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Island Hopping - Molokai

South Shore (the "tame" side) | Back Side, or North Shore of Molokai | Penguin Banks

Rated in the top ten sustainable island destinations by National Geographic. If you're looking for the real Hawai'i, old Hawai'i, breathtaking natural beauty, rain forests or deserted beaches, Molokai is it.

Molokai offers a nearly complete retreat from tourism and crowds, where the pace is slow and locals will sit and chat with visitors, open to telling their stories. More than 60 percent of the population are native Hawaiians interested in preserving their heritage, homesteads, and family values. Fortunately, change has pretty much ignored Molokai. You will find no fast food chains, no elevators, traffic signals, or crowds. You will only find a sense of peace and serenity.

Penguin Banks
whale watch, dolphin encounters, penguin banks

Penguin Bank, one of Hawai'i's premier fishing sites, lies off the southwest coast of Moloka'i (and an hour south of Oahu). But no penguins live there and the "bank" refers to an important, extensive shallow marine habitat (similar to a huge seamount), an abundant and diverse fishing ground, and is also part of the Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary.

Home to Hawaii’s largest concentration of endangered humpback whales and other cetaceans, including the rare beaked whales. The productive area is also an important feeding ground for Hawaiian monk seals, and holds the largest possiblities of seeing whale sharks!

HMS Penguin, a British survey ship, inbound to Honolulu for supplies during an expedition to make deep-sea soundings in the Pacific at the close of the 19th century, inadvertently discovered the 28-mile shoal or "bank" 180 feet deep, giving it its name.

South Shores:

Moloka‘i, with the most extensive coral reef in the main Hawaiian Islands, is especially sacred to Hina, the Goddess of the Moon, the Mother of the Hawaiian people; the Goddess of Fishermen; and the Goddess who gave birth to coral, coral reefs, and all spiny marine organisms.

Hale `o Lono Harbor

Tucked into the lee of the bluffs and only three and a half miles from the Laau Point Lighthouse on the friendly island of Molokai lies a fully break-watered harbor, a small airstrip, and a beach where seclusion is the rule rather than the exception. It is here at Hale’o’Lono that most Oahu boaters looking for a getaway end up spending the night, either as a part of the adventure, or on the way to or from another Hawaiian destination. We have sighted whale shark's near this harbor more than once!

In ancient times there was a heiau (temple) located in the area dedicated to the god, Lono. Hence, the naming of the beach and harbor "House of Lono". Lono, one of the major gods brought to the islands by the Polynesians who settled here, is the uncle to Pele, goddess of fire. He was often visualized as a dark cloud, waterspout, or whirlwind.

The barge harobr was built to transport sand from Papohaku Beach - contSnorkel Molokai Reefaining the largest body of calcareous sand
in Hawai'i - to Waikiki. .

Longest Fringing Reef in Hawaii

30 mile "fringing reef." This means that the reef crest is a half mile to a mile offshore and the unspoiled reef is just beyond that. This serves as both a positive and a negative.

On the upside, the reef is not trampled on or damaged by inexperienced swimmers & snorkelers and thus remains completely natural and undamaged. However, it is hard to access by shore, thus, to see the exceptional reef, a boat excursion is the best option. Trips include Kamalo Reef, Polaau Reef and Kole Camp..

Kaunakakai Wharf

This active harbor is located across the main highway from the island's main city of Kaunakakai. Here is where all commercial and ferry boats dock and where all essential goods are delivered to the island via tug boats and barges. We may stop here for shore excursions or a run to the bakery for Molokai Sweetbread.

Due to the shallow mud flats along the coast, the wharf extends almost ½ mile offshore. From the end of the wharf you can view the town, the south coast, and Maui and Lanai. The stone foundation behind the canoe club at the beginning of the wharf was the site for King Kamehameha V's summer retreat in Molokai.

The coral reef on the west coast is one of the most extensive and beautiful in the islands.

