Molokai demands kokua, or respect. This is the strongest community I have ever witnessed in all my modest travels of the world. The locals have basically shut down two multi-million dollar resorts on the west side of the island. And they did it all by themselves. They have fought off cruise ships, yachts, group tours, heli-tours, developers, and mainland transplant haoles for over four decades, and now people simply know…you just don’t show up on Molokai. You go there with respect, in small numbers. Tread lightly and you will be welcomed with aloha.
What the Molokai ‘ohana call “town” is basically just a couple of blocks along Ala Malama, with some offshoots on side roads. There is no traffic and no traffic lights, and no building in town is taller than a coconut tree.
Kaunakakai has everything you need and it’s the only place that does, so you’ll want to stock up accordingly. Coming from the airport or west side, take a left onto Ala Malama (at the Chevron on the corner). It’s pretty hard to miss considering the rural backdrop you’ll see along the way. If you’re coming over on the ferry, just follow the wharf road straight and it will turn into Ala Malama. The walk from the wharf, assuming you want to avoid the sky-high taxi fares, will take about fifteen minutes.
American Savings Bank and Bank of Hawaii are right next to each other at the beginning of town. Both have a 24hr ATM. To get back in touch with the cyberworld, hit up Stanley’s Coffee House and Gallery at the far end of town for the fastest internet access on the island; there is also WIFI at Outpost Natural Foods for a suggested donation of $1. Not a bad price and it serves to support the island’s only health food establishment! The Molokai Public Library also has a few computers with internet access, as well as several local and national newspapers. Be sure to check the locals for info on upcoming events, activities, etc. There is a Post Office in town right on Ala Malama, and the Molokai General Hospital is located off the main drag in the far part of town, just follow the blue signs.
Camping: it will be helpful to stop by the Deptartment of Parks & Recreation in the Mitchell Pauole Center on the corner of Ala Malama and Ainoa St., adjacent to the baseball fields. The MP Center is a full service recreation facility that features a gym, indoor swimming pool, two tennis courts, and a noteworthy skate park. Also check the uber-helpful Molokai Visitors Association on the corner of Kamoi St. and the main highway on the southeastern edge of town.
Leaving town, take a left off Ala Malama onto Kamehameha V (HWY 450) to head east, or a right onto the Maunaloa Hwy (HWY 460) to head west (towards the airport). HWY 450 and HWY 460 are essentially the same road, the name just changes at Kaunakakai. Mile markers are helpful reference points on Molokai, with Kaunakaki representing mile 0 and the mile markers ascending as you leave town in either direction. If the interisland ferry beckons, just head straight through the intersection of Ala Malama and the main highway and take the wharf road all the way to the end. The Molokai Princess should be waiting…
GREEN MARKETS & RESTAURANTS
Outpost Natural Foods & Deli
Outpost is the classic example of doing the best with what you’ve got. In an older building on Makaena Pl., next to the unnamed gas station, you will find a good selection of all the staples you’ll need to stock up on (including bulk), plus a few treats you might not be expecting. The assortment of seasonal organic fruits and veggies is impressive considering the process it takes to get them here. There’s cold drinks — even Kombucha! — and a frozen section with a surprising variety of vegan goodies. One look around town and it won’t take long to realize this is the only health food establishment on the island, and the only place consistently selling organic produce. Great deals on seasonal produce are frequent. In the back you’ll find your island salvation if you eat veg, in the form of a deli. The daily lunch special ($6, served 11-3) is usually down-right delicious, and it’s served up in very generous portions. Don’t forget, wireless internet is available for a suggested donation of $1 — just pull your car up next to the store and whip out the laptop… drop your recyclables here too!
Farmer’s Market (Sa 6am – noon)
Every Saturday morning, rain or shine, Molokai’s farmers gather along Ala Malama Ave. to offer up their goods. There’s no better way to support green living than buying directly from the farmers –especially in a community this small. Be sure to ask if the produce is organic and get there early for the best selection. Local artists and artisans set up shop too.
