Molokai, the Friendly Isle
Nicknamed the The Friendly Isle, Molokai is graced with natural splendor. Rich with significant Hawaiian history and tales of sacrifice, Molokai possesses momentous beauty that the wild at heart will not want to miss. The island is teeming with wildlife and marine life beyond description and is a must-see for anyone wanting to go back in time on their Hawaiian vacation.
Molokai History and Fun Facts
Molokai’s population has a higher percentage of native Hawaiians than any of the Islands, except Ni‘ihau. There are less than 8,000 people who live on the island. Even though Molokai has a completely different vibe than the other islands, be sure to review our Hawaii Travel Tips to make sure you don’t leave behind anything you’ll need for your trip.
Kalawao on Molokai’s Kalaupapa Peninsula is sadly known for being the quarantined settlement inhabited by over 1,000 victims of Hansen’s disease (or leprosy) who were required to live there by law. This law was in effect from 1866 to as late as 1969. Those afflicted were forced to live separately in this supremely isolated narrow strip of land, separated on all sides by rugged seacoasts and towering sea cliffs, away from family and friends, as a means to protect others from becoming infected. One could only enter the colony by boat or by negotiating a treacherous, steep cliff-side trail by foot or by mule.
In 1873, when the leper colony grew to nearly 800 inhabitants, a heroic Catholic priest from Belgium, named Father Damien, volunteered to minister to the outcasts. In true self-sacrificial service, Father Damien devoted the final sixteen years of his life to caring for the afflicted people of Kalaupapa, before tragically succumbing to the disease in 1889. Father Damien is still honored as one of Hawaii’s greatest heroes to this day and is often referred to as the “Martyr of Molokai.” After a lengthy process, Father Damien was canonized by the Vatican as Saint Damien of Molokai in 2009. A statue of Father Damien stands outside St. Joseph’s Church in Kamalo just east of Kaunakakai.
Mother Marianne, a German-born nun arrived in 1883, joined Father Damien as volunteer to minister to the leper colony as well. She faithfully served with Father Damien until his death and then carried on for several decades, ministering to the patients for 30 years. She supervised a girl’s home on Molokai dedicated to those afflicted with leprosy and eventually ran a boy’s home as well. She too was canonized as Saint Marianne in 2012. To this day, Father Damien and Mother Marianne are celebrated for their compassion to the suffering people of Molokai. Their graves and commemorative sites are popular tourist attractions for those visiting Molokai.
This beautiful island has a completely unique feel, as there are no fast food chains, shopping centers, tall buildings, theaters or traffic signals.
Molokai is 260 square miles and is only 36 miles long. The island has terrain of extreme natural beauty, is surrounded by stunning coral reefs and has the highest sea cliffs in the world. On average, the cliffs have a steepness of 55 degrees and are more than 3,300 feet high.
Molokai has one of the highest waterfalls in Hawaii in the form of Kahiwa Falls, meaning “the chosen one.” Its water gracefully tumbles almost 1,750 feet down over a rough cliff face on the eastern side of the island’s north coast.
Must-see Molokai Attractions
Panda Travel ® offers numerous activities and vacation packages for travelers in Hawaii, but below are some of our recommendations specifically for Molokai.
The main town of Kaunakakai, on the southern coast of the island, is virtually unchanged since the early 1900s. Its downtown area is very small, hosting simple mom-and-pop stores, and is no more than a few blocks long. On Saturdays there is an open-air market where you can buy local fish and produce. Kaunakakai Harbor has a long pier that extends beyond the reef where local fishermen often catch their meals fresh from the ocean.
Fishing of all types is a large part of the island’s fabric, as a livelihood and as a sport for locals and visitors to enjoy. The waters off Molokai generally offer more productive fishing than on other islands due to their relative remoteness as well as being less fished and less stressed from environmental pressures. On the reefs, you can often find many sportsman using light spinning rods to catch hard fighting gamefish like papio (trevally), oi’o (bonefish), moi (Pacific threadfin) and many more.
Diving in Molokai offers an unforgettable experience for adventurous visitors. On the south end of the island, the longest fringing reef in Hawaii creates one of the most dynamic snorkeling and scuba diving places. The reef, often described as pristine and unspoiled, can be enjoyed in popular spots such as Fish Bowl, Deep Corner and Fish Rain. From hammerhead sharks, to whale sharks, spinner dolphins and Hawaiian monk seals, you never know what kind of marine life may cross your path on Molokai.
Hunting may not be the first thing vacationers plan to do on the Hawaiian Islands, but there is no mistaking the opportunity that awaits hunters on Molokai. The axis deer, native originally to India was said to be brought to Molokai in the 19th century as a gift to King Kamehameha V from the Japanese emperor. Hunters can purchase single or multi-day hunting trip packages to attempt to capture one of these animals. Wild Hawaiian boar and black Hawaiian goat hunting are also popular activities to do on Molokai.
Kalaupapa National Historic Park offers tours centered on the story of Father Damien and his dedication and sacrifice to those afflicted with the once incurable and feared Hansen’s disease. It is a park replete with compelling history and tragedy and offers stunning views of the surrounding sea coast and towering sea cliffs. Tours can be taken by guided mule-rides offered by Kalaupapa Mule Tour and Damien Tours. The mule rides provide a truly unique way of visiting the Kalaupapa settlement.
Halawa Valley is a popular attraction for vacationers. Visitors can take guided hikes through the valley to the lush Moa’ula Falls, a welcoming reward after miles of walking or view Hipuapua Falls which is visible from the lookout above Halawa Valley. The history-rich valley is the location of the oldest known Hawaiian settlement on Molokai, where heiaus (places of worship) were built. It later became a farming community, until it suffered irreparable damage from devastating tsunamis in the mid 1900s, causing an evacuation by most of the residents. The bay fronting the valley still remains a beautiful surfing and swimming location.
A Taste of Molokai
Kaunakakai’s main street, Ala Malama Avenue, is sprinkled with small restaurants and shops. Here, anyone hungry for homemade bread can stop by Kanemitsu’s Bakery for it famous freshly baked bread. Covering your onion and cheese bread with jelly, cream cheese or cinnamon will give you a delicious taste of the island.
Though an entirely different vacation destination than busy Oahu or Maui, Molokai offers a unique beauty untainted, and is sure to prove an extraordinary expedition. For visitors who want a more varied array of food that can be found in places like Molokai, it may be worth catching a short flight or ferry to experience other Hawaiian Culinary Tours that can be found on each island.