I have a vagabound spirit and happy memories traversing the ruins of Angor Wat in Cambodia and walking the streets of Old Havana in Cuba. I love being in a place where you take in a moment of fleeting history as though you’re in a living museum. That is Molokai, Hawaii.
My husband and I visited last fall to get away from it all and to hike the Kalaupapa Trail, which leads to a former leper colony where for over a hundred years, Hawaii banished those suspected of the disease. A cure for leprosy was discovered in the 1940s, but Hawaii continued to send people until as recently as 1969. We read up before our visit and were fascinated.
There are only three ways in: hike, ride a donkey, or fly. We chose to hike, but nothing could have prepared us for the hike. The trail is rigorous with twenty-six switchbacks over three miles taking you straight down to Kalaupapa. The village is surrounded by ocean on three sides and the highest sea cliffs in the world on the other. These cliffs are majestic in their own right. At the bottom of the trail, we met a tour guide driving an old school bus. Although free to leave, former patients still call Kalaupapa home along with park rangers and a few others.
At the bookstore, we were blessed to talk to one former patient named Boogie. We enjoyed listening to his trips out of Kalaupapa and found it revealing when he asked if we flew PanAm to Hawaii. This encounter put a face on this chapter of Hawaii’s history. The far end of the peninsula was captivating, teeming with natural beauty, yet mysterious, perhaps because it serves as a final resting place for the near 8,000 people who were exiled there.
Surprisingly, topside Molokai, sitting 1664 feet above Kalaupapa, and visible from Maui and Lanai, was equally intriguing. My husband and I felt like we were the only ones on the island as we came upon pristine beach after pristine beach without a soul on them. If you read about the island, you will learn that the locals are extremely anti-development, which led the only resort on the island, and a golf course and dude ranch by the same owner, to abandon its properties in 2008. Now, the oceanfront property looks like a scene from a post-apocalyptic movie.
Ironically, although successful in keeping developers out, Molokai is home to Monsanto, the large agricultural giant that produces herbicides (like Roundup) and is known for GMO testing. Personally, I’d prefer a resort where I could get a chilled glass of wine and some culinary delicacies while enjoying the grandeur of the ocean to experimental crop spraying, which carries with a breeze and can be harmful to people and the environment. Regardless, Molokai’s position on development has kept it somewhat frozen in time.
Looking back, Molokai offered my husband and I priceless time together as we explored a unique part of Hawaii’s history, and, I’ve always enjoyed seeing the world and what it has to offer as is—no commercial tourism tricks or pomp and circumstance, simply preserved in its uniqueness.
Now here’s why you should visit Molokai:
- Hike the Kalaupapa Trail and the Halawa Valley
- Experience the history
- Visit Hawaii of years past
- Take in the natural beauty at a slower pace
- Experience total solitude
Things to Know:
- Limited food choices
- Minimal accommodations
- Tourism is not a focus
- Island philosophy is development out, but Monsanto in
- Not much to do
Anyone turned off from Honolulu’s almost Vegas-like shoreline should hop on a commuter plane and check out Molokai before it, too, changes with the times.