Recently in Molokai Category

Fly Away Home


Today is the last day of our time on Molokai.  I think it's the sign of a good vacation when you aren't strictly ready to leave, but are comfortable with the leaving process.   We've enjoyed our stay on Molokai a great deal.  The location of the house we rented was beautiful, the house itself was a warm place, with art and personality that made it a wonderful place to stay.  The island itself is laid back and understated with friendly people and uncrowded beaches.  It's a place where you can grab a coconut out of your yard and have fresh coconut for a snack (because a native demonstrated the art of coconut dissection) and a place where there's abundant wind for kite flying and even a three year old can keep her kite aloft.  It's not a place you go for fine dining, but you can find some excellent ice cream and between 9:30 and 10 on most nights you can get hot fresh bread with fruit and cream cheese filling to wrap up the evening -- if you're willing to explore the alleys in Kaunakakai.

Molokai is an island of beautiful beaches, waterfalls, ranch-lands and seacliffs.  In that respect, it is much like the other Hawaiian islands we have visited.  What sets it apart is how much effort its residents put into working to develop tourism on their own terms.  You won't find big hotels and resorts here. Cruise boats don't stop here.  Jets don't fly here.  There are no huge tour operators to take you snorkeling or surfing.  Night life is the local band playing poolside at the Hotel Molokai on a Friday night.  You have to come here because you want to come here and then be prepared to experience the island just like those who live here.

For us, Molokai was the perfect place to unwind, be at peace and recharge.  When we're back in Chicago, I know we'll have good island memories to sustain us as we make our way through fall and winter.

Aloha and Mahalo to the wonderful Island of Molokai!

Phallic Rock Walk

Sometimes geology is stranger than fiction.  If you're visiting the Kaluapapa Overlook, you really can't pass up the trip to Phallic Rock.

Directions to Phallic Rock

It's a beautiful walk through ironwood pine forest to the site of Phalliic Rock. If you follow the link above, you can find out more about the local mythology about the rock. Suffice it to say, it's related to a local fertility god, and, to this day, women will climb on the rock and leave small offerings (little coins, flowers, etc.) in hopes of improving their chances of having children. Some of us who have a three year old to remind us of the perils of fertility rituals gave the rock wide berth, The curious three year old, however, had no such hesitation.

Z Meets Phallic Rock

Her reaction in this photo amused me no end -- but no worries, no three year olds were lastingly traumatized for the production of this picture. She just thought it was a cool rock to climb on. I thought having her in the picture would also give some perspective as to the size of this rock. If I was standing below the head (so to speak) I was still rather shorter than the tip... so it's a pretty impressive piece of stony manhood representation.

Offering Place on Phallic Rock

The offering space is just behind the head, in a little hollow. A group that arrived before us left a few small things there, and we had a discussion with Z about leaving the change undisturbed and being respectful of other traditions. The area does have a very quiet, contemplative feeling. It is not so hard to imagine someone, long ago, coming here to quietly contemplate and pray for fertility (it's not so hard to imagine someone doing it today... but one imagines that one might have to share one's contemplation with more than a few others also interested in seeing the rock, which might lessen the meditative quality).

Z Sitting on a Rock Near Phallic Rock

Z is entering that phase where she is very aware of what taking pictures means and she has become quite a camera ham -- but usually she only graces us with strange smiles and funny faces. This picture is a rare, genuine smile -- destined for a place on my desk when we get back home from vacation.

Halawa Valley

Our next trip was to another interesting and important destination on Molokai -- Halawa Valley.  This valley was the site of an early Hawaiian settlement and once was home to 5000 people.  It is a valley noted for it's waterfalls and river that would provide fresh water to those living there.  Even though the Hawaiian Islands are surrounded by the Pacific Ocean, fresh water is a serious issue on all the Islands.  Early inhabitants would have had to locate near a place where they could count on year-round fresh water sources, which they could find in the Halawa Valley.

If you want to find waterfalls to hike to, this is the place to come.

