Top 10 Moloka'i travel experiences

Lonely Planet has produced this article for Moloka'i Visitors Association. All views are Lonely Planet's alone and reflect our view of editorial independence and impartiality.

Picking a Hawaiian island for a trip has the potential to induce a bout of pre-trip anxiety. How do you choose? If you’re looking for an island that celebrates the geography and the indigenous culture, one where the pace is so relaxing that it quickly melts away any lingering anxieties, then Moloka’i is the isle for you. While you could easily spend your time on Moloka’i happily watching the clouds drift by, there’s more than enough to keep you busy exploring the ins and outs of the island. Here are 10 top travel picks for any trip to Moloka’i:

1. Halawa Valley

Entering Molokai’s Halawa Valley is like stepping back in time. In pre-contact Moloka’i the valley had a population of more than 1000 and a complex irrigation system watering extensive taro fields, but today is nearly uninhabited. Hike with a guide through dense tropical forest to swim at the base of towering waterfalls and take in the remarkably untouched scenery.

2. Kumimi Beach

Also known as Murphy’s Beach (or Twenty Mile Beach because of the nearest mile marker on the road), Kumimi Beach is protected by a reef, and has a large lagoon that is calm and shallow enough for kids making this a top choice for families. Past the shallows, snorkelers will be rewarded with schools of fish, living sponges, octopuses and much more.

3. Local grinds

Dig into the foods the locals love, and stop for a plate lunch in Puko’o at Mana’e Goods & Grindz. Tender yet crispy chicken katsu, specials such as pork and peas, and standards like excellent teriyaki burgers. Everything is homemade, the potato salad is superb and the mac salad is simply the island’s best. Picnic tables are shaded by trees and there’s a little garden.

Kualapu’u Cookhouse serves some of the island's best food, but in typical Moloka’i fashion pretension is nowhere to be found. Breakfasts are huge and feature perfect omelettes. Panko-crusted Monte Cristo sandwiches join the plate lunch brigade, while at dinner inventive fare like ahi in a lime cilantro sauce, or lusciously juicy prime rib star.

For an entirely different sort of grind, pay a visit to nearby Coffees of Hawaii. In addition to the locally grown coffee, on Sunday afternoons the porch is the scene for the lilting tunes of Hawaiian traditional performers.

4. Kalaupapa National Historical Park

The spectacular Kalaupapa Peninsula captures the essence of the remote allure of Moloka’i. The only way to reach this lush green peninsula fringed with white-sand beaches by land is by a twisting trail down the steep pali, the world’s highest sea cliffs. This remoteness is the reason it was, for more than a century, where Hansen’s disease (formerly known as leprosy) patients were famously placed in isolation.

The guided tour recounting the history of the colony and Father Damien, America’s first saint, is Moloka’i’s best-known attraction; but this is one case where getting there truly is half the fun. Riding a mule or hiking down the steep trail, winding through lush tropical forest, catching glimpses of the sea far below, is an unforgettable experience.

5. Go nuts at Post-a-Nut

Why settle for a postcard if you’re really trying to make friends at home feel just a little bit jealous? Why not sent them a message on a coconut? Gary, the postmaster of the Ho’olehua post office has baskets of them ready for you to customize. Write the address right on the husk, add a note and some colourful doodles, and your post-a-nut is ready to be sent out into the world. Your friend will know you’ve been somewhere interesting – that is, if the coconut can fit down their mail slot.

6. Explore on two wheels

Moloka’i has more than 40 miles of trails that are prime for mountain biking. The roads of Moloka’i Forest Reserve provide a lush wooded experience, or if you’re looking for more ocean views, the trails on the arid West End will be sure to please. If you prefer a smoother ride, most of the island’s paved highways make for a scenic ride, especially to the trip to Halawa Valley. Stop in at Moloka’i Bicycle in Kaunakakai for all things cycling and tips on local conditions.

7. Snorkel and scuba dive the Moloka’i reef

Moloka’i's 28-mile reef – Hawaii's longest – lies along the south-east side of the island, promising top-notch snorkeling and excellent diving in uncrowded waters all year long, when conditions allow. To reach the good spots, you'll need a boat, which can be arranged through activities operators Moloka’i Fish & Dive or Moloka’i Outdoors.

8. Pali Coast by sea

Moloka’i’s most dramatic sight is also the trickiest to see. The world’s tallest sea pali (cliffs), some reaching 3300ft, rise from the Pacific along an awe-inspiring stretch of the Moloka’i coast from the Kalaupapa Peninsula east toward Halawa Bay. From land you can get an idea of the drama in the valleys from several lookouts, but to really appreciate the cliffs you need to hit the water. You can organize a boat trip or really earn your adventure cred by paddling yourself here in a kayak – contact the tour operators above to arrange an excursion.

8. Purdy’s Macadamia Nut Farm

The free tour here lets you poke your pick of macadamia nuts as Tuddie Purdy takes you into his 90-year-old orchard and personally explains how the nuts grow without pesticides, herbicides or fertilizers. Everything is done in quaint Moloka’i style: you can crack open macadamia nuts on a stone you hit with a hammer and sample macadamia blossom honey scooped up with slices of fresh coconut. Nuts and honey are for sale.

10. Go fly a kite

Big Wind custom makes kites for high fliers of all ages. It has hundreds ready to go in stock or you can choose a design and watch production begin. Lessons are available, lest you have a Charlie Brown experience with a kite-eating tree. There are a range of other goods to browse as well, including an excellent selection of Hawaii-themed books and artworks, clothing and crafts originating from everywhere from just down the road to Bali.

Bonus experience

Moloka’i is one of the planet’s finest spots to do something very rare and special in today’s day and age: nothing at all. It takes some practice, but many travellers find this to be the most rewarding experience of all.