Molokai - The Friendly Island
Just like that I was boarding a ferry headed to Molokai with no plan at all except to experience a new island and the culture it had to offer. It was a very rainy day, thus my first close up views of Molokai were not very good. The drizzle scared all but myself and 2 others from the top deck of the boat, rain continues to amaze me, especially since most humans think they are gonna melt or something if they get wet, I love the rain and have learned how to embrace those wet moments! Once landing on the pier, it juts out of the island quite a ways, I would learn later because of the large oceanic shelf on that side of Molokai, it still is the best place in the Hawaiin islands to fish! Getting off the boat I wasn’t in a hurry, grabbed my pack and started walking into the nearest town. I could already tell that Molokai was under developed especially when compared to Maui. My walk was good, especially after sitting for 2 hours, I caught up with a woman that was also on the boat, we exchanged a few words, then I let her go ahead of me while I slowed my pace and started to contemplate what I needed from town.
What was I going to eat and could I possibly find some fuel for my jetboil stove?? I wandered around the small town of Kaunakakai, its actually the largest town on the island. The only store I saw that was a franchise is the Chevron gas station, and possibly the bank of Hawaii. Other than that, there was 3 local grocery stores, few hardware stores and a cafe or 2. I wandered around, going into the hardware stores looking for fuel and trying to make a potential food list in my mind. All the people I encountered in the stores were friendly enough, but I was just another tourist to them, you could tell the routine after the ferry arrived. I could not find any mixed fuel for my stove, so I started wandering into the grocery stores. It was mostly pre-packaged and processed food. Even the fruits and veggies were imported, this was really weird to me, especially after leaving the much more lush island of Maui and all its fresh food. So I stocked up on dried fruit and nuts to make my own trail mix, some smoked and dehydrated fish, and then luckily found a small market to get some fresh veggies before trying to hitch a ride to Palaau State Park. One local guy tending to the market made some small talk with me, however he wasn’t very friendly asking why I was on their island and what I was up to… just a happy traveler sir! I asked him about getting to the State Park and he said I could possibly hitch a ride, unbeknown to me at that time there was a bus that could have picked me up right across from the market at the library.
I started walking down the road, it began to downpour again, so I put my rain jacket on my and my pack and walked on. My thumb out for anyone that was passing, no luck, I wandered for a mile or 2 before someone pulled over, I didn’t look right away, until a woman was telling me to get in, it was yellow school bus!! After asking my destination she explained the bus systems and said it was free for travelers like myself, so she dropped me off at a stop and said to wave the bus down when it came by in 15 min or so. By the time the bus arrived it was down pouring rain, I waved and luckily the driver saw me and pulled over. Bringing my pack on board and locating a seat, I was the highlight of the day for everyone else on the bus, what was I doing with that large pack, and where was I coming from, I definitely did not meet the regular tourist stereotype most are used to! A local lady and her son made me feel at home almost immediately, making small talk and explaining to the son that I was camping and my gear and tent were in my bag. They shared some local history and geography of the island, then told me it had been raining for at least 24 hours and was supposed to keep up for another 24, now did I mention I liked rain, well I was about to get what I deserved! The bus dropped the lady and her son off at the door of their house, then turned around and headed up the hill towards the State Park. I was a bit confused when we suddenly stopped and the driver told me this was my destination, I could hardly make out the shelter across the road it was down pouring so hard. So I grabbed my gear, preceded to say Mahalo and Aloha and wandered into the rain and under the shelter. It was colder up here in the State Park, the elevation around 3000 feet, I put on a few more layers and my rain pants before wandering further up the road to look for a campsite. Like all Hawaiin parks I’ve camped at there really are no specific camping spots, it just an open area with some picnic tables, grills, and a garbage can, this place also had a shower and flush toilets. I wandered around for about an hour before deciding I needed to get my tent set up and inside of it to dry off and get warm before night came. I found a somewhat drier spot under the large pine trees in the middle of the campground, the ground was at a little slant which would hopefully keep the water moving under me and not pool. My tent is small and was easy to get set up in a hurry, getting all my stuff inside and me was no problem, and I kept the inside of the tent fairly dry. Awesome time to change into dry clothes, eat some food and take a nap!
