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Guide To Molokai

Updated on June 1, 2015
Kepuhi Beach, Molokai
Kepuhi Beach, Molokai


Molokai was originally formed by three different volcanoes. It is 38 miles long but has a population of less than 7000. There are no traffic lights or stop signs. The oldest part of Molokai is a result of the volcano Puu Nana, which is located in the west. East Molokai was created by the Kamakou volcano.

The Kalaupapa peninsula developed later after an eruption of a smaller volcano. Molokai has a very special and various scenery. You can find some of the world’s highest sea cliffs on Molokai’s North Coast ( Pali Coast). The ocean has carved away the old volcano as high as 3000 feet. There are several uninhabited valleys, the largest being Pelekunu and Wailau with many waterfalls depending upon rainfall. The highest waterfall measures 2100 feet. The Pali Coast gained recent Hollywood popularity, when scenes of the blockbuster hit Jurassic Park were shot here. Activities on Molokai are horseback riding, wagon tours and diving.

The east end of Molokai has very shallow water filled with coral reefs and there are many old Hawaiian fishponds along the shoreline. The northern part of the island has endless fields, beautiful untouched beaches and grazing cattle land.

Some 50 % of Molokai’s residents are fully or part-Hawaiian, which makes this island the one with the second highest Hawaiian population after Ni`ihau, and it has been able to maintain a country lifestyle, even though it means tough times for its residents. Tourism has developed very slowly, mainly because the infrastructure is not efficient enough to accommodate mass tourism, and Molokai wants to preserve its uniqueness. There is only one large resort on the west end, the Kaluakoi Resort with its golf course, 5 smaller hotels and many wonderfully romantic Bed & Breakfast places, as well as a few great vacation homes and the refreshingly different vacation experience on the Molokai Ranch.


The British discoverer, James Cook, was the first one to spot the island in 1778, but did not land, because the island seemed uninteresting and isolated. Eight years later, in 1786, George Dixon anchored off south of Molokai.

The island has a great significance in the Hawaiian history. Kamehameha the Great found his "sacred wife" here and took her with him to marry her in Waikiki. According to Hawaiian legend, Molokai was home to many kahunas who practiced sacred rituals on the island.

In 1850 Kamehameha V established the 60,000 acres large Molokai Ranch on almost 40 % of the island.

About 15 years later, Hawaii was affected by a catastrophic leprosy epidemic. The peninsula of Kalaupapa was chosen to house all victims. In the beginning, they were left there without adequate food, water or shelter, and without any medical attention. The situation changed when the Belgian missionary, Father Damien, arrived in 1873. He spent sixteen years ministering and setting up facilities before he died from the disease himself in 1889. Today there is the Kalaupapa Hanson’s Disease Treatment Center.

Some patients still choose to live at Kalaupapa, even though modern medicine has helped them overcome their disease. The tour of the colony is one of the most humbling experiences and one of the great adventures in Hawaii today. The peninsula can only be accessed by private plane, boat or by riding down a long trail on a mule. The mule ride also includes stunning views over the coast line, and a tour through the National Park.

An old Hawaiian legend says, that the Hula dance was born on Molokai. The goddess Laka gave birth to the dance at the sacred place Kaana. Molokai is also called "Molokai Ka Hula Piko", which means Molokai the center of the dance, which is celebrated with a big festival every year.


Kaunakakai (Hawaiian for 'beach landing') is located on the south shore of Molokai. It is with its 1200 inhabitants the biggest and most important village on the island. No building is higher than a palm tree, and there are no movie theaters, no nightclubs, no fast food places, bus lines, traffic lights or stop signs. As the center of the community and the only place to get a camping permit or to buy food every visitor will eventually pass through this little town.

Kaunakakai’s port used to be busy shipping pineapple, but since the plantations have been shut down, the port lost its significance. There is great diving on the only barrier reef in all of Hawaii which is located north of the town.

10 minutes walk west takes you to the Royal Kapuaiwa Coconut Grove. King Kamehameha V planted the grove in remembrance of his birthplace. Over 1000 trees once stood here but today only a few hundred of them are left. The park is still big enough to give you the idea of its prior purpose.Watch for falling nuts!

Kaunakai and its surroundings has a few hotels, Ke Nani Kai, the Molokai Shores and the Wavecrest, and a handful of places to eat. Have some of Kanemitsu’s famous bread. The same family has been running this bakery for over 70 years. So if you head out for a picnic, don’t forget to fill up your backpacks!

Molokai Ranch

In 1848 king Kamehameha V acquired about 40 % of the island and created the 60,000 acres Molokai Ranch. The ranch was operated by the German immigrant Rudoph Mayer, who married a very influential Hawaiian woman, Kalma Waha. Later the ranch was transferred to the Bishop Estate. The banker Charles Bishop bought 50 % of the ranch and the other half was inherited by his wife, who was king Kamehameha’s sister. After that, the ranch changed ownership few times and is privately managed today.

The Ranch’s Paniolo Camp is located in the Molokai mountains and offers elevated ocean views. The camp consists of 40 comfortable one and two bedroom tents mounted of wooden platforms. These tents reflect the owner’s sense for the natural environment. Running water and lights are operated by solar power.

This new camp is one of the true Hawaiian adventures, leaving the visitor immersed in nature, and offering them all kinds of great outdoor activities such as horseback riding, mountain biking , kayaking and hiking. The camp is supervised by the Paniolos ( Hawaiian Cowboys ) who treat the guests like family and offer a unique alternative for the visitor. For rates and reservations, click here or on any image.


Molokai’s Beaches are among the most idyllic and most deserted beaches of all islands. The scenery is fantastic. You have miles of sandy beaches all for yourself and can enjoy an unspoiled paradise. Unfortunately some of the most wonderful beaches can not be accessed, because of insufficient roads, or because they are protected zones. Most of Molokai’s beaches are not suitable for swimming, due to strong currents and high surf during the winter months. Get ready for some hiking.

Papohaku Beach

This beach is 3 miles long and 100 yards wide, the largest white sand beach in Hawaii. All you will see are your own footsteps and the blue ocean. Waikiki beach was supplied with this beach sands. A great place for jogging or a quiet stroll. Swimming is usually safe in the summer, but strong winter swells can create dangerous conditions. At night you can see the lights of Honolulu across the channel, but civilization seems worlds away.

Kepuhi Beach

It is located in front of the Kaluakoi Resort. This white sand beach is popular with the visitors as well as the locals. Swimming only recommended on really calm days.

The entire West side of Molokai is lined with nice beaches, where swimming, snorkeling and windsurfing is possible. The wind that makes Ho'okipa on Maui so famous, passes by Molokai as well which makes windsurfing here on of the best kept secrets. A real adventure is the channel crossing between Molokai and the island of Maui.


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