokai uplands, a pack of mules prepare for the day's ride down to the world's most unique and formerly forbidden village of Kalaupapa. The journey begins from the Mule Barn with a mule guide briefing. You'll learn your mule's name and the Mule Skinners (guides) will teach you how to ride and control the mules. You will be riding down the most spectacular as well as the highest sea cliffs in the world. This adventure will take you through 26 switchbacks that corkscrew in and out of breathtaking canyons and ravine on a 1,600-foot cliff. Hugging the nearly perpendicular cliffs, the trail is more than three miles (5km) long and descends 1,600 feet (488m) to the Kalaupapa Peninsula, where people suffering from Hansen's disease (leprosy) have lived for decades. From 1866 until 1969 people from Hawai'i afflicted with Hansen's disease (leprosy) were forced into isolation in this remote peninsula on the island of Molokai.
Located on the centraSome of the more remote areas of this park include rare native habitat for several endangered endemic Hawaiian plants and animals.
Upon arriving in Kalaupapa, you'll be met by your Damien Tours guide and for the next few hours you'll experience one of Hawaii's most remarkable tours, in a community hidden from the world for so many years. You will learn about the leper colony, its people, incredible tales of struggle and human suffering, along with stories of courage and love. You'll see the grave site of Father Damien, the heroic Belgium Priest who loved and served this colony of outcasts. Visit St. Philomena Church, where Damien preached to his banished parishioners.
Enjoy your lunch, which is included with the tour at Judd Park on the scenic Kalawao side, overlooking sea cliffs and waterfalls, dramatic ocean rock formations and crashing surf.
Day 3: Papohaku Beach
After that long day at Kalaupapa you are likely in need of an all beach day of sun, sand, serenity and relaxation. We suggest heading over to the west side of Molokai to Papohaku Beach (also known as three mile beach).
If you've dreamed to come to Hawaii to sink your toes in miles of beautiful sand, Molokai's Papohaku Beach will surely capture your imagination. Almost 3 miles in length it is one of the largest, longest and finest beaches in all of the Hawaiian Islands. This beach extends over three miles of coastline and is more than 300 yards wide.
Most of the year the pristine white-gold sands are remarkably deserted and you'll most likely find yourselves alone in paradise. Partly due to the fact that on Molokai there just are not a lot of people around anywhere. Its remote location is also a factor. Situated on the far west end of the island, you'll have quite a drive – but it is absolutely worth it for those in search of a sundrenched paradise.
Please note that Papohaku is a remote beach so make sure to pack alot of food, snacks and water. We suggest to pack a picnic lunch or stop by the Outpost Natural Foods or the Sundown Deli in Kaunakakai. There is also no shade, so bring lots of sunscreen and make sure to reapply often and after you swim. You may also want to bring a beach umbrella and a hat.
Also good to find out what the weather will be like. Strong tradewinds that come in from the west can whip up the sand along this long beach and make it quite uncomfortable during windy weather.
Day 4: Halawa Valley & Moaula Falls Cultural Hike
After your day at the beach, get ready for a spectacular hike into the tropical jungle of Halawa Valley. Here you will get a sense of Hawaii as it was long ago, and it is a fascinatingly gorgeous place to explore. Located at the very end of the island, approximately 30 miles and a one hour drive from Kaunakakai, the valley is home to an abundance of native plants and animals, and is perhaps best known for its waterfalls.
Halawa Valley has a rich human history and was once the most populated area of Molokai. It was the first area on Molokai to be settled when the voyagers from the Marqueses Islands arrived in the 7th Century. In those times the valley was a sacred place, and the remains of several heiau (temples) can still be found. It remained a thriving community until it was struck by tsunamis in 1946 and 1957, which destroyed the buildings in the valley and killed crops and native vegetation.
Today the valley is mainly used for recreational purposes. At the head of this spectacular valley are two of Hawaii's most beautiful waterfalls. The 2-mile trek to these falls is among the finest hikes in Hawaii. Native flowers, mangoes, ginger, ha'u trees and ancient taro patches line the hike. The two large waterfalls can be seen flowing down the surrounding mountains. The two-tiered Moaula Falls drops a total of 250 feet into a delightful pool, where legend states that a giant lizard (mo'o) lives. Before swimming, visitors are advised to drop a ti leaf into the water. If it floats, it is safe to swim. However if it sinks, the mo'o is angry and will not welcome you. Hipuapua Falls, with its spectacular 500-foot cascade fall, is another dramatic site just north of Moaula.
The only way to safely and legally (much of the land is privately held) visit the valley is with a native Hawaiian guide. Listen to your guides as they bring this ancient history alive in the many stories they share with you about the archeological sites you will see along the trail to Moaula falls. The guides are well-versed in the history of the valley and its people, and will point out restored taro ponds, stacked-rock house sites, and temple remains. Because the valley is the location of Molokai's oldest settlement, you will find many ancient stone walls of temples, house sites, and taro (kalo) patches.
The hike is 4.2 miles round trip, with two moderate river crossings. Climbing over falling trees and branches is always a possibility, especially after a storm. Access to the falls is with guides only as the trail to the falls crosses private land. This is an intermediate to advanced hike that will run around 4-5 hours. Setup your hike with Molokai Fish and Dive.