Falls in Halawa Valley

There are actually two easy to hike to falls in the valley. I'm not sure which one this is. Both can be viewed from different vantage points on the road or in the valley itself. We didn't attempt the hike with a small person in tow, but we admired them from where we could.

Halawa Valley Beach Overview

The beach area in Halawa Valley is lovely and provides protected swimming and beach-combing. It has some of the same minerals as the black sand beaches, which gives the sand those dark rings. When you enter into it, you can almost imagine the early Hawaiian settlement here.

House on the Beach

There are still people who live in the area. It's a little hard to imagine given how long it takes to get from Halawa to Kaunakakai. Folks out here clearly have to be pretty self-sufficient. But it was easy to romanticize this as the perfect South Pacific hideaway.

Coastal View, Looking South

Certainly the views would be lovely!

We weren't the only one who came in to enjoy the beach.

Hawaiian Monk Seal on Halawa Beach

We were very fortunate to see this Hawaiian Monk Seal sunning on the beach. These seals are very endangered and only a small population are believed to remain, so seeing one in person doesn't happen very often. We came upon it almost by accident -- the seal itself almost looks like a big rock, if you're not paying attention. We kept our distance out of respect for the seal (all my photos look close due to the telephoto lens John gifted me with a while back) but enjoyed watching it for a while.

John and Z in Halawa Valley

Ms. Z is proving to be an excellent little hiker. She has her own backpack and insists on keeping it with her. She carried our water and some snacks. She also did a good job of walking carefully and observing rather than absconding with the environment, She was fascinated by all the rocks, plants, sticks and wave action going on around her. When I saw this picture, I was struck by how much little girl I saw in her face. She's only three, but there's just not much baby left in there! When we're in the car, she reads the traffic signs to us and she tries to sound out words that she doesn't know. She asks interesting questions and constantly reminds us that she's a thinking little person in her own right. We talk about visiting Hawaii a lot... I hope somewhere in her developing brain some memories of Molokai are being stored....

Kalaupapa Overlook

One of the things that Molokai is most famous for is having been made the site of a particularly unpleasant leper colony in the 1860's after the passage of a law requiring the isolation of Hansen's Disease sufferers on the Kalaupapa Peninsula.   The Kalaupapa Peninsula is a beautiful little jut of land on the northern side of the island.  It was selected because of the high cliff walls (Molokai boasts the highest sea cliffs in the world) that separated the peninsula from the main island would make it almost impossible for those suffering from Hansen's Disease to leave the area.  The story of the area is both tragic and heroic, and the area has now been made into a National Park (you can read more about it here).  Even today, access to the area is limited to those arriving by small aircraft or hiking down the cliffs on foot or by mule (when we were there, the last two were not an option because of weather damage to the trails), and those under 16 are not allowed because of rules established by the Hawaii Department of Public Health.  Thus, we had to do our observing from the Kalaupapa Overlook (what Ms. Z now refers to as a "tree park").

The Walk through the Trees to the Kalaupapa Overlook

Kalaupapa Overlook Sign

Northern Tip of Kalaupapa Peninsula (with View of Airstrip)

Kalaupapa Town

Beach on Southwest Portion of the Peninsula

Cliffs Above Kalaupapa Peninsula

The settlements on the peninsula were, in large part, developed and fostered by Father Damien (who was canonized in 2009 and is now St. Damien), who helped to create structure and some hope for people who were literally dumped off the shores of the peninsula to die (often they weren't even brought to shore, but were tossed out into the ocean to swim to land). After he died of Hansen's Disease himself, much of his work was continued by Mother Marianne. In the 1940's sulfone drugs (antibiotics) were developed that halted the spread of leprosy (the Mycobaterium leprae bacteria that causes the disease requires human contact -- and not all humans are equally susceptible). And the law passed requiring the isolation of such patients in Hawaii was repealed in 1969, allowing all patients to leave if they chose. To this day, some elderly former patients do still reside on the peninsula.

