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Fragile Beauties: Hiking Molokai’s Nature Reserves

For spectacularly unique views of Molokai’s natural history, the Nature Conservancy of Hawaii offers monthly guided hikes into two of the island’s most fragile landscapes: the windswept dunes in the 920-acre Moomomi Preserve , on Molokai’s northwest shore; and the cloud-ringed forest of its highest mountain in the 2,774-acre Kamakou Preserve , on the island’s East End.

        Just 8 1/2 miles northwest of Hoolehua, Moomomi is the most intact beach and sand dune area in the main Hawaiian islands, harboring rare native plants, nesting green sea turtles, and fossils of now-extinct flightless birds.

        Towering over the island’s eastern half, 4,970-foot Kamakou provides 60 percent of Molokai’s fresh water and shelter for endangered or threatened native species. The Pepeopae Trail boardwalk (3 miles round-trip) meanders through a bog with miniature trees and other delicate greenery that evolved over millennia; it leads to a view of Pelekunu Valley on the North Shore.

        It’s easy to do both hikes in the same week. Offered March through October, each hike is limited to eight people ($25 per person), so book well in advance; dates are listed on the conservancy website (www.nature.org/hawaii). Call the Nature Conservancy field office just north of Kaunakakai in Molokai Industrial Park, 23 Pueo Place, off Ulili Street near Highway 460 (tel. 808/553-5236), or e-mail hike_molokai@tnc.org to check availability.

        It’s also possible to access either reserve on your own, but you’ll need a 4WD vehicle and good road conditions. The field office requests that you first stop by (weekdays 8am–3pm) for directions and an update on road conditions; please clean your shoes and gear before visiting preserves to avoid bringing in invasive species. In the case of Moomomi, you’ll need to get a pass for the locked gate from the office.

A Hike Back in History

“There are things on Molokai, sacred things, that you may not be able to see or hear, but they are there,” says Pilipo Solatorio, who was born and raised in Halawa Valley and survived the 1946 tsunami that barreled into the ancient settlement. “As Hawaiians, we respect these things.”

        Solatorio and his family are among the few who allow visitors into emerald Halawa Valley, offering daily tours Monday to Saturday by reservation only. After welcoming visitors with traditional chants and the sharing of inhaled breath, foreheads pressed together, Solatorio (or his son Greg) relates the history of the area before guiding the group along the rocky trail, which crosses two shallow streams. He also notes ancient sites, taro terraces, and native and invasive species along the path (1.7 miles each way). Once at the pool below Moaula Falls (which can also be seen from the beach or highway), visitors may swim in the cool water, if conditions permit.

        The 70-year-old Solatorio feels that learning about the history and culture of Molokai is part of the secret to appreciating the island. “To see the real Molokai, you need to understand and know things so that you are pono, you are right with the land and don’t disrespect the culture,” says Solatorio.

        Book online through Molokai Outdoors (www.molokai-outdoors.com; tel. 877/553-4477 or 808/553-4477; $75 adults, $45 children 6–12) or leave a phone message with the Solatorios (www.halawavalleymolokai.com; tel. 808/551-5538 or 808/551-1055), giving your name, telephone number, the number of people in your party, and requested date to visit. Wear shoes that can get wet and your swimsuit under your clothes; bring a backpack with insect repellent, sunscreen, water, a poncho, refreshments, a towel, and a camera.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.