Attractions on Molokai

Mention to somebody you’re going to Molokai and they’ll tell you there’s nothing to do.

It’s a myth that couldn’t be further from the truth, but is fueled by the fact that Molokai is free of large oceanfront resorts. Sure—Molokai has fewer visitors than islands like Maui, or Oahu, but that doesn’t mean there’s any shortage of things to do once you get there.

One of the best and most popular attractions on Molokai is the Kalaupapa Peninsula, which you can either reach by air, by foot, or by riding in on a mule. This isolated spot was where Hawaii’s lepers were essentially sent to die, when they were rounded up, shipped on a boat, and left to fend for themselves. Backed by some of the world’s tallest sea cliffs and surrounded by tumultuous ocean, it’s essentially an island attached to an island with minimal ways to get out. Life was unspeakably miserable and hard for residents of Kalaupapa, and it wasn’t until Belgian-born Father Damien arrived in 1873 that living conditions slowly improved and light was brought to the dark. Though leprosy, or Hansen’s disease, is now a curable disease, the remnants, history, and stories remain for visitors to hear and experience while touring around the infamous settlement. It’s a trip that takes up most of the day, and aside from the sobering doses of history, also offers sweeping views of Molokai’s northern coast. Read more

Another top attraction on Molokai is the drive to Halawa Valley, which is made even better by taking part in a guided cultural hiking tour. This remote valley on the northeastern coast is believed to be Hawaii’s oldest continuously inhabited spot, with evidence of human activity here as early as 600 AD. The drive to Halawa is an experience in itself, where a single lane road hugs a rocky coast that’s been sculpted and carved by the sea, and then climbs through pastures full of cattle, deer, and even endangered nene geese. When the road finally ends at the beach in Halawa it can feel like the end of the Earth, and to truly experience the beauty of this valley and learn its powerful past, guided cultural tours depart each day at 9am from the pavilion. It’s best to make reservations for the hike through an activity operator in town, and be sure to bring a ho‘okupu, or gift, as an offering for entering the valley.

In addition to Kalaupapa and Halawa, other Molokai attractions include the famous “Post A Nut” post office, where you can decorate a coconut and then send it by mail to virtually anywhere in the world. You can pick up local, organic produce while shopping at Kumu Farms, or visit a macadamia farm to taste and crack the nuts.

There are hiking trails in Pepeopa‘e Bog and on the coast at Mo‘omomi, and downwind kayak and standup paddle tours through the island’s south shore lagoon.

While the island’s main town, Kaunakakai, is mostly utilitarian, there are a handful of stores with souvenirs and impressive island made art, and island’s west coast is a procession of beaches that are windswept, white sand, and empty. Finish the day with an oceanfront meal at popular Hotel Molokai, and for a unique way to squeeze in dessert, join in a classic Molokai pastime by cruising down “Hot Bread Lane,” where gooey sweet bread with multiple flavors is served from a hidden, back alley window behind Kanemitsu Bakery each night.

Add in snorkeling, scuba diving, fishing, and whale watching tours in winter, and there are just as many things to do on Molokai as anywhere else in Hawaii. The difference, of course, is the lack of crowds, and the genuine Hawaiian atmosphere, where simplicity, sincerity, and a sense of aloha still form the foundation of a slow-paced life that’s an attraction unto itself.