Turn Back Time
on Molokai, the most truly Hawaiian Island
Magic Carpet Journals takes you to
Hawaii with Robert Scheer to visit the island of Molokai
She had just
ordered Spam and eggs when my companion made a surprising discovery. She went to
put some Sweet’N Low in her coffee and noticed that the pink packet had already
been opened. A previous customer had used half the package of artificial
sweetener and, not wanting to waste it, left the remainder for someone else.
That, in a nutshell, describes life on the island of Molokai. It’s as if the
clock had been turned back thirty years to a simpler time.
As I looked around Kanemitsu Bakery and Coffee Shop, most of the faces I saw
were Hawaiian, most of the bodies were well-rounded, and nobody seemed to know
the meaning of the word stress. An enormous scoop of butter was served alongside
my banana pancakes, and I felt it would have been impolite not to use most of
it. Our coffee whitener turned out to be evaporated milk. This is the famous
bakery where, at 10:30 p.m., customers line up at the back door for
hot-from-the-oven bread stuffed with whipped cream and jam.
The most Hawaiian of the six islands, Molokai is mostly rural. A mere 38 miles
long and 10 miles wide, its bountiful earth and waters enable many of its 7,000
residents to lead traditional livelihoods through farming, hunting and fishing.
Molokai doesn’t have a single traffic light or parking meter. They’re also a
little short of road signs, so, when you pick up your rental car at the airport,
it’s unclear which direction you should turn to head for Kaunakakai, the
island’s largest town. As I later found out, it doesn’t much matter. All roads
eventually seem to lead to Kaunakakai.
"Downtown" Kaunakakai is about two blocks long. Besides the bakery, there’s a
supermarket, a wine shop, a couple of souvenir stores and, on the corner by the
gas station, Molokai Fish and Dive, which boasts the island’s largest selection
of T-shirts. Across from the library, I saw a native Hawaiian man wearing only a
loin cloth, blowing a conch shell horn and carrying a picket sign. He was
protesting, he said, because a U.S. government agency wanted to develop land on
which his ancestors were buried. Molokai has Hawaii’s highest concentration of
native people, and we saw considerable evidence of a political movement to
restore Hawaii as a kingdom independent from the USA.
In my room in the Hotel Molokai at about 3:30 one morning I learned what it
means to be staying in a primarily rural area. Roosters start crowing before
sunrise. Nearly as loud as the local poultry, fortunately, was the comforting
sound of the surf. The hotel was situated about as close to the ocean as it
could be without getting washed away at high tide, and the sound of the waves
lulled me back to sleep.
The Hula Shores restaurant at the Hotel Molokai proved to be the
most inexpensive dining establishment we found on the entire trip. A substantial
breakfast of two eggs, hash browns, six slices of bacon and a wedge of pineapple
was priced at an amazingly low $4.95. It was no wonder that four burly members
of the local police force were breakfasting at a nearby table.
About an hour of driving northwest from Kaunakakai will take you halfway across
the island and back into the 21st century. Accommodations in the Beach Village
of the Molokai Ranch, consist of high-tech canvas-walled cabins called
"tentalows." A cross between tents and bungalows, these eco-friendly housing
units feature solar-powered lighting and hot water systems, composting toilets
and open-air bathrooms where you can take a shower while looking up at palm
trees and the blue Hawaiian sky. There are 40 two-bedroom tentalows,
interspersed between several archaeological sites, as the area was once the site
of an ancient fishing camp. Early one morning I was surprised to see a flock of
at least four wild turkeys foraging among the piles of lava stones that once
were the foundations of ancient Hawaiians’ homes.
Situated on 65,000 acres once owned by King Kamehameha V, Molokai Ranch
encompasses about 40% of the entire island. In addition to the waterfront Beach
Village, there are also more traditional accommodations in a lodge adjacent to
the town of Maunaloa, where Molokai’s only movie theatre is located.
One of the island’s primary attractions is Kalaupapa National Historical Park,
where a notorious leper colony was served by Father Damien from 1864 to 1899.
