Ride a Mule to Kalaupapa
There was a time when the tiny settlement of Kalawao, on Molokai’s north shore, was locked away from the world. Located on the Kalaupapa Peninsula, Kalawao was a place where people came to die, banned by kingdom law to this stunningly beautiful place because they had been diagnosed with leprosy, a chronic, infectious disease with no known cure. The law was signed by King Kamehameha V in 1865. More than a century later, the law was finally abandoned after sulfone drugs, first administered in 1946, proved successful in treatment of the illness, which is now called Hansen’s Disease. In 1980, the federal government established a historical park in Kalaupapa.
Kalaupapa’s fortress-like location made it a natural prison for its occupants. Surrounded on three sides by the Pacific Ocean and cut off from the rest of Molokai by 1,600- to 3,000-foot sea cliffs, it’s both difficult to reach and difficult to escape. Typically, leprosy victims, arriving by ship, were forced to jump overboard and battle rough waters to reach shore.
Descending the Kalaupapa Trail
Today’s visitor is more likely to arrive on the back of a mule, on foot or in an airplane. If you go by mule, you’ll begin your trip in a barn on Highway 470 near the Kalaupapa Overlook in the Palaau State Park. The trek follows the Kalaupapa Trail, which descends approximately 1,700 feet to the settlement below. Three miles and 26 switchbacks later, you’ll reach your destination.
You’ll arrive at one of the most isolated places and breathtaking places on earth, untouched by development and quietly standing still in time.
Booking a Guided Mule Tour
The Guided Mule Tour down the Kalaupapa Trail includes entry permits, a historical tour of the National Park with Kekaula Tours, a light picnic lunch, NPS trail maintenance fees and a completion souvenir certificate. Mule tours (Monday-Saturday) begin at 8 a.m. and end back at the stables at 3:30 p.m.
You can also lace up your hiking boots and get to Kalaupapa under your own horsepower. However, be forewarned: camping is not allowed in the park and you will be required to hook up with a tour once you get down to the bottom of the trail. Visitors are not allowed to wander around the settlements or beaches on their own.
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