The Holoholo Guide to Moloka‘i
It’s one of the least developed Hawaiian islands, but Moloka‘i is also packed with adventure and beauty.
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(Left) One of the best views of Kalaupapa is from the back of a mule. (Right) Anakala Pilipo Solatorio at Mo‘oula Falls in Hālawa Valley.
Photos: Shannon Wianecki
What was Hawai‘i like before traffic lights, chain stores and resorts? Find out on Moloka‘i, the least touristy, most Hawaiian of the main islands. Life is deliciously slow-paced here. Water laps over the barrier reef—the longest in the state. Drivers mosey along two-lane Kamehameha V Highway, dodging opportunistic mongoose and deer. Many Island residents still live off the land and are determined to keep it that way.
Is Moloka‘i Actually the Friendly Isle?
Moloka‘i has 7,345 residents and 7,345 opinions. Probably more. Locals even argue over the island’s name—whether it’s Molokai or Moloka‘i. Hand-painted road signs extol opinions and advice: “HAWAIIAN LANDS IN HAWAIIAN HANDS.” “MOLOKAI NOT FOR SALE. JUST VISIT.” Local activists have successfully staved off development: They’ve waded into the water to shoo cruise ships away and shuttered resorts. But some residents want development, so their kids don’t have to move off island for work. That’s the crux of every controversy, from the scuttled wind farm to Monsanto’s cornfields. In such a small community, neighbors often oppose each other on one issue, only to fight side by side on another. So, yes, despite political divisions, genuine friendliness (otherwise known as aloha) is the glue that holds this place together.
A trip to Moloka‘i strips away your pretense. No one here cares what you wear or where you work, but rather who you are and how you act. For better or worse, everyone on Moloka‘i gets treated like family. Mind your manners and you’ll likely end up in somebody’s carport, your arms loaded with backyard mangoes and a cheeky toddler. If that’s not your idea of a warm welcome, Moloka‘i might not be the island for you.
This road leads to Mo‘omomi.
The island has another nickname: Moloka‘i Pule O‘o, the place of powerful prayer.
It’s said to be the home of Hawaiian sorcery, and ancient priests were so powerful they could turn back approaching war canoes with chant alone. A strong spirituality still permeates this island.
Ka Hula Piko dancers at Pu‘u Nana.