“Don’t try to change Molokai; let Molokai change you” is the mantra on this least developed of the major Hawaiian islands. No luxury hotels, no stoplights, and “no hurry” are points of pride for locals, nearly half of whom are of Native Hawaiian descent. The island welcomes adventure travelers, spiritual pilgrims, and others who show appreciation for its untrammeled beauty and unrushed ways.
Known as “the child of the moon” in Native Hawaiian lore, Molokai remains a place apart, luminous yet largely inaccessible to the casual visitor. Tourism, and modern conveniences in general, has only a small footprint here, and although the island is just 38 miles long by 10 miles wide, it takes time to see what it has to offer. As the sign at the airport reads: aloha slow down, this is molokai.
Patience and planning do reward travelers with a compass of superlatives. The world’s tallest sea cliffs stand on the North Shore; on the South Shore, historic fish ponds line the state’s longest fringing reef. The island’s most ancient settlement sits within gorgeous Halawa Valley, on the East End, while the West End offers one of Hawaii’s most impressive sandy beaches, nearly 3-mile-long (and often empty) Papohaku.
The percentage of people with Native Hawaiian blood is also higher on Molokai than on the other major islands. Many have maintained or revived Hawaiian traditions such as growing taro, managing fish ponds, and staging games for Makahiki, the winter festival. “Sustainability” isn’t a buzzword but a centuries-old way of life that eyes modern innovations with caution—and many on island are fierce in opposition to growth.
Residents and visitors alike take inspiration from the stories of Father Damien and others who cared for the suffering exiles of Kalaupapa. Once a natural prison for those diagnosed with leprosy, the remote North Shore peninsula is now a national historical park with very limited access but profound appeal—much like Molokai itself.
Getting around Molokai isn’t easy without a rental car, which you need to reserve as early as possible. During special events and holiday weekends rental agencies simply run out of vehicles.
By Car--The international chain Alamo Rent a Car (www.alamo.com; tel. 888/826-6893) has both an office and cars at the airport in Hoolehua. The office of Molokai Car Rental (www.molokaicars.com; tel. 808/336-0670) may be in Kaunakakai, where owner Amanda Schonely also sells her unique shell-decorated caps and island jewelry, but she’s happy to leave a car (or minivan) for you at the airport or ferry dock, with the keys inside.
By Taxi--Per state law, taxis charge $3 a mile plus a “drop charge” of $3.50, or about $32 from the airport to the Hotel Molokai in Kaunakakai and $42 to a West End condo. Try to arrange rides a day or two in advance, either with Midnight Taxi (tel. 808/658-1410) or Hele Mai Taxi (www.molokaitaxi.com; tel. 808/336-0967).
By Bus--The nonprofit Maui Economic Opportunity, Inc. (http://meoinc.charityfinders.org; tel. 808/877-7651) provides free daytime shuttle bus service on weekdays between Kaunakakai and the East End, Hoolehua/Kualapuu, and Maunaloa/Kaluakoi. It’s designed for rural residents but open to all; if you’re feeling adventurous, check out the online schedule (click the bus icon at the top of the website).
Destination Molokai Visitors Bureau (www.gohawaii.com/molokai; tel. 800/800-6367 from the U.S. mainland and Canada, or 808/553-3876) offers a wealth of practical tips and cultural insights on its website, and encourages first-time visitors in particular to stop by its office in Kaunakakai for sightseeing advice tailored to current conditions as well as personal preferences. Open weekdays from 9am till noon, the bureau is in the Moore Center, 2 Kamoi St. (just off Hwy. 450), next to the office of the island’s weekly newspaper, the "Molokai Dispatch" (www.themolokaidispatch.com). Browse the latter online before you go to familiarize yourself with local issues and special events, and pick up a free copy, published Wednesdays, on island for current dining specials and entertainment. VisitMolokai.com has not updated all the practical information on its website (slogan: “Everything About Molokai, By Folks Who Live on Molokai”), but still has useful sightseeing tips, photos, and insights. All maintain Facebook pages, too.
Note: All addresses are in Kaunakakai unless otherwise noted.
ATMs/Banks--Both Bank of Hawaii, 20 Ala Malama St. (www.boh.com; tel. 808/553-3273), and American Savings Bank, 40 Ala Malama St. (www.asbhawaii.com; tel. 808/553-8391), have 24-hour ATMs.
Cellphones--The island has a few cellphone towers, but the signal can be weak, especially outside of Kaunakakai and Hoolehua.
Dentists/Doctors--The Molokai Community Health Center, 30 Oki Place (www.molokaichc.org; tel. 808/553-5038), provides dental and medical services from 8am to 5pm weekdays.
Emergencies--Call tel. 911 in life-threatening circumstances. Otherwise, contact the police at tel. 808/553-5355 or the fire department at tel. 808/553-5601.
Hospital--Molokai General Hospital, 280 Homeolu Place (www.molokaigeneralhospital.org; tel. 808/553-5331), has 15 beds and an outpatient clinic and is open most weekdays.
Internet Access--The Aqua Hotel Molokai, most vacation rentals, and a handful of restaurants offer free, if not necessarily reliable, Wi-Fi.
Pharmacy--The only pharmacy,Molokai Drugs, 28 Kamoi St. (at the rear of the shopping strip; tel. 808/553-5790), is open 8:45am to 5:45pm Monday to Friday and 8am to 2pm Saturday.
Post Office--The central office at 120 Ala Malama is open Monday to Friday 9am to 3:30pm and Saturday 9 to 11am. The Hoolehua branch, just off Highway 460 on Puupeelua Avenue, offers the popular “Post-a-Nut” service; it’s open weekdays 8:30am to noon and 12:30 to 4pm.
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.