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23 Jan 2011

Updated July 10, 2010

Visit to Molokai

Disappointing tour of the last Hawaiian island (for us)


Visit to Molokai

Disappointing tour of the last Hawaiian island (for us)

HAIKU, Maui, July 10 - When you hear the name Molokai, what is the first thing that comes to mind?  If you're like most people, it would be the leper colony.  So not exactly an appealing marketing image and an invitation for tourists to flood this Hawaiian island. 

Well, when we moved here almost a year and a half ago, one of the vows we made was visit all Hawaiian islands, our new home.  Since Niihau is off limits as a privately held land, that left Molokai as the last island for us yet to visit.  We've read that much has changed on this island since the days of Father Damian and the leper colony 130 years ago.  There are only 30 of the unfortunate patients left there now and the place is still off limits to visitors.  But we've heard of magnificent cliffs that rise 3,000 feet straight up from the ocean.  We read about pretty waterfalls in the island's interior and long sandy beaches.  So there was much to look forward to as we arrived in Lahaina harbor before sunrise on July 9 for a day's sail on Molokai Princess.

As we set on the upper deck of "Molokai Princess," a passenger ferry that runs four times daily between Maui and Molokai, we watched the day slowly stretch and wake up over the West Maui mountains.  The sunken sailboat (right), which has been in Lahaina harbor for years, also seemed to just yawn at the commotion in the harbor around it.

Once under way, we stretched out ourselves on the upper deck, enjoying the warmth of the sun at our backs and watching the growing image of Molokai ahead.  A little less than two hours after leaving Lahaina, "Molokai Princess" docked at Kaunakakai harbor (see the map below).

We were there by a large native driver/tour guide who ushered us into his minibus for a day's tour, dubbed Alii Tour.  What followed was one of the most boring tours we've ever taken.  The driver was hard to understand because of his accent (he said he was 75% Filipino).  Yet he talked practically non-stop for over five hours.  Mostly about nothing important, except to him and his family and friends, or to Hawaiian Trivial Pursuit players.  We never saw ANY of the sites we were hoping to visit, just retraced that blue route on the above map twice, once from each direction. 

When the tour mercifully ended around 3:10PM, we got out of the bus in town, and chose to walk about a mile back to the dock just to avoid this obnoxious and boring driver. We watched him from the ferry as he stood outside the van and milked the other passengers for tips with an outstretched hand as they disembarked from the minivan.  Today, I wrote a letter to , the company that recommended the tour to us, to complain about the poor quality of the tour and driver.  I told them the most exciting thing we did all day was a fairly rough crossing on the ferry's return sailing from Molokai to Maui.

Okay, with that "marketing pitch" out of the way, let us show you some of the good memories we were able to rescue from this mostly wasted effort and money.

Our first stop was in the middle of a lovely ironwood forest that surrounds the orignal leper colony (which, of course, we did not see).  The most memorable thing here, according to our guide, was a rock to which we hiked uphill for about five minutes.  He said it was a "fertility rock" in Hawaiian legends.  We could not understand why.  It was only after I copied the pictures from the camera to my computer and saw them on a large screen that I realized that Elizabeth is leaning in the middle picture on a giant phallic symbol.  :-) Well, you can probably imagine how I teased her over that when we got home.

Our next stop was a coffee tasting place at a plantation started over 150 years ago by one Rudolf Wilhelm Mayer, a German who had arrived on this island before the lepers.  Coffee was so-so, but seeing the original Mayer homesteads was interesting.

Next was a macadamia nut plantation, run today by a brother and a sister (middle right shot) - grandchildren of the original native Hawaiian who planted the trees back in 1927.  That was an interesting experience.  We ate as many delicious macadamia nuts as we could, and bought some more to take home.

 We took a break for lunch at the "oldest resort on the island of Molokai," according to our guide.  The place dates back to the early 1960s.  It was a welcome break from the non-stop chatter of our driver/guide.  I also found some interesting old posters in the open air lobby of the resort, the right one dating back to 1928, while the left one offered "Pan American Hawaii."

After lunch, we made a brief stop at St. Joseph's church, one of four Father Damian had built in his lifetime on the island.  You can read more about him in the middle left shot, a photo of a plaque outside the church.  The most memorable part of the one-hour's drive along the south coast of Molokai which followed was a sight of a Saguaro (middle right).  For these two former desert rats from Arizona, it was like a scene from back home.  The weather had also cleared so we could see the West Maui mountains across a 10-mile channel between the two islands (right).

