Papohaku Beach, West End
Molokai, Hawaii

    Things to do on Molokai

Molokai is a Magical Island. It is the most rural, the most natural, the most traditional and the most Hawaiian of the larger islands. It has a variety of environments—wet on the East End, wetter in the central mountains, and dry on our beloved West End, with its wide open sky and limitless vistas of both the ocean and the hills. Molokai’s one central town, without a single traffic light, brings together people from small communities all across the island—for shopping, Saturday market and dozens of community celebrations and gatherings. It is generally quiet and easy, private and informal, reserved and friendly—very much Hawaii as it was a generation ago.

And it offers many, many interesting and delightful things to do and to see and to experience, in addition to the joys of the sun, breezes, ocean and beaches. Some of them are described below, and a longer list, with more description, is found in our “About Molokai” notebooks in both the main and guest house and in the local newspaper.
On the Property

Molokai Sea Ranch offers a great deal to do for family members of all ages. The grounds feature a swimming pool, croquet lawn, regulation horseshoe pitch, basketball hoop on a garage apron, and several seating areas overlooking the ocean.

A variety of sports equipment is also available for use, as well as a large selection of books, videos, card and board games and toys. Paths and trails wind through the property, and beach walks are magical. Be sure to walk along the dunes both north and south; you’ll see some interesting land configurations and homes in both directions. We swim, walk, talk, read, play games, cook together and generally get pretty lazy doing nothing.

The ocean bottom is just like the beach—soft, clear sand with tiny shells, no plants, no rocks, and almost no fish except at the far ends of the bay. The waves and rollers are stronger than they look, both from the shore and from the lanai, where you are seeing them across the wide beach. The ocean here provides distinctive seasonal experiences. Like the north shore of O’ahu, in the winter it is exposed to northwest swells and can be dangerous. In the spring and summer months it can be very pacific—lovely for long swims, floating to the west bay and kayaking.

Other beach and ocean experiences are available at sheltered coves just minutes away, and on other parts of the island, by car and boat—diving, snorkeling, surfing, fishing, kayaking, hiking and exploring.

Walks and Drives

Walking to the north (go right from the beach path) you’ll find a large, flat berm between the ocean beach and the homes inland from it. The berm was formed in the 1960s, as we understand it, when sand was mined here, trucked to the west end of this beach (you can see an old pipe from the wharf that apparently was there off the rocks), and barged to Waikiki.

All homes on Papohaku Beach are fronted by a conservation easement, which provides exclusive access to individual property owners as well as prohibitions against structures or non-native plantings. (Because of the easement and the high sand berm, houses north of Molokai Sea Ranch are relatively far from the beach.) Because our easement is below the low lava cliff on which our houses and garages are sited, we are fortunate to have really remarkable, unobstructed broad views of the beach and ocean. You also can walk from Molokai Sea Ranch to Dixie Maru, a sheltered cove to the south about 45 minutes, over rocks and hill and dale. This is a favorite place for swimming for locals and tourists because it is protected from trade winds. Dixie is just a 5-minute drive from the property; turn right at Kaluako’i Road and right at the next dead end, then drive to the end of the road and turn right to the public parking area.

Another 45 minutes walk beyond Dixie Maru takes you to Kupoa Beach Village, which is another lovely, protected bay. This is a 40-45 minute drive from the property, through Maunaloa, downhill to the beach, near the old harbor at Hale O’Lono.

For other drives and general exploring, take any reasonable road you find, but be alert for those that degenerate into mud paths. Four-wheel drive is essential for many of them, and some of the best sights, such as the rain forest and the northern cliffs, are accessible only by four-wheel drive.

The drive to Halawa Bay, at the East End, is gorgeous, through progressively greener and more lush vegetation as the road goes eastward along the coast. The ocean usually is very calm and very shallow, protected by the great reefs that ring south Molokai. The water comes right up to the road in many places. Stop at popular Murphy’s Beach, with parking on the side of the road at Mile Marker 20, for snorkeling inside the reef. (“Mile Marker” is the way most Molokai locations are indicated.) The dark sand beach of Halawa Bay is home to Hawaiian monk seals and big green turtles.

Halawa Valley is the birthplace of Molokai, and it still is home to small farmers of taro and flowers. A group of singular waterfalls, at its north-eastern tip, include the tallest waterfall in Hawaii, Kahiwa Falls, Guided walks to the falls are enchanting. (See our green “About Molokai” books.)

Speaking of “mosts,” the north shore pali are the tallest sea cliffs in the world. You can see them from a boat or by looking up from the east side of Kalaupapa Peninsula. Molokai is the birthplace of the Hawaiian hula. The annual May hula celebration, held just down the road at Papohaku Beach Park, is joyful.