Visitors at least 16 years of age can reach Kalaupapa by mule ride or a long,
steep hike, by invitation only, Monday through Saturdays. A panoramic view of
the scenic peninsula can be seen from a lookout in Pala’au State Park.
A short walk from the Kalaupapa lookout is the park’s other
attraction, Kauleonanahoa, or Phallic Rock. Unquestionably a fertility
symbol, this six-foot high carved stone, according to legend, will assist women
wishing to become pregnant if they leave offerings and spend the night. Located
at the top of a hill, and very close to the cliffs overlooking the ocean,
Phallic Rock and the stone circle nearby seemed to be rich with energy – truly
one of earth’s powerful sacred sites.
The most scenic drive on Molokai is Highway 450 (also known as
King Kamehameha V Highway) east from Kaunakakai to the Halawa Valley. Along the
coast just east of One Ali’i Park (One is pronounced O-NEE) you’ll start to see
ancient fishponds. Originally built for Hawaiian kings and chiefs, they are made
from piles of volcanic stones and coral that trap fish inside where they can be
caught more easily.
There seems to be a scenic and secluded beach around just about every bend in
the road. We stopped at one tiny beach and met a local couple and their small
child. The man had just caught three octopuses, and they were cleaning them
before taking them home for food.
A few miles farther east is St. Joseph’s Church, built in 1876 by Father Damien.
There is a statue of the Belgian priest alongside the small white building, and
a colorful array of flower leis and braided leaf garlands had been placed around
the neck of the statue.
If you haven’t brought a picnic lunch, you’ll want to stop at Mana’e Goods &
Grinds at Mile Market 16, the last restaurant or store before the end of the
road, about ten miles farther east. We found it open on a Sunday afternoon, when
some shops in Kaunakakai were closed for the day. We had stopped to ask for
directions to an ancient heiau (sacred temple) we had been unable to find
by ourselves. Another customer at the store, a young woman riding a motor
scooter, volunteered to lead us to the site. That’s what makes Molokai special.
It’s a place where a visitor doesn’t feel like a stranger, and where people are
still willing to go out of their way to lend someone else a hand.
For someone who never had the chance to visit Hawaii several decades ago,
Molokai remains unspoiled and uncrowded; a place of refuge from the stresses of
If You Go
Molokai is accessible only from the two larger Hawaiian islands of Maui or
Oahu. Inter-island commuter air service is provided by Hawaiian Airlines, Aloha
Island Air, Moloka’i Air Shuttle and Paragon Air. There is also a less expensive
passenger ferry from Maui (a bouncy 90-minute trip not recommended for travelers
prone to motion sickness) operated by Island Marine
Rooms at the Hotel Molokai range from $80 to $175.
Standard rates for 2-bedroom tentalows at the Molokai Ranch Beach Village
range from $268 to $358. Buffet breakfasts at the Beach Village are $15 per
person and buffet dinners are $31 per person. Ala carte box lunches are
available by request.
A popular restaurant is the Kualapu’u Cookhouse on Uwao Street, 1 block west off
Hwy. 470, renowned for their barbecued pork ribs in house-made guava sauce,
served Tuesday through Saturday evenings from 5:00 pm to 8:00 p.m.
Clothing needs for Molokai are very casual. Flip-flop sandals, shorts and
t-shirts are the norm unless you are staying at the more up-scale Lodge at
Molokai Ranch. Wide-brim hats and sunscreen are highly recommended. January
temperatures average from a high of 80 (27C) to a low of 63 (17C).
For more details about the Molokai Mule Ride and Kalaupapa National Historical
Park or further information about Molokai contact the Moloka’i Visitors
Story and Pictures by Robert Scheer
Robert Scheer is a freelance travel writer who specializes in sacred sites and
places of power. For further information about Robert Scheer or
links to his work please go to our Recommended
Travel Links page.
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Last Updated on
February 23, 2007
by M. Maxine George editor.
Magic Carpet Journals. All rights reserved