East Molokai - Moku Ho'oniki & Kanaha Rock (Offshore Islands) These two islands are situated side by side approximately one mile off the southeast coast of Molokai. They are pre-historic cinder cones with dark, crumbly cliffs. Moku Ho'oniki Island was used during WWII for bombing practice. Today the small island is uninhabitable due to unexploded warheads still on the island. It is now home to sea birds and coastal plants. There are several dive sites surrounding these rocks but the area is subject to strong currents.

North Shore, or "Back Side" of Molokai

Millions of vacationers visited our islands each year, and of those visitors, less than 1% visit Molokai. Only a handful of those who visited left the island with the knowledge that they were within a few miles of the world’s tallest and most amazing sea cliffs. Even fewer actually saw them. Secret, secluded beaches, sea birds, and cascading waterfalls provide incredible, photogenic scenery, but only in summer.

From Cape Halawa on the east end to Kalaupapa in the middle, the stretch of the northeastern coast of Molokai is arguably the most beautiful place on Earth. What makes it so beautiful is its sheer majesty and natural glamour juxtaposed with its difficult access. The North shore of Molokai, or "the back side" as the locals call it, is almost completely inaccessible by land, and even a helicopter would have difficulty finding a place to set down for a peek. For the most part, it can only be accessed by boat.Several of these areas provide rare native habitat for threatened or endangered Hawaiian plants and animals.

Offshore waters are appearing to be important habitat for Hawaii's marine mammals. In 2009 Fin and Sei whales were sighted here. In 2010, tagged pilot whales spent most of the fall and winter traversing the water parallel to land. False killer whales are also known to travel the ledges.

If you are looking for an adventure of a lifetime and a story to tell when you get home, then consider the back side of Molokai. It’s beauty and majesty will live in your mind forever. Photos from two days on the back side of Molokai, Day 1 Kalaupapa | Day 2 Sea Cliffs. We’d recommend at least a four day trip to fully experience, and, if possible. a flexible schedule for the best window of weather.

"Alone you are more aware of surroundings, wary as an animal to danger, limp and relaxed when the sun, the brown earth, or the deep grass say, “Rest now.” Alone, you stand at night alert, poised, hearing through ears and open mouth and fingertips. Alone, you do not worry whether someone else is tired or hungry or needing. You push yourself hard or quit for the day, reveling in the luxury of solitude. And being unconcerned with human needs, you become a fish, a boulder, a tree—a part of the world around you.The only real security is not insurance or money or a job, not a house and furniture paid for, or a retirement fund, and never is it another person. It is the skill and humor and courage within, the ability to build your own fires and find your own peace." -Audrey Sutherland

Kalaupapa:Kalaupapa Wharf, Molokai

A rich and beautiful landscape, it was home for almost 1,000 years to Hawaiians, who farmed the land and fished the sea. The area was cleared by desperate officials in 1865, its residents turned away to provide a place to isolate victims of Hansen's Disease (leprosy). The decision uprooted a generation of Hawaiians from their lands and tore many loved ones from their families. Hawaii’s isolation laws were finally abolished in 1969, and remaining patients were allowed to relocate if they chose to. Kalaupapa was once a sprawling and lively community, now graves outnumber patients nearly 200 to 1.

You can see the original church and buildings built by Father Damien to care for the afflicted who were once marooned on these shores. Evidence of this occupation is relatively undisturbed and represents one of the richest archaeological preserves in Hawaii. Map of Kalaupapa

Ha`upu Bay and Waioho`okala Falls Molokai

Waioho`okala Falls MolokaiThe falls are a short swim or kayak from the boat. Pure clean water in a refreshing cascade. Native freshwater fish and prawns in the pool below. A sanctuary for the spirit, a pristine and wild place.

Sea Caves - large enough for our onboard kayak to explore. Opihi and Limu grow abundantly, seabirds nest, and other sealife can be observed in the crystal clear water. One cave has two entrances, a deep recess and a water level overhang right near the eastern entrance. This overhang, when combined with the sunlight in the afternoon, creates a color of aquamarine/topaz/indigo in the water that simply must be witnessed to be believed.

