By Fern Innes
Darkness hung low, encompassing the island in its wet grip even as the sun struggled to break over the horizon. It was early in the morning as we stepped off the puddle jumper onto the soil of Molokai. As dawn turned into a diffused gray light, my first glimpse of Molokai was that of mountains rising up to the sky, completely shrouded in mist. But behind the curtain of drizzle, paradise awaited.
Leaving the airport, we were greeted by a sign stating “Slow down, you’re in Molokai.” And indeed, that slogan defines the way of life here on the second smallest of the inhabited Hawaiian Islands. Not a single traffic light is to be found. No building is higher than a palm tree. Traffic jams occur only when locals stop their vehicles in the middle of the road to chat with friends driving the opposite direction. Shopping malls are a foreign concept here.
Molokai’s solitude and wild beauty present a compelling case to reconnect with nature. Molokai offers a plethora of hiking trails to assist one in this endeavor. The Kalaupapa Pali Trail is one of the most widely known. This 3.5-mile trail — the trailhead is located off Highway 470 — winds its way down sheer sea cliffs, ending at the peninsula where a key part of Hawaii’s tragic side of history took place. In the 1800s, when many Hawaiians were contracting the dreaded leprosy (now called Hansen’s disease), the affected were brought here in the hope that isolation would halt the spread of the disease among the Hawaiian population. Here, the patients lived out the remainder of their lives in less than desirable conditions. Today, all remaining patients have been cured. Some have chosen to continue living on the peninsula.
This peninsula is now the location of Kalaupapa National Historical Park. A permit is required to visit the park, and can be purchased from the State Department of Health or from Damien Tours. To visit this park you can fly in, hike down the sheer sea cliffs, or take a mule ride down the cliffs. We decided to rough it, descending the 26-switchback trail to the seaside. It was during our long hike down to the peninsula that we came face to face with a delightful surprise. Out of nowhere there appeared a tiny newborn fawn, undoubtedly only days old. The fawn stood on trembling legs, and tentatively stepped toward us with soulful, trusting eyes. As the fawn moved forward, it let out a cry not unlike a newborn kitten’s meow, and cautiously smelled our hands. Having concluded that the mother was nowhere to be found, I admittedly was plotting how I could bring this adorable creature home with me. Rest assured, my sanity quickly returned. A local guide rescued the fawn, and carried it back up the cliffs draped over the back of a mule.
The perfect place to recuperate from the grueling Kalaupapa Pali hike is Papohaku. Located on the western coast, it is one of the most pristine beaches of the Hawaiian Islands. At three miles long, the width of the beach is no small matter either. The golden sand is so soft that I was compelled to entrench my feet deep down, reveling in the smooth, powder-like substance. Though swimming here can be hazardous, the sunsets give a glorious ending to the day.
The often-overlooked island of Molokai is clearly Hawaii’s hidden treasure. If you’re seeking nature, adventure, beauty, or just a slower pace, you will find your refuge on the beautiful, lush island of Molokai.
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