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Molokai Parks

Kalaupapa National Historical Park

Kalaupapa penninsula on Molokai
Kalaupapa, Molokai [Hawaii Tourism Authority (HTA)/ Ron Garnett].


Park location: Kalaupapa, located on a remote peninsula on the island of Molokai, has been officially recognized as a National Historical Park since 1980. The park was established to commemorate and preserve the history of those in Hawaii who were once afflicted with leprosy, now called Hansen’s disease. Kalaupapa, meaning “flat leaf” in Hawaiian, once served as Hawaii’s colony for thousands of quarantined patients afflicted with this disease before it was curable. The park does not have opening or closing hours, as it is an active community of patients previously afflicted with Hansen’s disease who choose to live here. All visitors, regardless of how they enter the park, must be 16 years or older and obtain permits to gain admittance to the park. Guests can arrive to the park from plane, boat or by mule on a narrow path down the cliffs.

Park terrain: The Kalaupapa Peninsula is surrounded by ocean on three sides and walled off by some of the world’s tallest sea cliffs on the fourth side. There are no restaurants, shops, stop-lights or anything of the like in this town. Provisions arrive weekly for the residents, giving no need for a general store. Here, there are only homes, gardens, churches, graveyards and the quiet gentle inhabitants of this dwindling community.

Activities: When Hawaiian King Kamehameha V created the Act to Prevent Leprosy in 1865, all Hawaii residents believed to suffer from the disease were forced from their families and exiled immediately to Kalaupapa. This law continued for 103 years until 1969, bringing over 8,000 ostracized patients to Kalaupapa.

The current residents of the community are eye-witnesses to what living in the leper colony was like. Several of the patients have been on the island since they were 12 years old, when they were originally suspected of having the disease. Many feel as if they are still regarded as outcasts who are not able to live comfortably in the outside world. Because of this, they choose to remain on Kalaupapa as it has been their home for the majority of their lives. Visitors can gain insight into the sacrifice and sorrow of those who have lived in this community. Kalaupapa has been the home of historic and religious legends like the Catholic Father Damien, who gave his life to serving the leprous community in the late 19th century, and Mother Marianne Cope who brought joy and hope to those suffering in the colony.

Visitors are welcome to visit the community to experience a glimpse at this painful past. Most tourists visit this National Historical Park by taking the mule ride to Kalaupapa. Such rides are offered through Damien Tours, a private tour company that gives a guided ride to the historic town. Physically fit tourists are also welcomed to walk the sea cliff path to Kalaupapa, though it is a difficult path of 3.5 miles requiring a high level of fitness. Camping is not permitted in the community itself, although there are camp grounds some 1,600 feet above the peninsula. This camping area, located in Pala’au State Park, allows for guests to stay in a wooded space above Kalaupapa.

Please note that all visitors to Kalaupapa Peninsula, as guests to this unique community, are expected to behave respectfully and graciously to the patient-residents there. Taking photographs of the inhabitants or their homes is against the rules, unless you are given written permission to do so. Please note that there is no place to purchase food and water in this park; so guests must bring their own.

Pala’au State Park

Park Location: Pala’au State Park is located in the higher elevations on the island of Molokai, north of Kualapu’u at the end of Kalae Highway. This is only state park on Molokai; but it is of the most popular places to visit on the island and is open daily to the public. While there are no entrance fees, donations are accepted.

Park Terrain: The Park stretches over 233 acres, highlighting stunning landscapes of pastures and forests of eucalyptus and koa trees with stunning lookout views of sea cliffs and of the famous Kalaupapa National Historical Park below. The terrain varies from dense forests, to rocky trails and hillsides filled with vegetation.

Activities: The island of Molokai is much more understated than the other islands, drawing visitors in to the peaceful recesses of nature. From the heights of 1,600 feet hikers can observe a panoramic view of Kaluapapa National Historical Park where Father Damien, a venerated saint, once cared for hundreds of people suffering from Hansen’s disease (leprosy). It is a reminder of the great heroism of Father Damien and others who ministered to the lepers that were confined to this colony to keep the disease from spreading.

Also in the state park, there is a monument called Phallic Rock, which represents the legend of the fertility god Nanahoa who turned to stone after pushing his wife over a cliff during an argument. Women believed that if they slept near the stone, their infertility would cease. Visitors are asked to remain respectful to this historical area.

Hikers can explore trails around the park, going up to Kalaupapa Lookout for picturesque views, and wandering through the ironwood forests. For those who want to experience the famous Molokai mule rides, over the highest sea cliffs in the world, the trail begins from the parking lot area of the park.

All travelers to the park can enjoy the picnic areas, restrooms, paved parking, hiking trails, historical sites and camping areas (permit required, costing $5 per campsite nightly). The park is open 24 hours a day. There are no showers or drinking water at the campsites; so be sure to come prepared. It is important to note that the weather can be cool and wet at these high elevations; so hikers and campers would be well-advised to bring a jacket.

Awards and Affiliations

  • Hawaii's Best 2011
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