The Islands of Hawaii
For Immediate ReleaseJune 26, 2010
CLOSE TO THE LAND, MOLOKAI’S WEST END OFFERS LOTS OF SUN, SERENITY, AND SOUL
When the setting sun touches the horizon off the “West End” of Molokai, it floods the sky with silent glory. This atmospheric dazzle sprawls over a hushed and open landscape. The West End is big-sky country – by day clean and powder blue, by night velvet black and loaded with stars, the breezes moving freely over a calm and uncivilized landscape.
Ironically, anyone who sits on the western shore, perhaps at enormous Papohaku Beach, will be looking across Kaiwi Channel toward the Makapuu Point area of Oahu – near the large town of Kailua, the crowded shores of Waikiki, and the city of Honolulu. In the category of social experiences there is no greater contrast to be found anywhere in
Molokai is a long, bar-shaped island, its east-west length four times greater than its north-south width. The western portion is lower in elevation than the East End and therefore relatively dry, for it reaches less boldly into the moist trade winds.
Much of this land has been put to agricultural purposes. Pre-contact Hawaiians grew a lot of sweet potato here. Later, plantation-scale pineapple cultivation predominated on these gently sloping fields, but that crop started phasing out in the late ’70s. Crops such as watermelons, honey, string beans, and strawberries all had their day. Molokai Ranch, the principal owner out here, ceased operations in 2008 and closed its base of operations in the little hilltop hamlet called Maunaloa. People still live in Maunaloa. But, the ranch’s guest lodge and outdoor-activities center are closed, as are the gas station and the island’s erstwhile movie theater. For now, small-scale farming and ranching are on the rise.
Much of this acreage is Hawaiian Homestead land – land that formerly belonged to the Kingdom of Hawaii – which is now leased to native Hawaiians by the State Department of Hawaiian Home Lands. This concession to the seniority of native people, which has been part of State law for almost a century, helps explain why Molokai’s population includes a far greater percentage of indigenous Hawaiians than any other island. As a result, one always gets the feeling on Molokai that Hawaiian culture isn’t just preserved or set aside to be honored but that it is actually lived day to day.
Homesteading sets the rhythm of life in the West End – uncrowded two-lane roads running through a checkerboard of small agricultural lots, some of them shaggy, some industriously managed, extended families living together and depending in part on the benefits of hunting and fishing.
Visitor activities, such as they are, reflect this land-based lifestyle. At Purdy’s Macadamia Farm in the Hoolehua district you simply stop by and meet the proprietor, Tootie Purdy, who puts on an aloha shirt when he sees you coming. He shows you his trees, you crack some nuts, he tells you a bunch of good stories, and you walk away feeling that you’ve actually met a human being. At the Plumeria Farm you pick flowers, string fragrant leis, and settle into a deeply Hawaiian mood.
The 600-plus acres of coffee trees at Coffees of Hawaii constitute a large-scale operation for Molokai. In fact, COH is the island’s second-biggest employer. But the feeling here is 100 percent “island style” with easy-going walking and mule-wagon tours. It is fascinating to wander through the company’s mill and processing plant, full of unusual machinery designed to clean, dry, sort, grade, roast, and package the Molokai beans. Coffee connoisseurs (and would-be connoisseurs) can participate in a ritual coffee tasting in the COH “cupping room.” The gift shop and café are must-visit attractions even if you skip the tour.
Not far from here, Kumu Farms welcomes visitors to its 120-acre farm, over half of which is certified organic. The farm grows papayas, apple bananas, a dozen types of herbs, and a changing variety of specialty crops (for example, lettuce, corn, tomatoes, and chard). An easy walking tour shares the experience of organic farming. But visitors don’t need to do the tour in order to enjoy the little market, where they can purchase fresh farm products of all types as well as Kumu’s popular basil pesto and other packaged preparations. In fact, visitors to Molokai should consider coming here directly from the airport to stock up on healthy, good-tasting food for the duration of their stay.
Although Molokai Ranch has closed, there is still one compelling reason to drive up the hill for a stop in the tiny townlet of Maunaloa. Still in business, as it has been for some thirty years, is the Big Wind Kite Factory. Dedicated to all things that fly and float, as well as almost anything eccentric and colorful that catches the attention of owners Jonathan and Daphne Socher, Big Wind always delivers surprises. It exists just for fun – and that quality makes this gift shop something unusual for Molokai. But it conveys the experience one encounters everywhere on this island, honest good-hearted human interaction.
The cross-Molokai road climaxes along the West End shoreline, which is sprinkled with beaches and coves. The currents can be dangerous along this coast, and yet the sand is some of the best anywhere, especially at Papohaku Beach. Three miles long and 300 feet wide, this golden stretch is often devoid of people. Half a dozen sunbathers would be a crowd. The state park adjacent has restroom and barbecues, not to mention campsites.
By the way, every May this park fills with people celebrating the art of hula at the annual Ka Hula Piko Festival. Hula halau (schools) come from all over the state, from other countries too, not to compete but simply to show up and show off. The food, the crafts, and mostly the music and dance make this the most authentic, down-to-earth native festivity you’ll ever find.
Kaluakoi Resort, now closed, occupies a large stretch of the West End. Still in business are its pleasant little seaside restaurant and a gift/sundries shop. Nearby there are three attractive condominium complexes, situated on the shoreline, that offer many short-term housing options for Molokai’s guests. To stay out here is to position yourself perfectly for one of the greatest shows on earth. After a day of exploration across a small island (you can easily drive end to end in a single day), the experience then climaxes in a magnificent sunset. You can look across the channel and realize with deep satisfaction why you are here and not at Waikiki.
There is always more to Molokai than meets the eye. For advice on hiking opportunities, cultural experiences, and any other question you might have, always check in with the Molokai Visitors Association or visit molokai-hawaii.com.
Keli‘i Brown Julie Bicoy
Maui Visitors Bureau Molokai Visitors Assn.
808-244-3530, Ext. 716 808-553-3876