Hawaii's most beautiful island is probably one you've never heard of. Located just east of Oahu, Molokai offers an untamed look at the state’s natural charms, including pristine beaches, clear water, and, best of all, uninterrupted solitude. Read our guide to the place, then go book a trip.
There aren’t any stoplights on Molokai. There aren’t freeways or resorts either. There’s no fast food, no Walmart, no ABC stores. Most of the roads don’t have lines. Most of the buildings are about half as tall as the average palm tree. Fewer than 7,500 people live here, and fewer people visit Molokai in a year than go to Maui in a single month. This makes it easy to find quiet beaches, secret trails, and undisturbed forests. Halawa Bay, on the island’s east shore, exemplifies the empty beauty of the place.
Molokai is often called the most Hawaiian of all the islands. The locals have resisted major resort developments, agricultural operations by Monsanto, and efforts to build wind farms. This has preserved the Mana, or spirit, of the island, says Anakala (Uncle) Pilipo Sartorio, the oldest resident of the remote Halawa Valley. Sartorio— whose ancestry runs deep in the island’s history—teaches visitors about ancient Hawaii. Shown here, he greets his son in the traditional manner.
Moaula is just one of many waterfalls on Molokai, but it’s likely the most accessible. If you want to visit the falls, you must arrange a trek through one of the few tourism outlets. Though it can be costly, the semi-rugged hike winds through Halawa Valley, where the stone walls and ancient taro terraces offer a window into Molokai’s oldest settlement. The cool pool at the bottom of the falls offers a nice reprieve after your jaunt.
For the most part, the island’s North Shore is steep. Very steep. These are the world’s largest sea cliffs, dropping more than 3,000 feet to an uninhabited shoreline. There are few ways to get good views of the escarpments, though. Aircraft have the best shot—if it’s not too windy to fly. The only other options are to take a boat or cover the breakneck Kalaupapa Trail on foot or muleback.
The Kalaupapa Peninsula is Molokai’s most famous landmark. Though the scenery is remarkable, the former leper colony is what draws most visitors. Other than the airstrip, a 2.9-mile trail, with 26 switchbacks and a 1,700 foot vertical drop, is the only way to access Kalaupapa. To traverse it, you must either hike it or ride down by mule.
Between Kalaupapa’s founding in 1866 and the discovery of sulfone drugs in 1946, more than 8,000 victims of leprosy died here. Today, 15 former patients still live on the isolated peninsula—now a National Historic Park. Though no roads lead to the area, once a year, a barge drops off supplies like diesel fuel, appliances, and vehicles.
The largest fringing reef in the United States—more than 340 square miles of coral— borders Molokai’s South Shore. Several operations offer scuba and dive tours. While the current and winds can cause issues for divers, there’s more often than not at least one site that can be visited, says Tim Forsberg, the captain and proprietor of Molokai Fish and Dive.
The Kalohi Channel between Lanai and Molokai is simply frothing with humpback whales. The big, white splashes from breaches can be seen from almost anywhere on the south side of the island. Of course, the best way to get a good look is to hire a boat. Though the best scenario involves lucking upon a “competition group”—a pod of male whales searching for a female—watching a mother and calf roll around in the waves isn’t bad either.