The next day it continued to rain, so I was content reading and journaling with naps in between, a true rest day. At one point, I heard a friendly “Aloha” but could not discern if that was coming from the park or in my dream, so I drifted back off into dream world. An hour or 2 later the rain had stopped, music started to play and I could hear kids running around. So I got up, set up my hammock and started to read. This didn’t last long before the locals were asking me to come over meet everyone, eat some food, and join in on the party like I was part of the family! They were all very welcoming and most wanted to hear my traveling stories, after sharing a few they did the same and shared stories of traveling to New Zealand. Some locals had never left the island and were amazed that I was living out of a backpack, but the ones that had seemed much happier and less stereotypical of me being there. The party continued into the night, with wine and food, they prepared a plate for me to keep for the next day and wished me well before driving down the mountain to there respective houses, it was night to remember!
I was out exploring early the morning after the party, checking out the overlook to Kalaupapa and the nearby Phallic rock, then walking into the nearest town of Kualapu’u. However I didn’t make it half mile down the road before a local cowboy asked me if I wanted a lift, nodding I walked across the road to his truck and hopped in the back next to the horse feed. There was also a rack of bananas, mostly ripe, he offered a few to me, I love this place!! Dropping me off in town, I walked over to the Coffees of Hawaii shop to enjoy some local Molokai coffee. To my surprise a few musicians were setting up to practice some tunes and hula for there weekly get together on Tuesday mornings. It was Thursday and after hearing the local Hawaiin’s play and dance I knew it would be awesome to join them next Tuesday. After some coffee I was off to explore more of Kualapu’u including the macadamia nut farm.
Road to town
The nut farm was cool, there was a guy running it all himself. The tour was very educational, he had about 50 trees that produced several hundred pounds of mac nuts each year! However this is a small operation compared to the large 10,000+ acre mac nut farms on the Big Island. Already knowing quite a bit about the mac nut trees I didn’t have many questions however another couple joined me and livened up the conversation a bit. We got to see the trees being grown with permaculture ideals, thus no additional nutrients that aren’t already found on the farm and reusing every bit of the leaves and shells that fall to the ground. There was an interesting spread of nuts, honey, and coconut slices to taste at the end of the tour and mac nuts to buy as well. I bought a few bags of mac nuts and continued on my journey as others were coming for a tour. I wandered around town a bit more, stopping at the local grocery store, then back to the coffee shop which had electrical outlets so I could charge my phone. While I was hanging out there, the ladies that were on the mac nut tour behind me offered a ride back up to the State Park, but I wasn’t ready to go yet, we talked for awhile anyway and they suggested I take the Kalaupapa tour. I agreed and signed up online for a tour the following day before walking back up the mountain to my campsite. I didn’t walk long before a guy I had met at the local party my second night on the island, picked me up in his van, offered a beer and some smoke and returned me to the campground.
Tree of life
The following morning I was a bit confused on where to meet the tour. The instructions said to meet at 10am in the horse stables, so I wandered down the road to the horse stables I had seen when the cowboy gave me a ride into town. However I did not see anyone else that was ready for a long hike down the sea cliffs into Kalaupapa, so I panicked a bit, then a car drove up, a couple got out and started hiking down the trail. I followed them until reaching the no trespassing sign, then asked them if they were on the tour, they responded with a no, except one of them was originally from Molokai so they were just going with the flow. I didn’t really want to follow them, so I went back to the parking lot and waited a bit more. Another car showed up, a guy and his dog got out for there every-other-day hike down the sea cliffs and back. This guy was a bit odd, but he offered for me to accompany him on the first 9 switchbacks that he hikes, granted there is 27 switchback to travers to get to the bottom. We chatted the whole way down, he was full of negativity but also had some good tips like flying on Mokulele airlines back to Maui as they flew by the sea cliffs instead of over the channel, to give people a chance to see the largest sea cliffs in the world! On our way down a ranger stopped us, he had a beautiful blue-nose pitbull with him, I explained my case of missing the tour, and he offered to help once he got the bottom, letting him by, I stopped to talk to the guy and his dog one more time before they turned around then I followed the ranger down the switchbacks. He was a few hundred yards in front of me, so upon getting to the bottom I took my time enjoying the vast sea cliff views and waves crash into the sandy beach. I was wandering around when he eventually came back to get me saying the tour bus was waiting for me to join them.
