Hawaii's hush-hush getaway

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Beaches all to yourself, no queues at restaurants or attractions - welcome to Molokai'i, Hawaii minus the hustle.

Moloka'i isn't just some 'undiscovered gem' - in fact, it's been thoroughly discovered. It's just that its residents have made sure that tourism happens on their terms. There is very little tourist infrastructure on Moloka'i, and antidevelopment sentiment is strong. You'll possibly sense a reserved vibe here, but bear in mind that almost half of Moloka'i's population claims Native Hawaiian ancestry, and don't really want their home to turn into an overdeveloped playground for visitors.

But don't think Moloka'i is unwelcoming toward tourists. If you slow down, respect the island and its values and take some time to explore and chat with the residents, you're sure to have a rewarding glimpse into old Hawaii.

Kalaupapa National Historical Park

Mule Ride from cliff tops down to leper colony at Kalaupapa. The infamous leprosy settlement (which still has a handful of residents) is a beautiful, remote peninsula with the world's highest sea cliffs - and a national park. To visit, you must go with Damien Tours (tel: 808 567 6171), as independent access is forbidden. Call them in the early evening to make reservations. The tour is via bus, which starts at the bottom of the cliffs. Many visitors forgo the strenuous route down and do it by mule with Moloka'i Mule Ride. If you decide to hike down the two miles of stairs, make sure you leave by 8am - sharing a trail with a bunch of mules is no fun.

Drive the east side and hike Halawa Valley

The 30-mile drive along the eastern end of Moloka'i is a panoply of quiet beauty: green fields, small coves and beaches, lush forests, steep mountains, sea cliffs, sweet churches, ancient fishponds and a few heiau (ancient temples). It's easy to miss the 'sights' as most are either off the main road or just don't look like much, so make sure you have your guide handy and follow the mile markers. The road ends in Halawa Valley - to hike the two miles to the falls you'll need to hire a local guide, as the trail crosses private property. You can book a guide through Moloka'i Fish & Dive or just ask around.

Eat at Mana'e Goods & Grinds and Kamuela Cookhouse

Eating in Moloka'i is hardly a gourmet romp, but these two places are an exception. Mana'e Goods & Grinds (tel: 808 558 8498) is a lunch counter near Puko'o (around the 16-mile marker) serving up delicious, reasonably priced seafood burgers and lunch plates. The Kamuela Cookhouse (tel: 808 567 9655) in Kualapu'u is Moloka'i's best dinner option. This casual little café serves up delectable mains like mahi mahi with lilikoi sauce and grilled lamb chops. And chocolate and macadamia nut pie. Don't forget the chocolate and macadamia nut pie.

Chill on the west end beaches

You'll find Moloka'is best beaches on the west end. Take the turn off for the Kaluakoi Resort before Maunaloa and head south. Papohaku Beach is huge, and usually you'll only have to share it with a handful of other folks, but it can get pretty windy and swimming is usually off due to strong tides. You'll find more beachgoers at Dixie Maru, a protected little cove where the swimming is fantastic and the winds are at a minimum.

Take a tour of local industries

Purdy's Macadamia Nut Farm is a family-run enterprise that gives hourly tours (Mon-Sat). In the small orchard at the front of the farm, Tuddie Purdy explains how macadamia nuts are grown, harvested and shelled, and gets you to participate in the process. Caffeine-addicts can head to the Moloka'i Coffee Company, which offers two tours through their coffee farm and has a gift store with delicious coffee samples. Visit the authentically restored RW Meyer Sugar Mill then keep the sweetness going with a visit to the seemingly run-down Kanemitsu Bakery (tel: 808 553 5855), which is responsible for the Moloka'i sweet bread, sold statewide. Show up between 10pm and midnight every night except Monday for fresh hot bread sold from the back door.

Kamakou Preserve

When you look up at those lush, green mountains, you're gazing at the Kamakou Preserve, a native ecosystem managed by the Nature Conservancy. This preserve is remote and difficult to reach (4WD is essential; call ahead for road conditions at 808 553 5236). Pepe'opae Trail is the most popular hike.

Post-a-Nut at the Hoolehua Post Office

Gary, the nicest postmaster you'll ever meet, provides free coconuts and art supplies so you can address and decorate them as a postcard alternative.

How to get there and where to stay

Moloka'i is most easily accessed from Maui or O'ahu. There are two ferries trips in each direction between Lahaina (Maui) and Kaunakakai - one in the early morning and one the late afternoon. Various inter-island airlines offer flights to and from O'ahu and Maui airports. Once you arrive on Moloka'i, renting a car is essential. Book ahead with Island Kine (tel: 808 553 5242), the only locally owned car rental.

Currently, there is only one real hotel on the island (Hotel Moloka'i) but there are other rental options available, from simple studios to luxury condos. Again, book ahead; check out the Lonely Planet guide for some recommendations and contact info.

Kaunakakai, Moloka'i's only town, can set you up with all the commodities you'll need.

This article was refreshed in June 2012