Pelekunu Valley, Molokai

Pelekunu is now "owned" and managed by the Nature Conservancy. This 5,759 acre preserve was established to protect the free-flowing Pelekunu Valley Stream System which is one of the best in the State. Pelekunu contains nearly all the native Hawaiian aquatic fish, crustacean, and mollusk species. In addition, 27 rare plant, 5 endemic forest bird, and 2 endemic land snail species have been reported from the area. In the mid to late Seventies, several families were able to acquire homestead property in this valley. They lived as a community for several years and created a home schooling program for the children. Most of the families were able to stay for several years and one family lived there for eight years. Because of the children's awareness of the outside world, it was difficult for the parents to restrain their teenaged children's desire to be part of that world. The last family left in 1984.

North Shore Molokai, island hopping by boatWailau Valley

Wailau translates into "Many Waters". When the valley first comes into view, the abundant waterfalls and fluted cliffs verifies the name. Its width is broad and its depth goes back four miles. It is the largest of north Molokai's valleys. Unlike Papalaua, Wailua has a fairly wide sandy beach to land on. The east side of the shore where the river mouth is located, is made of boulders. Curiously, there are several man made structures that are mysteriously abandoned on that side of the beach. These structures are mostly made of bamboo and tarps. Some are surprisingly complex in their design and have amenities such as gas stoves and queen size beds. According to the "locals" we came across, the inhabitants are usually there in the summer then leave when the kids need to go back to school in the fall.


Kukaiwaa Point

East of Kalaupapa, at 1,750 feet the highest sea cliff in the world. The pali continue their near-vertical plunge to 2000 feet below sea level. Molokai is home to two waterfalls which are known, to drop further than Yosemite Falls. Olo’upena Falls, at 2953 feet and Pu'uka'oku Falls at 2756 feet, both are located here on the northern shore of Molokai. However, they lie on very small streams, and may flow only during the rainy season.

Papalua and Kahiwa Falls, MolokaiPapalaua Valley

Rounding Haka'a'ano Point, one's breath is taken away at first sight of this valley and its magnificent waterfall. Papalaua has been carved by the Kawai Nui Stream. Papalaua Falls cascades 1644 feet from the the top down 5 tiered drops with an average volume of 50 cubic feet a second.Kahiwa and Papalaua Falls

Kahiwa falls (to the right), the tallest waterfall in Hawaii, has 6 tiers totalling 2165 feet. The highest drop is almost 550 ft. tall, Kahiwa Falls can be observed only from the sea or from air. At strong winds the waterfall may get caught and rise upwards.

Just west of Papalaua Valley is Kikipua Point. Just past the point is a series of flattened ledges along the coast, we noticed a man made structure on one of these ledges. There are no land routes to it from the rest of the island and therefore only accessible by sea. Legends said this heiau (Hawaiian place of worship) was built by Alapai, a great shark hunter of Molokai who captured their decomposing bodies on a dish, which were taken out to sea, the drip of the decomposition attracting sharks. The area might have been used as a training site because of its isolation.

Halawa Valley, and Beach Park is actually made up of two beaches - Kama'alaea Beach (the curved beach on the left) and Kawilli Beach (the rocky, more exposed beach on the right). The two beaches together form a curved bay-type area at this eastern end of the island.

West End Molokai

Ilio Point (northwest End) -- Ilio Point is recognized for its extraordinary natural resources. It contains significant geological features of lithified sand dunes, sea cliffs, and subfossil bird bones and land snails. The coastal vegetation is particularly rich, with 23 native plant species. Some, extremely rare and only found in Molokai.The endangered Hawaiian monk seal also has been seen resting at ‘Ilio Point.

Dragon's Teeth "spitting" seacave here has two rock formations haning from the roof of the cave, looking like dragon's teeth. Great snorkling nearby.

