rediscovering moloka`i…paying a visit to the friendly isle – part 1 of 3

Twenty-two miles northwest of Maui lies the island of Moloka‘i, where time seems to stand still. Here there are no big box stores, shopping malls, high-rise resorts, or even traffic signals. But what you will find is plenty of aloha spirit, which has earned the island its nickname: The Friendly Isle. Moloka‘i is definitely worth a visit!
Getting There
While there are daily commercial flights between Maui and Moloka‘i, we think the best way to get there is by boarding the Moloka‘i Princess, one of only two inter-island ferries in the entire state of Hawai‘i. The ferry runs twice daily between Lahaina Harbor and Kaunakakai, and the fare at this writing is $63.60 each way for adults, and $31.80 for children ages 4 to 11. Reservations may be made online at, or by calling 866-307-6524.
Imagine sitting back and relaxing on the open-air deck of a stable 100-foot ship while you cross the ‘Au ‘Au Channel and cruise between the islands of Kaho‘olawe and Lana‘i during the 90-minute journey. If you travel during humpback whale season (December through April), it’s likely you’ll spot these gentle giants, who winter in our temperate waters. It doesn’t get much better than this!
Getting Around
Although you can book a tour and let someone else do the driving, we think renting a car is essential for thoroughly exploring Moloka‘i. The Maui-Moloka‘i Ferry folks offer a one-day cruise/car package for $245 for the driver (must be at least 25 years old); $115 for each additional adult; and $55 for each child. You’ll be shuttled directly to your rental car upon arriving at Kaunakakai Harbor.
If you’re planning on spending more than one day on Moloka‘i (highly recommended!), Alamo Rent-A-Car maintains a counter at the Ho‘olehua Airport (877-222-9075;; and National has a desk at the Hotel Moloka‘i (808-567-6381;
Where to Stay
There are numerous condos for rent on Moloka‘i (some require a minimum stay of three nights), but for a slice of real Hawaiiana you can’t beat the Hotel Moloka‘i, a low-key locals’ favorite. It’s definitely a no frills kind of place, but the friendly (there’s that word again!) staff members will win you over. The bar at its Hula Shores restaurant really gets hopping on Friday and Saturday nights, and the nightly live music can be loud, but it finishes at a decent hour. Reservations: 877-553-5347;
What to Do
For such a small island, Moloka‘i has a surprising number of sights and activities to keep you busy. Here are some of our favorites:
Hike Halawa Valley: A hike into the site of the first Hawaiian settlement on Moloka‘i is both exhilarating and enlightening. First, you’ll participate in a traditional welcoming ceremony led by Kumu Pilipo Solatorio, who has been appointed by his family as guardian of Halawa Valley. Then Kumu takes you into an open-air hale in the midst of a lo‘i (taro) patch to relate the remarkable history of the valley. Warning: chicken-skin moments abound during this experience! The four-mile roundtrip hike traverses past many ruins of ancient temples and sites, and culminates at the gorgeous two-tiered, 250-foot Moa‘ula Falls, which legend states is occupied by a giant mo‘o (lizard). The cost is $75 per adult, and 45 for keiki 12 and under. Info: 808-553-5926;
Ride a Mule to Historic Kalaupapa: Perhaps the most unique, scenic, and totally cool experience on Moloka‘i is riding a mule down the steep and rugged Pali Trail into the historic settlement of Kalaupapa, where sufferers of Hansen’s disease (formerly called leprosy) were forced into exile and isolation beginning in 1866. The three-mile-long trail zigzags down twenty-six switchbacks cut into the face of a magnificent 1,700-foot cliff—the tallest sea cliff in the world. You can also hike down, but remember you must also hike back up! Although only 17 former patients remain in Kalaupapa (sufferers of Hansen’s disease have been called “former patients” since a cure was discovered in the 1940s), access is severely restricted—you must either be personally invited by a resident, or participate in a tour. Once you reach Kalaupapa, you’ll board a bus for a tour of the settlement before riding back up. $199 per person. Info: 800-567-7550;

Visit the Moloka‘i Museum & Cultural Center: Step back 100 years and experience Old Hawai‘i at the R. W. Meyer Sugar Mill and the Moloka‘i Cultural Center. Here you’ll see a mule-driven cane crusher, copper clarifiers, redwood evaporating pans, and a colorful steam engine, all in operating condition. There are also displays of artifacts and memorabilia, as well as a gift gallery. Admission is $5 for adults, and $1 for students ages 5 to 18. Hours are Monday through Saturday 10am to 2pm. Info: 808-567-6436.

Grab a Cuppa Joe at Coffees of Hawai‘i: immerse yourself in the rich history of coffee in Hawai‘i, and learn how coffee made its way to Moloka‘i at the headquarters of this 500-acre coffee plantation and mill. Their gift shop offers a wide range of handcrafted Moloka‘i souvenirs, memorabilia and, of course, coffee. It’s a great place to grab a coffee or espresso, sandwiches, and snacks. Info: 808-567-9490;

Walk a Nearly Deserted Three-Mile Beach: On Moloka‘i’s west end is lovely Papohaku Beach, a spectacular three-mile stretch of pristine golden-white sand. In fact, it’s the longest stretch of white sand in all of the Hawaiian Islands! While Moloka‘i’s west end is now mostly a ghost town, a stop at Big Wind Kite Factory in Maunaloa is a must-do. Uncle Jonathan has been making and flying kites here for more than 30 years, and he’s a hoot to talk story with. In addition to kites, you’ll find works by local artists and wood carvers; shell and silver jewelry; and a great selection of Hawaiian books and music. Info: 808-552-2364;

Go Nuts at Purdy’s Macadamia Nut Farm: Now here’s a deal for you that’s the right price—free! At Purdy’s Macadamia Nut Farm you can learn about this popular nut, sample them right out of the shell, and then purchase some at the gift shop, along with macadamia-blossom honey and made-on-Moloka‘i arts and crafts. The 80-year-old grove sits on an acre and a half of Hawaiian Homestead land. Info: 808-567-6601;

Tee Up at Ironwood Hills Golf Course: For truly local-style golfing, Moloka‘i’s only golf course offers nine holes of play among pine, ironwood, and eucalyptus trees. Fairways are kukuya grass, and not always manicured, but most holes offer enjoyable ocean views. Carts and clubs are rented on the honor system. Green fees are $18 for 9 holes, and $24 for 18 holes. Info: 808-567-6000.

Shop in Kaunakakai Town: Comprised of mom-and-pop stores, downtown Kaunakakai looks like towns on the mainland did in the 1950s. Park and walk down Ala Malama Street to visit food markets, clothing stores, and gift shops. A favorite is Moloka‘i Art From the Heart, an artist and crafter co-op where you’ll find locally produced art, jewelry, music, and St. Damien keepsakes. Located at 64 Ala Malama Street. 808-553-8018.

–heidi pool

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