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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Where to Stay
This retro oceanfront hotel is the heart of what little action there is on Moloka‘i. Rooms in the A-frame bungalows are simply furnished, with microwaves and mini-fridges. It’s worth splurging on the second-story suites with oceanfront balconies. Avoid the rooms next to the road—or bring earplugs. Check the website for airfare and rental car packages.
1300 Kamehameha V Highway, Kaunakakai, hotelmolokai.com, (808) 660-3408
Halfway between Kaunakakai and Hālawa, Wavecrest Condos overlook the fringing reef. Individually owned units are serene and upscale, with fully stocked kitchens, wi-fi and pool access. Don’t miss the sunrise from your lānai—spectacular.
County campgrounds: Purchase permits at the Mitchell Pauole Center, 90 Ainoa St., Kaunakakai, Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. (808) 553-3204
Just outside of Kaunakakai, this beachfront park favors convenience over privacy. The sandy beach here is good for sunbathing but too shallow for swimming. Make sure to explore the neighboring fishpond.
Near mile marker 4, Kamehameha V Highway (450)
Papohaku Beach Park
If Maleficent (the villainess in Sleeping Beauty) designed a campground, it might resemble Papohaku. A beautiful golden beach beckons just beyond the tent site—a fenced patch of bare dirt covered in kiawe thorns long enough to puncture a tire! BYOR (Bring Your Own Rake).
State campground: Reserve online at camping.ehawaii.gov (808) 567-6923
Pala‘au State Park
Tucked into the misty upland forest, this campground is relatively private and offers picnic tables, bathrooms and showers. A short walk takes you to the Kalaupapa Lookout and Phallic Rock. $12 per night for up to six people.
Top of Kalae Highway (470)
The coastal views from Kalaupapa are unparalleled.
Swim in Mo‘oula Falls at Hālawa
See the Mo‘omomi sand dunes
Attend Ka Hula Piko
Sing along at a kanikapila
As kama‘āina, you might resent the idea of taking a tour. But on Moloka‘i, tours are key to accessing the island’s richest treasures.
Saint Damien bust in Kalaupapa church.
Kalaupapa is one of the planet’s most beautiful and heart-wrenching destinations. A massive landslide 1.5 million years ago sheared off half of Moloka‘i, leaving the world’s tallest sea cliffs in its wake. Later, a small volcanic eruption at the base of these cliffs formed a protruding shelf of land—Kalaupapa (flat leaf) peninsula. Enveloped in sea mist, the staggering cliffs, lush vegetation and offshore islets are achingly lovely. But it’s the human history that leaves the biggest impression here.
Between 1866 and 1969, any Hawai‘i resident showing symptoms of leprosy (now known as Hansen’s Disease) was forcibly exiled to this isolated shore, without hope of recovery or reunion with their loved ones. More than 8,000 patients built a community here, even as their bodies failed. The disease can now be treated and the isolating laws lifted. A handful of patients still live here, by choice.
There are only three ways to visit Kalaupapa: fly, hike or ride a mule. Flights to the tiny airstrip can be arranged through Makani Kai ((808) 834-5813, makanikaiair.com) and Mokulele Airlines ((808) 495-4188, mokuleleairlines.com). The hiking trail zigzags down the steep, forested cliff face—descending from 1,780 feet in elevation to sea level in 3.2 miles. Be prepared for a strenuous and muddy trek. Bring raingear, sunscreen and water. Alternately, you can ride along with the Kalaupapa Guided Mule Tour (a land access dispute may threaten the mule rides’ future) ((808) 567-6088, muleride.com). If heights make you queasy, you might want to close your eyes as your sure-footed steed navigates the 26 dizzying switchbacks.
No matter how you get to Kalaupapa, you must prearrange to meet Damien Tours ((808) 567-6171, damientoursllc.com) at 10 a.m. The four-hour bus tour is required and absolutely worth the $50. While visiting St. Philomena Church, a small museum and Saint Damien’s grave, you’ll learn how clever patients made the best of their life in isolation here.