Not to be missed is the mid-island drive up to the Kalaupapa Lookout and the Phallic Rock “Nanahoa,” past Ironwoods Golf Course, with 360-degree views over the central island, and the Mule Ride barns, where the 1,700 foot trail down to the former leper settlement begins.

Westward along the coast from Kaulaupapa Lookout, a 30-minute drive on a normally good dirt road and then a walk through sand dunes takes you to Mo’omomi Bay, which is a Nature Conservancy-protected point of beautiful coral and sandstone. One of the best-preserved communities of native Hawaiian coastal plants exists here, and many endangered Hawaiian monk seals hang out. This is a must for nature lovers and photographers.

A 30-minute drive south past Maunaloa takes you to the old harbor at Hale o Lono (and hiking along the shore), where most of the major outrigger canoe races start and where on any day you’ll see many locals fishing with rods and throw nets.

Wine, Food, Eating In

For wine and food, the Wine Shop in Kaunakakai will be a delightful surprise It carries an amazingly good wine inventory for such a small community. They also carry good cheeses, olives, crackers, etc., and often will try to order pretty much what you’d like to have.

For groceries, go to Friendly Market in Kaunakakai. You’ll find almost any thing you need. On most afternoons you can get beautiful blocks of sushi grade ahi tuna. And pretty good steaks and pork. (Cut a banana leaf from the garden and slow-roast Kalua pork.) Check the frozen food sections for shrimp, scallops, chicken breasts, etc.

Fresh fish is available from local fisherman, who usually are parked along Kaunakakai streets with coolers on the backs of their trucks. Near the main street, there is a Natural Foods Shop, a very good pharmacy, and a great ice cream store, Dave’s. Just ask. Fresh island breads and crackers are made at the Bakery. There also is a small sundries store (milk, beer, magazines, etc.) in the old Kaluakoi Resort at the north end of the beach (3 minutes by car; you passed it as you drove in).

The neighborhood market in Kualapu’u, across from the Cook House restaurant, is also a good, but somewhat limited, source of basic food and beverages. Kualapu’u Market closes at 6PM (so don’t count on it as a source of wine when you go to the Cook House for dinner.)

General Store in Maunaloa has a good selection of basic foods, only about 10 minutes from the property, but closes early-ish.

Eating Out

For eating out our favorites are lunches and snacks at the Coffee Plantation in Kualapu’u;, breakfast, lunch, or dinner at the Cook House in Kualapu’u and at the Hotel Molokai just past Kaunakakai.

There are many other local places to eat and drink, as well, including Paddlers’ Inn–a local music nightly hang-out, Molokai Pizza Café, and the new Molokai Drive-In for burgers, and many smaller local places with daytime hours. Every night except Sunday, after10PM, in the alley behind the Bakery, you can get big, hot, fresh Hawaiian rolls dripping with warm cream cheese and strawberry jam.
Golf, Ocean and Hiking Activities

Molokai’s Ironwood Hills Golf Course, in the high hills above Kualapu’u, recently was described in the “Hawaii Golf Journal” as “world class” because of its unique “combination of informality, unpredictability, and need for improvisation,” set in an “endless expanse of (views) of the Pacific Ocean that stretched out in every direction.” Nine holes of gorgeous scenery and challenge, at very affordable prices; carts and clubs available, as well as a very knowledgeable pro, friendly folks and some very fine golfers, both residents and guests.

For other outdoor activities—snorkeling, deep sea fishing, mountain biking, horseback riding, kayaking, whale watching, clay shooting, archery—as well as for yoga, hula and ukulele lessons—call Molokai Fish and Dive in Kaunakakai. The store also is a fun place to shop. There also are other purveyors of activities; check the newspapers or our house “green book” called “About Molokai.”

For more shopping, visit the Kite Shop (and books and you-name-it) in Maunaloa; Denise’s Hawaiian furnishings and gifts and the Vintage clothing shop in Kualapu’u; the Artists and Crafters Guild, Kalele Bookstore and Divine Expressions, Taki’s for hardware and stuff, and other shops in Kaunakakai Town.

The Saturday morning Farmers’ Market in Kaunakakai is delightful, for people watching, flowers, art, gifts and interesting vegetables.
Churches, Local Activities

There are dozens of churches on Molokai, and a good library in Kaunakakai with weekly story-telling for kids. Occasionally there will be local team softball games, outrigger canoe races and lots of community meetings. There are many events in which you can attend or participate; check the local newspaper.
Professional Services

For doctors (several currently are practicing on the island), chiropractors, dentists, therapists, check the newspaper or ask for a recommendation. There are good professionals in all those fields. There is a good small General Hospital with emergency service in Kaunakakai. We also have received excellent care for colds and other minor concerns at the Outpatient Clinic near the hospital.