Exploring Molokai travel blog

Only signage to be found leaving Molokai Airport

Crowded airport parking area on a busy morning

Today would take us from MP 13, on the eastern part of Molokai, back through the main village of Kaunakakai, on on to the small Molokai airport. But even before departing we had yet another reminder of how different this Island is from other Islands we’ve visited in Hawaii. As we turned off the narrow lane leading to the airport, we had a greater understanding of the only signage a visitor sees here when leaving the airport. One of the three small signs reads: “Slow down, this is Molokai”. That’s exactly what we’d found ourselves doing these past six days. From our initial expectations to “seeing the whole Island on Day One”, we’d been slowly acclimating to the pace here. Interestingly, we noted this time as well there is not even the smallest of signs that would point the first-time visitor in the direction of town...

Even our impressions of the airport itself were now different. We arrived at approximately 9:00 AM to turn in our rental car, and prepare to board the “puddle jumper” flight to Honolulu that would connect with our outbound flight to Portland. This time we were capable of noticing something quite exceptional: how few people we’d see at this airport. Directly in front of the small terminal building there is free parking. And yet we could count the number of cars parked there on the fingers of one hand. Stephanie remarked, “This is how airports really ought to be!”. Inside, while waiting to board our inter-island flight, we chatted with an EMT who rotates on and off of Molokai for several days per month (he loves it here, in part because it offers fabulous diving). He remarked that until quite recently, it was even more “laid back” than it is at present, because the TSA did not even have a presence at this small airport.

Looking back at our days here, all that seemed to fit into place. Even WITH the recent arrival of TSA, there are only a very few travelers departing with each flight. It’s not one of those “the line starts here” events. Rather, there’s time for a casual conversation with the folks doing the screening; and you really only need to get here about 10 minutes before the scheduled departure.

Those last images of our departure from this Island invite some reflections on our stay here, and might perhaps be of interest to others contemplating Molokai as a “different” type of experience when contemplating time in Hawaii. Understandably, some might have already concluded Molokai is “not for them”. Please read no farther. For the rest, we’d like to offer some tidbits of advice.

Though the Island is comparatively small, it most certainly is not a place you can “see all in one day” as some of the advertisements might suggest (particularly those that offer the one-day ferry trip from Molokai). Stephanie adds: A good friend, (one we met at lunch one day), told about a trip she took from Molokai to Maui one afternoon. She asked one of the Maui tourists what they had seen on Molokai. “We saw everything”, the other said smugly. The whole Island in 6 hours, and still had time for lunch!

The main roadways, of course all two lane, are paved. But every one of them is a “dead end”. Translation: You can’t take one road out and another back. From “town”, which is the small village of Kaunakakai, highway 450 goes exactly 28 miles east. The last 8 miles will take much longer than the first 20, as it becomes essentially a one lane road at that point. But the vistas are spectacular. In fact, this was our favorite part of the entire Island.

Going west from “town”, Highway 460 will take you to the west end of the Island (and back). Here’s where you will find miles and miles of pristine sandy beach with few or no people to be seen. For the most part, despite their beauty, these are not the beaches you will want to seek out for swimming or snorkeling. Yet with good local advice, a map, and some good instructions, we’re told there are some special hike-to spots that would be special choices for swimming/snorkeling. We just didn’t have time to get there -- on this trip.

Going north from town, you’ll encounter some special attractions (Coffees of Hawaii, Macademia Nut Farm, Kumu Farms, Sugar Mill/Museum) that will lead you (again, one-way) to the overlook of the Kalaupapa peninsula. If you have four-wheel drive, there are a lot of other inviting, but one-way, dirt roads that can take you to some amazing places on Molokai.

Weather? Probably about like most of the Islands, Molokai experiences wetter weather windward, to the north and east; and dryer weather to the west and south. But even in the portions that get more rain, it’s a bit more tropical, lush and greener; and in general the showers come and go. Even when the showers pass through, it’s still warm. Check the charts for monthly rainfall and temperatures. It’s likely to be wonderful wherever and whenever you are here.

Compared to the “main” tourist Islands, Molokai is a world apart. You’ll not find tall buildings, traffic, stoplights, or major resorts here. If that’s what you’re looking for, don’t go to Molokai. If, on the other hand, you’re into the genuine, old-time Hawaiian experience, you’ve found the right place. The main village, Kaunakakai, is still a small town. Don’t look for a Wal-Mart or big box store here. Instead savor the plain architecture of a town you might have seen anywhere in mid-America in the 1950s. If only all of the cars could be of the same vintage (and some are!) the scene along “Main Street (it has a very different name, but you get the drift) would be complete.