This short hike gave us much to see and left us much to think about. 

Rainy Day Flowers

Sunday was a rainy day, Molokai style.  All the beautiful green of Hawaii couldn't exist without the rain, so we've learned to see the beauty in the rainy days as well as the sunny.  Misty sprinkles falling down, Maui no longer visible through the clouds.  We don't have any rain gear (and rainy hiking with a 3 year old isn't our idea of fun) so we hung around the lovely house we rented and enjoyed indoor options.

Swing Under the Trees

Plumeria in the Rain at Puko'o

Hibiscus in the Rain at Puko'o

Z Tries on Her First Swim Goggles By Herself

This is the first year where Z has been over the top excited about the beach and the water.  So we decided her first swim goggles were in order.  She still has to work out a few details about orientation, but she insisted on putting them on by herself -- so she gets points for that.  She has developed a fascination with the palm trees and the coconuts they drop, and has started to collect them and bring them to the house.  In order to help her understand what they are, John opened one up and we enjoyed the coconut inside.  Since Z doesn't get much opportunity to see where food comes from, I loved that we had this chance for a little demonstration!

Papohaku Beach

Molokai is often called "The Most Hawaiian of Islands".  This is because of both the number of people of native Hawaiian descent who live here, and also because of how "old Hawaii" the place feels and acts.  Molokai is beautiful and understated and presents itself with a "this is what I am, take me or leave me" kind of attitude.  You won't find big resorts, cruise ships or big tourist water sports schools and options that come with Maui.  It's more low key than low key Kauai. It's a place where you want to get up early in the morning with the sunrise and go to bed early after you've had a chance to see more stars (and Jupiter!) than you've ever seen before after the sun sets (making for a great opportunity to pull out the iPad and use the start chart app John found).  In short, you couldn't ask for a more relaxing place to take a vacation -- but you do have to be prepared to do a few more things on your own and to be open to being your own tour guide.

On Saturday, we decided it was time to explore Maunaloa town and the western half of the Island.  The western side has been devastated economically by the loss of the Dole Pineapple plantation that used to be there (in the mid-1980's) and the loss of the Molokai Ranch & properties in 2008 (which included one of the upscale lodging options) when the locals decided they did not want the same level of development that the the owners of the Ranch did.  (If you want to read more about all of this, I recommend checking out the Molokai Dispatch, a local news source). The area feels like the west side of the Big Island or the west side of Kauai... sprawling, dry and beautiful in its own way,   It's also home to Papohaku Beach... a three mile length of white sand beach that is one of the most lovely beaches we've seen in Hawaii. And since I've been informed by several folks that beach pictures would be appreciated...

Exploring Papohaku Beach on the West Side of Molokai
Papohaku Beach, View to the South

Exploring Papohaku Beach on the West Side of Molokai
Papohaku Beach, View to the North

Exploring Papohaku Beach on the West Side of Molokai
Rocky Outcropping North of Papohaku Beach

Exploring Papohaku Beach on the West Side of Molokai
John and Z Take in the Waves at Papohaku Beach

Exploring Papohaku Beach on the West Side of Molokai
High Surf at Papohaku Beach

Unfortunately, just like Kekaha Beach on Kauai, the waves on this beach were much too strong to consider going for a swim, especially with a small person in tow.  But the beach was stunning and it would have been easy to sit and watch the waves for hours.

The Aliens Have Landed


The Aliens are coming!


Fortunately they are beautiful.

And they come in peace.

Sunrise from Puko'o

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After a series of small misadventures, we have completed our 5th journey out to Hawaii and landed on the beautiful island of Molokai.  Molokai is to the north and west of Maui, but it couldn't feel more different than Maui.   It's quiet and residential and you have to work hard to find another tourist to talk to. 


The house we are renting is a beach front location in Puko'o. It faces south and east, giving us the opportunity to see beautiful sunrises over the ocean (the little spur of land to the right of the image is Maui).



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