Kapukahehu (Dixie Maru) Beach (West End) -- This gold-sand cove is well protected, and the reef is shallow. The name Dixie Maru comes from a 1920s Japanese fishing boat stranded off the rocky shore. One of the Molokai Ranch cowboys hung the wrecked boat's nameplate on a gate by Kapukahehu Beach, and the name stuck.

What can I do on land whie visitng Molokai?

  • Hike through the breathtaking Halawa Valley where low stretches of stone walls stand as the only archaeological evidence of the seventh-century settlement of temples and the taro patches that once thrived there. A four-mile round-trip hike, a gentle climb up to isolated Moaula Falls, 250 feet down a sheer cliff. The Halawa Valley is a patchwork of private land, and you are prohibited from hiking to the falls without the escort of a paid guide, typically a local property owner. $75 Contact Lawrence Aki at (808)-553-98
  • Kalaupapa National Historical Park where 100 years ago lepers were deposited into the churning ocean waters just offshore and told, in effect, to sink or swim. Learn about the selfless acts of Father Damien via the Molokai mule ride on Kalaupapa Trail, where you will encounter breaks in the foliage that permit views of some of the most inaccessible coastline in the world: 800-567-7550; www.muleride.com. Must be at least 16; best to book far in advance. Seven-hour tour, including a tour of the colony with a Damien Tours guide, entry fee to the park and lunch, $165. Contact the Molokai Mule Ride, (808) 567-6088 or Damien Tours at (808) 567-6171;
  • Boat out to see the world’s tallest sea cliffs (3600 feet) along the North Shore


Paddlers Inn, 10 Mohala Street, Kaunakakai; (808) 553-5256. Up the street from the Molokai Hotel, by a parking lot, the inn has indoor and outdoor seating. The brightly lighted dining room is a little short of atmosphere but the food -- your standard island menu of seafood, steak and salads -- is more than adequate. The restaurant, open daily, shuts down by 9 p.m. Dinner for two, about $100.

Kanemitsu Bakery and Coffee Shop, 79 Ala Malama Street, Kaunakakai; (808) 553-5855. They bake lavosh here, a crisp, light flatbread in a variety of flavors (try the sesame or cinnamon), and Molokai bread, a round white loaf -- definitely worth a detour. The coffee shop is open 11:30 a.m. to 11:30 p.m. daily.

Car Rentals
If you want to go onshore whilel on Molokai, you will need a car to see the island and to get around. Distances are long and there isn't public transportation. Cars on the island can sell out in advance due to large funtions, i.e. weddings, reunions, etc. Be sure to plan accordingly.
Alamo Rent a Car (800 462-5266 )is the only national brand car rental company on Molokai. They are open daily from 6:00am to 7:00pm and their local phone number is 808-567-6289. (No answer machine. Calls not answered when assisting customers at counter.)

Discounted rates best found on-line. Search Google for discount codes for your rental.

Local knowledge: Best weekly rates are for Sunday-Monday-Tuesday arrivals.
Island Kine Auto Rentals is a local company and will meet your flight/ferry arrival. Call them toll free at (877) 553-5242 or their local number at (808) 553-5242 or email info1@molokai-car-rental.com
Scooter Rentals
Molokai Scooter Rentals 808-658-0602 -email
Renting for $42 per day. (One person scooters)

Gas Stations
There are only two gas stations to obtain gas for your car on the island. Note: There is no gas station at the airport, West End or East End of the island.

The Chevron station 553-3214 in Kaunakakai is a "Pay at the Pump" station accepting Credit and Debit Cards. They have a snacks/drinks and a mini-fast/local food counter.
Monday-Thursday 7:00am - 8:30pm
Friday - Saturday 7:30am - 8:30pm
Sunday 7:00am - 6:00pm.
Hele Mai Taxi 808-336-0967
Kukui Tours & Limo Service 808-552-2282
Molokai Off-Road Tour & Taxi 808-553-3369

Interactive Maps of Molokai

SeaEscape / Untamed Expeditions - What to Expect Onboard


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