Right in the middle of town, this is easily the largest grocery store on the island, and thus the cheapest place to shop. There is a small health food section, and they offer an organic wine beer options. The frozen section has some gardenburgers and the like. Most importantly, stock up on water here (especially if you’re camping) because water prices elsewhere are pretty high. Some organic produce.
Stanley’s Coffee Shop & Gallery
This is bound to be your place of morning refuge if you’re a coffee drinker, and you most likely won’t be disappointed. The lattes ($3) and coffees ($2) are excellent, and there’s a host of fresh baked goodies, bagels, and breakfast plates. Decent vegetarian options, but not too much in the way of dairy-free goods. Bring your own soy. Pleasant environment provides a good arena to strike up conversations with the locals.
Molokai Artists & Crafters Guild (553-8018)
Located above American Savings Bank on Ala Malama, this tasteful gallery and gift shop only displays the best works of the best artists on the island. It was created to fill the need of Molokai’s artists who previously had no place to display or sell their work – that means more support for the local economy. Ask one of the artists to show you around, he or she will be happy to let you in on the story behind each work of art.
SEE THE SIGHTS
On the south side of the main highway Ala Malama turns into Kaunakakai Pl. (also known as the wharf road), which leads out to the Kaunakakai Wharf. Besides the wonderful views, the wharf is a great place to get a feel for the lifestyle of Molokai’s residents. You will find fishermen cruising the 150 yard pier at virtually all hours of the day, and families enjoying a dip in the calm waters on the west side. If you want to chill out Molokai-style, break out a few a chairs, a cooler, and kick back to the trades blowing through the Pailolo channel. Maui and Lanai are the two islands you will see just across the way. Undoubtedly, the best time of year at the wharf is during the outrigger canoe races of June and July. Show up on Saturday mornings (when they’re typically held) and you’ll find a few more coolers than normal, with rowdy fans, concession stands, and plenty of fun for all ages.
The wharf is also home to a twenty year-old fishing cooperative, the Molokai Ice House, and at the end lies the port of call for the inter-island ferry, the Molokai Princess. Right before the wharf begins, on the west side, you will (hardly) see the remains of King Kamehameha V’s vacation home. It’s nothing more than a pile of stone rubble, and nothing to stop for, but it’s a good bit of history for the rest of the bunch in the car. More King Kamehaha V history is just down the road a mile west of town, where you will see the 10 acre Kapuaiwa Coconut Grove, planted by the King to provide shade for visiting royalty. Wear a helmet if you plan to stroll through the grove.
PILLOWS & STARS & DREAMS
One Ali’i Beach Park
Pronounced oh-nay ah-lee-ee, this beach park is actually two parks right next to each other on the ocean side of Kam V Hwy around the 3 mi. marker. Only the easternmost park (One Ali’i I) is designated for camping, and the facilities are simple with bathrooms and showers. This place will do the trick if you’re not looking for much (or need to catch the early ferry), but there is relatively no privacy or shade and the park is frequently used by local families for large parties and gatherings. The parties, of course, can be a plus or minus depending on your mood and willingness to join the crowd, but be prepared to hit the pillow to the sound of music. Parties are more frequent on weekends. The swimming right out front is very poor with shallow, muddy water. Permits ($3/nt per camper) are required and there is a 3 night max.
ORIENTATE & OUTFIT
If you think the other islands are too “planned” with cookie-cutter itineraries, safe eco-tours and the sort, you’re definitely in for a treat here. Ask five people whether or not you can make the hike back to Moaula Falls from Halawa Valley without a guide, and you’re likely to get five different answers. One might say “Sure, bruddah, no sweat,” and another might imply you’re asking for “lickins.” Trust us, you don’t want lickins, so we highly recommend you heed our advice, and even more so, the advice of the local outfitters. We did our research well, but some things have undoubtedly changed since that time. That said, out of respect for the locals as well as your own well being, it’s best to confirm everything with the locals.