Above are some of the views from our last stop on the tour, the easternmost end of that blue line route that I marked on the map of Molokai.

The trade winds from the northeast were very strong, as you can see by Elizabeth's hat and hair.  This is where I also discovered a couple of snorkelers with a dog patiently waiting for them at the beach.

Okay, a couple of "Trivial Pursuit"-type points about Molokai... The island has no traffic lights, no escalators and only one elevator.  More importantly, it supposedly has no homeless people, either.  Families are said to take care of their own, we were told.  However, the island's closed nature has cost it a lot of jobs in the last three decades, as many company that invested in Molokai closed their doors and left.  So there are pluses and minuses to just about everything in life.   There aren't many places in the world where you can have your cake and eat it, too.

As we were leaving the Kaunakakai harbor, some of the boys and girls were training in their outrigger canoes (two left pictures).  As I mentioned earlier, the crossing of the channel between Molokai and Maui was very rough on our homebound journey.  Bags and people were rolling around; seawater was seeping into clothes and bags everywhere, but Elizabeth was well prepared with her rainproof jacket. 

As we approached Lahaina harbor, we witnessed some of the most amazing rainbows...

The rainbows continued as we walked through the town on our way to the car and some shops.

There IS More to Molokai Than What We Saw

Here's a comment I received from Don Anthony. a friend from Texas, which proved that there IS a lot more to Molokai than what we had seen:

What a sad thing!   My wife and I went there 15 years ago with only a Lonely Planet, arriving and securing a rental car and hotel and with only that guide book leading us.  We managed to find the beautiful waterfall and go for a swim, just by following cryptic info about a band of plastic tied in this tree or that one or a pile of stones here or there marking the way.   Of course our hiking boots got soaked doing the zig zags up the stream.  

We also enjoyed the 50ís style atmosphere of the few restaurants there in the downtown area of???? (just had about 6 buildings along the road as the main town on the island)   I still remember the ripped red Maugahyde counter stools and the loud "snap" of the old-style screen door as it slammed on some Chinese restaurant that served a hearty breakfast for under $5.. It was just like going back to the 50ís, well of course until the only down side we met which was a teenager riding up and down the 1 block city in a red truck with his boom box blasting!  

Then one day we took a bus ride into the Leper Colony, a school bus driven by a resident.   He told us heart wrenching stories of his parents and the people he loved and lost while growing up there.   Very touching.   We toured the lower land where the lepers swam ashore from the boats where they were dumped out and then spent time in silence in Father Damianís church, just imagining what his life there must have been like and wondering how any soul could be that kind and dedicated to his brothers. We also rode the mule train up the mountain.   I still have a bumper sticker displayed on my homeís game room wall that says  "Wouldnít You Rather Be Riding A Mule On Molokai?"     What a wonderful experience, riding that mule up the mountain. 

We stayed in a cheap hotel, under $50 per night that I canít remember the name of.  We took 3 days to explore the island.  I loved the end of the road near the ??? falls, I just canít remember the name of the falls.  Getting there was like a short version of the old road to Hana (does that still exist?), where you had to honk your horn around every corner and luckily we never met another car.   It was quite a long walk to the falls from the end of the road and very exciting since it would have been so easy to get lost, but we made it there for a swim and back but it took most of the day to navigate it.  We also parked the car and went walking through some cow pastures, stopping to gaze at the sea.  

Very pleasant memories of Molokai, but today it may be filled with high rises and golf courses, but I sure hope not.   Molokai and the Big Island have to be my favorites.  Why donít you try going back and just using a LP as your tour guide?   However, for all I know the island may have changed to the point of no longer allowing this level of exploring and be covered with tourists.  I hope not!

Anyway, wish I had been with you and we would have ditched that guy and had a ball on our own.

Cheers from Texas Ö..

Don Anthony    

P.S.  Feel free to publish this if it interests you.  Otherwise no sweat either way.

And no, Don, still no high rises, golf course, or any other developments.  As a matter of fact, there is probably now LESS of that kind of "progress" than 15 years ago.  As I said, many companies have closed their operations in Molokai and pulled out.  We have a sense that's because the locals did not make the newcomers feel welcome. They wanted the mainland and money and jobs but not new neighbors and lifestyles.

And yes, the road to Hana is still very much around with as many curves as before.  But it is paved now and somewhat easier to navigate.  Check it out...

Surviving the Road to Hana - Take Two (June 2009)

And that's all she wrote from the day we played tourists on the last Hawaiian island for us to visit.

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