Halawa Valley: a Culturally Rich Valley on Molokai’s East End

By Kyle Ellison

There are hundreds of valleys in the Hawaiian Islands—arguably even thousands—but none can compare to the cultural history of Halawa Valley on Molokai.

Hawaii’s Oldest, Continuously Inhabited Spot

Here on the island’s northeastern tip, where the winding road that leads east from Kaunakakai finally comes to an end, Ancient Hawaiians gradually established one of Hawaiʻi’s earliest settlements. With its fertile plains for growing taro and abundance of flowing fresh water, Halawa was a place that not only offered the basic resources for survival but also housed a protected cove for launching boats and canoes. It’s believed that Hawaiians inhabited Halawa as early as 650 AD, and over 1,350 years later, it’s currently Hawaii’s oldest spot known to have been settled and continuously populated.

A 1946 Tsunami Forced Residents to Leave Halawa Valley

Though the valley today is only home to a handful of off-grid residents, there was once a time when verdant Halawa was home to a village of thousands. All of that changed abruptly, however, in 1946, when a devastating tsunami flooded the valley and ruined the soil with saltwater. Many of the valley’s homes were destroyed, and with the groundwater tainted for growing crops and a sudden lack of food, many of Halawa’s longtime residents were forced to get up and go.

Water From Mooula Falls Has Revitalized the Valley

Moaula Falls. Photo: Napua N. Heen. hawaii waterfalls

Mooula Falls. Photo: Napua N. Heen.

Today, after irrigation has helped to bring water from Mo‘oula Falls, and hardy residents have spent countless hours re-establishing the fields, Halawa is home to a cluster of residents who successfully manage to inhabit the valley in the ways of their ancestors before them. Fish are caught past the breaking waves, pigs roam free in the valley, and fields of taro wave their bright green leaves again in the wind.

Take a Guided Cultural Hike through Halawa Valley

When visiting Halawa Valley today, the best way to experience the history and beauty is with a guided cultural hike, which not only takes visitors to 250 ft. Mo‘oula Falls, but also incorporates history lessons and passes historical relics. Learn how Hawaiians lived off the land—and manage to do so today—and experience the proper respect and protocols for entering this hallowed place.

Sink Your Toes in the Sand at the End of the Road

While guided tours are the only way to legally visit the falls, visitors who just want to lounge on the beach can simply drive to the end of the road and lay out a towel in the sand. Rarely will you find many people here —even on weekends or holidays—and occasionally you’ll find surfers riding the waves that thunder ashore each winter.

And, whether you spend an entire day in Halawa hiking and learning its history, or simply drive to the end of the road to sink your toes in the sand, there’s an inescapably powerful feeling that permeates everywhere in the valley, as you stand in this scenic and storied spot like Ancient Hawaiians of old.

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