Getting on the bus was a bit comical, I had already missed half of the tour. But a lady behind me said I hadn’t missed much, just touring the town, museums, and a gift shop. Now we were off to check out the other side of Kalaupapa, where the original leprosy colony started, this is really what I wanted to see anyway! We stopped just short of a cinder cone which had a very deep lake in the middle, I was hoping we would get a chance to see it up close but we weren’t allowed to leave the bus. Next stop was Father Damien’s church and the tour guide shared a lot of good history with us. Then we went to the farthest end of the town and had lunch at a large open area, where trails led off into the jungle. I sat next to the sea cliffs, enjoying some mac nuts for lunch. The waves were crashing into the nearby beach and cove. Out in the ocean lie 2 islands, both conical in shape, said to have the same vegetation as the packs of the cliffs 3000 feet above the ocean. The hypothesis is that part of Molokai sheered off into the ocean, simultaneously creating the highest sea cliffs in the world and leaving behind 2 interesting looking islands that used to be mountain peaks. They would still be peaks if we were able to look under the ocean and see the vastness of lava below.
The geologic history was the highlight of the tour for me, it actually worked out to my favor missing the touristy half of the tour. All I really wanted was access to the switchbacks that lead down to the peninsula of Kalaupapa. It took me 90 minutes to hike down the 27 switchbacks, which opened up to a nice sandy beach and a grove of tropical plants: breadfruit, none, coconuts, hibiscus, and probably several others I could not identify. The hike back up actually went faster than the way down, I was easily able to get into flow mode, taking in the vast rainforest around me and blocking out any pain or soreness in my legs. Reaching the top I was soaking in sweat and couldn’t have been happier to be just a short walk from camp and nice cold shower! The history of Kalaupapa was fascinating and still has me researching the past today. The rainforest going down the edge of the sea cliffs was incredible, reminding me of hiking in Juneau, AK but much more tropical. I definitely wanted to fly on Mokulele airlines on my way back to Maui and experience the sea cliffs in another way!
The day after the tour I was up fairly early as I wanted to make it into Kualapu’u for the 25th annual hula festival “Ka Hula Piko”. It was serendipitous that I was on the island of Molokai for this festival. I had no idea it was going on prior to my arrival. The only downfall of an all day festival was no rides into town because everyone was already in town! So I wandered the 4 miles from the campground into town, it was a wonderful stroll, noticing more trees and plants that I hadn’t noticed in previous days. The lilikoi were starting to ripen on the trees, I didn’t find any ripe ones but it gave me hope that it would be lilikoi season soon! Once in town I stopped by the coffee shop for some muleskinner dark roast, probably the best coffee I’ve ever had, and I’ve said that many times since being in Hawaii, but this stood the test, sending some back to the mainland I can indeed report that its easily the best coffee I’ve ever tasted! After coffee and talking to a few tourists, I walked over to the park holding the hula festival, there was music so it was easy to find. The streets were filled with vehicles, I hadn’t seen that many vehicles at once in Molokai yet. There were easily a thousand people up and about or sitting in their chairs watching the performances. Which is pretty good, considering the island only has 8000 residents. Everyone was super friendly as usual, I walked around the perimeter checking out food options and then through the vendors. Decided to get some shrimp scampi, the shrimps were huge, freshly caught off the shore of Molokai and they were ono (good in Hawaiin). After lunch I made my way into the crowd just a reggae band started to play, perfect timing! After the reggae were several hula performances by groups of women then men, which alternated throughout the day. Some men had props to dance with better telling their stories, and there was always a moderator playing the drum and chanting. A lot of Hawaiin history and culture was shared, Pono (Love your people and the land, be nice and have lots of respect) was the overall theme, and everyone gathered as one, it didn’t matter what color your skin was or what language you spoke, everyone was united by the love they spread with their hearts. This experience was both the most entertaining day and most inspirational that I’ve had visiting the Hawaiin Islands. I met new people and shared stories with those I had met in previous days on Molokai, I was becoming one of the greater family, this island has been renewing and helped build new energy to continue living in the present, a much happier life, Aloha.
