“Don’t try to change Molokai. Let Molokai change you.” That’s the mantra on this least developed of the major Hawaiian Islands. No luxury hotels, no stoplights, and “no rush” are points of pride for locals, nearly half of whom are of Native Hawaiian descent. The island welcomes adventure travelers, spiritual pilgrims, and all who appreciate its untrammeled beauty and unhurried 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, have 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 reward travelers with a compass of superlatives. The world’s tallest sea cliffs stand on the North Shore; on the South Shore, historic fishponds 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 the most impressive stretches of golden sand in Hawaii, the more than 2-mile-long (and often empty) Papohaku.
The percentage of people of Native Hawaiian descent is also higher on Molokai than on the other major islands. Many have maintained or revived Hawaiian traditions such as growing taro, managing fishponds, and staging games for Makahiki, the winter festival. “Sustainability” isn’t a buzzword here but a way of life, and one that eyes modern innovations with caution—many islanders are fiercely opposed 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.
By Plane[em]Unless you’re flying to the island as part of a Kalaupapa charter tour, you’ll arrive in Hoolehua (airport code: MKK), which many just call the Molokai Airport. It’s about 7 1/2 miles from the center of Kaunakakai town. Note: Make sure to book your flight for daylight hours and get a window seat. The views of Molokai from above are outstanding, no matter which way you approach the island.
Hawaiian Airlines (www.hawaiianairlines.com; 800/367-5320) services Molokai with its subsidiary, Ohana by Hawaiian. The twin-engine turboprops feature splashy designs by Sig Zane and carry 48 passengers. Multiple direct flights travel daily to Hoolehua from Honolulu, Oahu and Kahului, Maui. A single direct flight leaves each morning from Lanai.
The visuals are doubly impressive from the single-engine, nine-seat aircraft of Mokulele Airlines (www.mokuleleairlines.com; 866/260-7070 or 808/270-8767 outside the U.S.), which provides nonstop service from Honolulu, with most flights on Wednesday and Saturday. Mokulele also flies to Molokai nonstop from three airports on Maui (Kahului, Kapalua, and Hana) and two airports on Hawaii Island (Kona and Kamuela). Note: At check-in, you’ll be asked to stand on a scale with any carry-on luggage. Only the agent is able to see the results, but those who weigh more than 350 pounds are not allowed to fly. Keep your shoes on—there are no security screenings.
Makani Kai Air (www.makanikaiair.com; 808/834-1111) also flies nine-seaters to Molokai from Oahu and Maui for a flat fee of $50. In addition, the small airline offers tour packages to Kalaupapa National Historical Park from Honolulu and Kahului. Flights are met by Damien Tours—the only way visitors, who must be at least 16 years old, are allowed inside the national historical park. Don’t book Kalaupapa flights independently.
Note: Important to consider if you’re booking connecting flights: On Oahu, Makani Air departs from a private terminal on the perimeter of the Honolulu airport. Mokulele operates from the commuter terminal and Ohana by Hawaiian from the interisland terminal. On Maui and Hawaii Island, Makani Air and Mokulele both depart from small commuter terminals walking distance from the main airports. The Maui commuter terminal has its own convenient parking lot.
Getting around Molokai isn’t easy without a rental car, which you should reserve as early as possible. During special events and holiday weekends (see “When to Go” in chapter 3), rental agencies run out of vehicles. Stay alert to invasive axis deer darting onto the highway, especially at night.
By Car—The international chain Alamo Rent a Car (www.alamo.com; 888/826-6893) has both an office and cars at the airport in Hoolehua. The office of Molokai Car Rental (www.molokaicars.com; 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 serviceable car (or minivan) for you at the airport or ferry dock, with the keys inside. If you’re renting for a week or longer, consider reserving a lightly used but perfectly adequate car, van, or SUV from Mobettah Car Rentals (www.mobettahcarrentals.com; 808/308-9566). The company will drop vehicles at the airport, or you can pick up your rental at its office 2 miles west on the Maunaloa Highway.
By Tax—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 the friendly folks at Hele Mai Taxi (www.molokaitaxi.com; 808/336-0967) or Midnight Taxi (808/658-1410).
By Bus—The nonprofit Maui Economic Opportunity, Inc. (www.meoinc.org; 808/877-7651) provides free daytime shuttle bus service between Kaunakakai and the East End, Hoolehua/Kualapuu, and Maunaloa/Kaluakoi, running six times daily Monday to Friday and once on Saturdays. It’s designed for rural residents but open to all; if you’re feeling adventurous, check out the online schedule (click “Programs & Services,” and then follow the drop-down links, starting with “Transportation”).
Molokai Visitors Association (www.gohawaii.com/molokai; 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 until noon, the bureau is in the Moore Center, 2 Kamoi St. (just off Hwy. 450), next to the office of the Molokai Dispatch (www.themolokaidispatch.com), the island’s weekly newspaper. Browse the paper online before you arrive to familiarize yourself with local issues and special events, and pick up a free copy, published Wednesdays, for the island’s current dining specials and entertainment. Some of the practical information on VisitMolokai.com (slogan: “EVERYTHING ABOUT MOLOKAI, BY FOLKS WHO LIVE ON MOLOKAI”) is outdated, but the website still has a useful events calendar, sightseeing tips, photos, and insights. These sources all maintain Facebook pages, too.
Note: All addresses are in Kaunakakai unless otherwise noted.
Cellphones—Good luck getting service here. The island has a few cellphone towers, but the signal is weak island-wide.
Dentists/Doctors—The Molokai Community Health Center, 30 Oki Place (www.molokaichc.org; 808/553-5038), provides dental and medical services from 8am to 5pm weekdays.
Emergencies—Call 911 in life-threatening circumstances. Otherwise, contact the police at 808/553-5355 or the fire department at 808/553-5601.
Hospital—Molokai General Hospital, 280 Homeolu Place (www.molokaigeneralhospital.org; 808/553-5331), has 15 beds, a 24-hour emergency room open daily, and an outpatient clinic open 7am to 6pm weekdays.
Internet Access—Molokai Public Library, 15 Ala Malama Ave. (www.librarieshawaii.org; 808/553-1765) offers free Wi-Fi and computers by reservation. Hotel Molokai and several restaurants also offer free, semi-reliable Wi-Fi.
Pharmacy—The family-run Molokai Drugs, 28 Kamoi St. (www.molokaidrugs.com; 808/553-5790), carries everything from greeting cards to hospital-grade equipment and is open 8:45am to 5:45pm Monday to Friday, 8am to 2pm Saturday.
Post Office—The central office at 120 Ala Malama Ave. is open Monday to Friday 9am to 3:30pm and Saturday 9 to 11am. The Hoolehua branch, just off Farrington Avenue (Hwy. 480) at 69-2 Puupeelua Ave., 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.