Bring a picnic lunch and after your hike hang out at Halawa Beach. We also recommend stopping along the south shore of Molokai to visit the Ancient Fish Ponds. These are the remains of about 60 ancient fish ponds, which provided a stready protein source for the ancient Hawaiians. These ponds are date back to around 13th Century. The walls of the ponds were made from lava boulders and coral and a gate of woven branches kept the fish in while allowing the tide to wash in and out. Some of these ponds are still in use by molokai folks. These are ancient historical sites. Please do not walk on or remove any of the stones. Follow the Kamehameha V Highway (450) east and watch for viewing opportunities along the way. Mile 3 and mile 20 are good locations.
Day 5: Ocean Activities, Kayaking, Snorkeling or Scuba Diving
Spend a day kayaking, snorkeling or scuba diving on this Hawaiian oasis. If you choose kayaking your adventure begins at the Kaunakakai wharf, where your kayak and the largest fringing reef in all Hawai'i awaits. You can swim with turtles, snorkel the reef, paddle through tropical mangroves, and maybe even surf your kayak on the reef's break. It's an experience not to be missed!
How about a snorkeling adventure at the edge of Molokai's pristine fringing reef. Join Green Sea Turtles, Manta Rays and brightly colored reef fish as you glide through the spectacular corals on the living reef. Visit snorkel sites rarely visited by snorkelers or divers. The first location is on the upper reef where there are a wide variety of corals and reef fish species. This is truly an exceptional adventure with clear, pristine waters.
Certified scuba divers can explore the South side of the island of Molokai where you'll find the longest fringing reef in Hawaii. Seldom visited by divers, this natural sanctuary offers some of the best diving and snorkeling in the islands. Pristine waters that team with wildlife including several species of rare fish and coral. Green sea turtles, rays, several types of sharks and colorful reef fish abound, as well as the numerous whales during the winter months.
Have lunch in Kaunakakai and then get ready for an evening of dinner at the Hula Shores and Hawaiian music by Na Kupuna at Hotel Molokai. If it's Friday you'll be in for a treat! Molokai is known for its friendly nature and authentic experiences, and one of the best examples of this community’s unique spirit is the weekly Aloha Friday Sunset Celebration. Every Friday (also known as Aloha Friday), the charming Hotel Molokai comes alive with a joyful gathering featuring one of Hawaii’s most unique musical collectives. The Na Kupuna are a band of Hawaiian "aunties" who first got together about a decade ago. The group has evolved and grown from five members to around sixteen today. The result is a wall of music and dance and joy. The group also shares its considerable manao (wisdom) through engaging and entertaining stories about Molokai’s culture. Come early for the best seats, and stay late for the most fun!
Day 6: Explore Coffees of Hawaii, Macadamia Nut Farms and more
Since you've already seen the East End, spend a day touring the rest of the island. Start out with a tour of the central part of the island by driving out to Palaau State Park, which overlooks the Kalaupapa Peninsula, then stop off at the Molokai Museum and Cultural Center.
Take a coffee break at Coffees of Hawaii Plantation Store and Espresso Bar. The only coffee plantation on Molokai is located on the fertile plain surrounding the village of Kualapuu. They offer a plantation tour aboard their mule-drawn wagon, and walking tours which make you appreciate your morning cup of java. They also have a very nice gift shop and a coffee bar where you can taste the results of their efforts. Worth the trip. Try their special Mocha Mama, the also have an assortment of sandwiches and snacks.
Next head over to Purdy's Macadamia Nuts. The Purdy family has been growing Macadamia Nuts on their homestead for years and have been sharing these delicious treats with visitors and residents alike. Stop by and learn to crack a mac, which is no easy feat. Then drive up to the cool air in Maunaloa town to see the best store on the island: the Big Wind Kite Factory & the Plantation Gallery. Right next to the Maunaloa Post Office is the very unique Molokai kite factory. Windsocks and kites are made from nylon and employ fiberglass spars for the kites and poly tubing for the windsock hoops. Free kite flying lessons are conducted at their "Aeronaughtical Testing Facility" (The park next door). What fun!
Final stop is the Right next to the Maunaloa Post Office is the very unique Molokai kite factory. Windsocks and kites are made from nylon and employ fiberglass spars for the kites and poly tubing for the windsock hoops. Free kite flying lessons are conducted at their "Aeronaughtical Testing Facility" (The park next door). What fun!
Day 7: Mo'omomi Dunes Nature Preserve
Before you take off for home, stop by the Moomomi Dunes, located close to the Hoolehua Airport. This wild, sand-covered coast is a treasure trove for archaeologists. Buried in the mounds are ancient Hawaiian burial sites, fossils, Hawaiian artifacts, and even the bones of prehistoric birds. To explore the Preserve will need a 4-wheel drive vehicle and a Nature Conservancy issued permit. Your best bet is to join the Conservancy staff for their once a month guided hike. Advance reservations are a must and space is limited. Call the Conservancy Molokai office for more information - 808.553.5236. If you have any time left, take the 20-minute easy walk west to Kawaaloa Bay, the perfect place to say aloha to Molokai.