Hitchhiking was easy around Kualapu’u, were it seemed most of the really friendly people lived. However I wanted to go see the rest of the island and I only had a few days left before I had to return to Maui as a friend was visiting from the mainland. Thus I decided to rent a car for 3 days so I could see the far east end of the island as well as the large beach that encompassed the entire west end of the island. It would have easily taken a month to backpack across the entire island, this is something I’d like to do on a return trip. I had to make it all the way into Kaunakakai to pick up a rental car, 10 miles from the campground. I didn’t want to rely on hitchhiking since it had been hit and miss thus far, so I started my walk early around 6:30am. The walk was all downhill or down-volcano, I didn’t think it would take me as long as it did, but I only had 80 min left to make it on time when I passed the coffee house, thus 6 miles in 80 min, so I started to jog. Once jogging, people thought I was out for some exercise so there was no way I was going to get a ride. No problem, except the weather changed drastically about a half mile past the coffee shop, I had exited the upcountry area surrounding the peak of the volcano and defended into the more arid and humid region encompassing the lower half of the volcano. The temp was hotter and the humidity made me sweat from head to toe, I just kept jogging. Getting into flow was easy with all the beautiful ocean views and eventually seeing a few other joggers actually out to get some exercise, I was wishing I had a bike at that point! But I made it into town on time, just a few minutes late, but the lady at the car rental place was still there. She gave me a Toyota Echo to take me on my journey, it was super reasonable and perfect for what I wanted to do. I was pretty hungry but could only find one place to get some breakfast, I saw rice, eggs, and ham on the menu and thus ordered. Upon arrival I noticed the ham was actually Spam?! Don’t remember the last time I consumed Spam, but I was hungry and it was salty and slimy, yuck. I had to laugh thinking that Hawaii is the biggest importer of Spam with all of the delicious fruits and veggies that are grown how do they put up with Spam. I choked it down anyway and set off to the west side since I only had a half day left. I drove all the way down the southwest corner finding a beach that was sparsely populated. The water was had extra hues of browns, reds, and greens due to the red dirt that Molokai is well known for. I hiked away from the beach and found some lava boulders to rest on, as the horizon cleared up a bit I was able to get my first glimpse of the island Oahu showing the large sea cliffs on it southeast end.
Day 2 with the rental car, I headed out to the east end of Molokai. 30 mile drive to Halawa Bay, Molokai’s equivalent to Hana on Maui, or the much more local Hawaiin side of the islands. The ecosystems varied greatly over the 30 miles, much more so than the drive to Hana on Maui. There were 2 large waterfalls hidden up in the Halawa valley, I could get a glimpse of them every so often while driving. Arriving at Halawa park there was a large sign that said the trails to the waterfalls were closed due to flooding, this was hurricane season after all, so I parked my car and walked down to the bay instead. The beach was nice and fairly quiet a few other tourists had found there way here as well, but were hanging out in their vehicles for whatever reason. I wandered by them and strolled on the mostly black sand beach until hitting a dead end filled with driftwood, so I slowly returned on the same path and eventually back to the park. I found a nice flat spot between some coconut trees to do some meditation and yoga and then checked out the other various fruit trees that were planted in the park. Papaya, banana, coconut, noni, mango, breadfruit, and some others I could not identify. It was a great day indeed, about mid afternoon I decided it was time to make the return drive back to Palaau campground.
My last full day on Molokai was spent primarily at the coffee house listening to the locals play music and dance hula. A bus of elders showed up, some played, some danced and everyone enjoyed themselves. There was a full table of musicians, at least 10 or more, and 25 more people in the audience. Music is how the community showed their passion for one another and the island, in a way it was their therapy :) An elder approached me during the show and asked if I lived on Molokai, as she had never seen me around. I replied No, that I was just a traveler visiting the friendly island. She then asked me where I was staying, and I replied Palaau state park. Her eyes lit up, and she smiled then she welcomed me to the island and gave me excellent words of advice “No Rush”, there is no rush in Molokai and no reason to rush anything in your life. I was smiling at that point too, and I stood and gave her a hug.
After the music was over I still had an afternoon to go back and visit the west side beach once again. This time I stopped at another park which I could have camped at, but was more comfortable up on the sea cliffs. This park was really dry and kiawe trees were everywhere along with their big thorns that easily penetrate through sandals, I was glad not be camping here. It was rather windy on the beach, bringing in decent sized waves and moving a lot of sand. The plus side there were very few people around. So I settle in and wrapped some jewelry with the shells I had found earlier in the trip. Getting up every so often and wandering the beach to look for more shells. I didn’t want to risk swimming in the ocean alone since the waves were crashing hard on the beach, instead I got sandblasted while I soaked up the sun until late afternoon when I headed back to camp. The past 2 nights I had the entire campground to myself, it was very peaceful. The mystical rain tends to keep the locals away along with the folklore of this specific area on the sea cliffs. I learned my last night in town, eating at the local diner, that locals do not stay at the state park in fear of seeing spirits. I’m glad I wasn’t told this until the last night, needless to say I did not sleep much that night, but did have an excellent time under the stars. The next morning I had time for coffee then had to catch my flight back to Maui on Mokulele airlines. The small plane only held 8 passengers, and luckily I got a window seat on the right side of the plane so I could get an excellent view of the dormant volcano in Kalaupapa and the largest sea cliffs in the world!