On a similar note, it might seem unappealing or discouraging to have to pay for guides, permits, or tours, but keep in mind these are the very things that keep Molokai afloat. Unemployment rates are extremely high on the island and the average per capita income is considerably lower than on the other major islands. So consider that camping permit or guided tour your chance to contribute to an island community that is fighting hard to maintain its character and integrity. These considerations shouldn’t discourage any visitor; there is, in fact, a plethora of raw, unguided adventure awaiting everyone who comes to Molokai. For adventure of any sort, these are the best guides, outfitters, and compasses on the island, and most happen to be in or around town — in no particular order…
Molokai Visitor’s Association (www.molokai-hawaii.com, M-F 8am-4:30pm, 553-5221)
On the corner of Kamoi St. and the main highway. Good info on everything that does seem a bit “packaged,” and decent info on less commercial adventures. Offers a library of brochures. Can help lead you to “green” vacation rentals as well! If you’ve never been to the island, we recommend stopping by.
Molokai Outdoors (553-4477, M-Sa 8-5, Su 8-4)
Located in the lobby of Hotel Molokai, this is our choice for the island’s best outfitter. Offers everything you could want or need to rent at hourly, daily, and weekly rates. Good info on the tricky activities like the hike from Halawa Valley, and tours to the Kalaupapa Peninsula. Full-day and half-day guided tours are available for good prices.
Molokai Fish & Dive (552-0184)
Offers a host of rentals for every outdoor activity you could imagine at decent prices. Employs several activity guides who can lead you on packaged and customized tours of the island — surf lessons, kayak tours, horseback rides, hikes, bike tours — you name it.
Molokai Surf (558-8943)
Surf shop a half mile west of town with all the standard goods. If you’re in search of waves, let owner and longtime Molokai resident, Jerry Leonard, point you in the right direction.
The west side beaches of Molokai are some of the most beautiful in all the islands and for the most part they remain completely deserted. Many of the beaches here would be absolutely mobbed if they were on any other island, so cherish the fact that your footprints might be the only ones you see. That said, it seems only fair to continue with the traditional obscurity in describing the region. As for the landmark beaches that have already been revealed…
Almost 3 miles in length, Papohaku Beach ranks as the longest and largest beach in all of Hawaii. The golden sand seems to stretch forever, paving the way for one of those magical, uninterrupted barefoot strolls we all dream of. Despite its beauty and the vast amount of coastline it covers, you’re still likely to see only a handful of people on the entire beach, and at times, you may walk the full stretch without seeing another soul. There are four access points to Papohaku — the main one is through the Papohaku Beach Campground, a very nice, well shaded campground with good facilities. For those looking to get away from it all, PBC is easily the best campground on the island, and a surefire candidate for the best campground in all of Hawaii.
As the trade winds pick up throughout the day, violent sandstorms become quite common and unless you’re on the north end of the beach protected by the rocky point, you can well expect a blasting. Another drawback is the lack of shade, and it’s always sunny on the leeward side. Finally, the waters here are known for exceptionally strong currents and undertow. Unless you are a confident surfer or waterman (there are breaks all up and down the beach on W and N swells), it would be best to exercise extreme caution when taking a dip. Winter swimming conditions are locally described as “treacherous.”
Beyond the point marking the south end of Papohaku Beach there are several beach access points with beautiful views, beautiful beaches, and pleasant settings. Many are too rocky for swimming, but remain ideal for the secluded sunset or stargazing you’re after. Follow the road south from the campground all the way to the end, and you will stumble upon Dixie Maru, named for an old ship that sunk off the coast years ago. The setting here is sublime. There are two rocky points that protect the golden sand cove and harbor its beautiful turquoise waters from the elements. The swimming here is excellent on a calm day, offering the best snorkeling on the west side, and when the waves are up, there are good point breaks on both sides. Explore around the south point, see what you find.
Spencer Klein’s ideal place to watch the sunset: “Seen September Sessions? From one of those hollow ones during F Stop Blues in the last section.”