Feel the Special Spirit

There’s so much to absorb on Molokai, yet there’s no pressure to make out a list of “things to do.” It is a place to unwind, where you’re free to choose how active or laid-back you wish to be. Play a round of golf or go kayaking in clear, sparkling waters at Kaluako’i; gallop on horse­back across a wide-open range at 52,000-acre Molokai Ranch; savor a hefty plate lunch at the charming Kualapu’u Cookhouse. Allow your­self to feel the special spirit of Molokai.

In ancient times, the wisdom and power of its spiritual leaders earned

the island the nickname of “Molokai pule o’o” (place of the potent prayer). As such, it was a place that was re­garded with great reverence. This mana (supernatural or divine power) is especially evident today at Kalaupapa Peninsula, a north shore site surrounded by rough seas and separated from the rest of the island by a 1,600-foot cliff. Declared a Na­tional Historical Park in 1980, Ka­laupapa annually attracts thousands of visitors who descend from “topside” by foot, plane or with the famous Molokai Mule Ride to join an escorted tour of the settlement.

The tranquility of the area belies the fact that a poignant chapter in Island history was written here in the 1800s. Back then, victims of Hansen’s Disease (formerly known as leprosy) were torn from their families, taken by boat to this isolated spot and fre­quently dumped offshore into the ocean. Those who survived the huge waves and powerful currents faced an even harsher sentence: wilderness conditions, hunger, abandonment and despair. Help and hope came from numerous Good Samaritans, including the courageous Father Damien de Veuster, who labored in the colony for sixteen years before he, too, succumbed to the disease. (At this writing, the Roman Catholic Church is in the process of canoniz­ing Father Damien.) With the advent of sulfone drugs in the 1940s, Hansen’s Disease was controlled, and Kalaupapa’s few remaining patients now can come and go as they please.


Captivating Kaunakakai

In contrast, the mood of Molokai’s capital is carefree. Literally a one-street town, Kaunakakai resembles an Old West movie set, complete with wooden storefronts and hitching posts. It hasn’t changed much since the 1930s, when pineapple reigned supreme on Molokai, and tons of the golden fruit were shipped to Hono­lulu canneries each year. Today, doz­ens of fishing vessels, Hobie Cats and other pleasure boats, including the 118-foot yacht, Maui Princess, bob to and fro in Kaunakakai Harbor, ready to take visitors diving, deep-sea fishing, snorkeling, or on a re­laxing sunset cruise or day trip to Lana’i or Lahaina on Maui.

Kaunakakai’s restaurants may not offer gourmet fare, but their food is tasty and diverse. For instance, there’s Filipino food at Oviedo’s and Ra-bang’s, health-conscious choices at Outpost Natural Foods and a deli-

cious assortment of fresh baked goods at Kanemitsu’s, including their famous “Molokai Bread.”

Activities abound outside of Kaunakakai. Tee off on picturesque Kaluako’i Golf Course at the 6,700-acre Kaluako’i Resort or soak up some sun on the soft sands of Papohaku Beach (note: ocean con­ditions there can get a bit rough, and only expert swimmers should ven­ture into the water). Mountain bik­ing and kayaking excursions are also available and can be booked at the resort.

Maunaloa, a former Dole Planta­tion town, is a “must” stop. During pineapple’s heyday on Molokai, this was the hub of plantation life, but its pace has considerably slowed since Dole phased out production two decades ago. Today, browsing through the Big Wind Kite Factory and the neighboring Plantation Gal­lery and stopping for a bite to eat at Jojo’s Cafe are highlights of a visit to Maunaloa.

The kite factory is jam-packed with kites of all kinds and colors; genial owner Jonathan Socher not only shows you how they are made, but he is more than happy to teach you how to take advantage of wind con­ditions and send them soaring high in the sky. Art is Socher’s other great love, and that’s evident from the fabu­lous merchandise he carries in his Plantation Gallery—silver and deerhorn jewelry, original paintings, Hawaiian hardwood carvings, Hawaiiana coffee table books, and a wide selection of clothing and gift items from Southeast Asia. Jojo’s Cafe is a local favorite serving Indian food. Inexpensive yet generous-sized spe­cialty dishes include shrimp and fish curry.

Maunaloa is also the location of the Molokai headquarters of Molokai Ranch, Limited, the island’s largest landholder. The ranch’s 52,000 acres in western and central Molokai en­compass vast, open expanses of pastureland and the Molokai Ranch Wildlife Conservation Park, home to herds of African antelope, giraffe and zebra. Tours of the preserve depart from the Molokai Ranch Outfitters Center in Maunaloa. Above the town is the new, state-of-the-art Molokai Ranch Rodeo Arena, where several

official competitions are presented annually and ranch paniolo (cow­boys) offer visitors the opportunity to become a “cowboy for a day” with a two-hour introduction to the ba­sics of cattle herding and rodeo riding.

Legend says that the hula was born at Ka’ana, on the slopes of Maunaloa mountain. Each year in May, Molokai celebrates that distinction with a fes­tival called the Molokai Ka Hula Piko, held at Papohaku Beach Park. Ha­waiian music groups, hula, traditional crafts and local foods keep visitors occupied from 8:00 A.M. to sunset.


The Splendor of East Molokai

A drive along the island’s spectacu­lar southeastern shoreline can be a full-day event. Pack a lunch, start early and allow enough time to ab­sorb all the sights along the way: quaint churches, the largest and best-preserved concentration of ancient fish ponds in the state and, looming above it all, magnificent 4,961-foot Mount Kamakou, home of The Na­ture Conservancy’s Kamakou Pre­serve, a haven for many endangered species of plants and wildlife.

The road gets narrow, winding and bumpy when you near Halawa Valley, but you’ll be rewarded for hanging tough: A lookout perched atop a sheer cliff provides you with a sweeping view of sky, ocean and land. There’s Mokuho’oniki islet off the eastern coast; West Maui beyond that, just eight miles away; and Ha­lawa Valley below.

Looking at this beauty, slowly but surely, your cares will slip off your shoulders like a heavy cloak. You will feel refreshed, invigorated, joyful to be alive. That is the wondrous heal­ing power of Molokai.


After a three-year absence, the popu­lar Molokai Mule Ride is back! Sure­footed mules take visitors to the his­toric settlement of Kalaupapa, located on the north shore of the island, via a steep and scenic three-mile trail with twenty-six switchbacks. Those desiring to visit the settlement for Hansen’s Disease patients can also hike down to it from Pala’au State Park or fly in direct from Oahu, Maui and Molokai Airport.

To enter Kalaupapa, a National Historical Park, visitors must first make reservations for a guided tour. Richard Marks, owner of Damien Tours and a longtime Kalaupapa resident conducts a narrated daily tour, which takes visitors to many points of interest, including Saint Philomena Church built by Father Damien. A lunch stop is made at Judd Park, where Molokai’s magnificent north coast can best be viewed. Visi­tors who hike or fly must bring their own lunches. For more information, call 567-6171.

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