Perhaps one of the things that one remembers from this Island are the people. It prides itself as “the Friendly Island” -- and rightfully so. The population here is decidedly middle America -- Hawaiian style. The language is English, but the dialect is very much Hawaiian. And especially noteworthy is the incredibly friendly nature of the people who live here. Any visitor who fails to recognize this has simply not reached out to the locals, because they are part of an exceptionally warm and welcoming community.

Many visitors will of course wonder -- “Where should I stay? Where should I eat?” It would be presumptuous for us to be able to answer that one. But based on our experience it’s at leas worth a try. The three main “places to stay” (and there are more) are (i) in town, (ii) on the west end of the island; and (iii) on the east end of the island.

We had discounted the “in town” options, including the Molokai Hotel, because “who wants to stay in town” when you’re on such a pristine island. That turns out not to be accurate. The Molokai Hotel is about two miles east of what is really just a village, not a large “downtown” area, and is situated right at the water’s edge. You’re inside the reef here, so the water is relatively calm. This is not the best candidate for a swimming beach, but it is a popular kayaking spot. It truly is scenic, the outdoor dining we found to be excellent, and like most of Molokai a most hospitable place. Your swimming, snorkeling, hiking, and exploring will likely be elsewhere on the island. But that’s not far away either. Just leave yourself plenty of time, and don’t try to do everything in one day!

The west end seems to be where most of the “resort” areas are established. Here’s where you’ll find pristine beaches that extend for miles. But you’re not likely to want to swim here because the surf tends to be very rough, and likely dangerous. And though there are some nicely maintained resort properties here, it seems that time and the economy have not worked in their favor. The one golf course that likely attracted the resort areas that are here has been abandoned, and only traces of it can be seen from an occasional glimpse at what was once a cart path. The shrubs, grasses and weeds have quickly reclaimed their own.

The east end offers only limited accommodations. Some would be rental homes. But the largest complex here is Wavecrest, a 100+ collection of condominium units contained in three three-story buildings. The grounds are very nicely maintained, and include a good sized swimming pool, covered outdoor barbeque area, and pavilion. This is where we stayed, and therefore have a bit more knowledge about this property. It would be our choice again for a return visit to Molokai, but some caveats deserve mention.

First, although all three buildings are near the water, only Building “A” is actually adjacent to it. Each of the three buildings has three stories, and there are no elevators. Some might find the ground level units more to their liking; while others might prefer the enhanced view from above. The coast here is mostly lava rock, and shallow out for perhaps a half mile to the reef that protects this part of the island.

Second, very clearly all units are not created equal. Perhaps they were when they were first constructed. But many have been significantly remodeled, and offer far more comfortable accommodations. The quality of the underlying construction is “okay”, but not of the quality that provides good sound insulation in the event the units above or adjacent are occupied by visitors who are into noisy living. Of particular importance if choosing to stay here is to find a unit that is nicely furnished, is well-maintained, and has a caring owner that has anticipated every need and interest of prospective occupants. We feel we lucked out on this score with our rental of A-112.

Toby French, the owner, has provided a thorough guide to her unit at Wavecrest, and to Molokai. The unit is very well stocked with dishes and cooking utensils. Even the “odd” items, a garlic press or lemon juicer, are there. When you’re not cooking, (and I did very little of that!), there’s a box full of snorkel equipment and beach towels. She keeps a small library of books about the Islands, and we read about the settlement at Kalaupapa before we visited. I had brought along a book on the birds of Hawaii; it wasn’t half as informative as hers. One of her books about Molokai, what to see and how to get there, went with us on our travels every day.

A word about transportation. A rental car is essential, and we were fortunate to discover a great way to enjoy renting from a "Major" car rental company at a very substantial discount. Alamo is the only major brand car rental company on Molokai. We checked their rates with them directly, and got a quote. Then we contacted the online car rental service for Hawaii at www.hawaiicarrentaldiscount.com, and were able to get an extremely generous discount for the same class of car from the same place (Alamo) -- right at the airport.

And so it was -- six delightful days on an amazingly different Island. With hindsight, this clearly deserves it reputation of the “Friendly Island”. It might also rightfully be called the “Hawaiian Island”!

End of this Journal -- and perhaps we’ll see you in this medium again next from French Polynesia in November... Meantime, we’ll be back to www.rversonline.org

Stephanie and Tom

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