Molokai is the Most Interesting Island in Hawaii

Molokai is the least populated of the inhabited Hawaiian Islands but certainly one of the most beautiful. Molokai is a step back in time; it feels like something out of the South Pacific like the Marquesas Islands or the Solomon Islands; certainly not America. Molokai is laid back and slow-paced but there is much on offer in Molokai but perhaps not on the surface. You have to do some digging in Molokai; you have to be open-minded, and be outgoing to locals to make the most of Molokai. Molokai is the most interesting island in Hawaii.
Molokai, Hawaii, view from plane, Mokulele Airlines
I would recommend two to three days on Molokai to get a feel for the island and see the main sites. I am not going to lie, there is not a ton to do so to speak but there is a ton to learn and to experience a different Hawaii than you’re used to. It’s more of a local experience-a true island experience. The first thing you need to do on Molokai is a mule ride!
Molokai, Hawaii, mule ride
I know, a mule ride doesn’t sound like the world’s most exciting thing but this mule ride is pretty cool. A mule is essentially half a horse and half a donkey and it is very strong. You start at the top of a cliff and descend some 1800 feet down 26 switchbacks on the cliffs edge. It takes a little while to get used to but once you get accustomed to the fact that the mule knows where he’s going then you’ll be more relaxed and can enjoy the ride. My biggest piece of advice is to wear pants, not shorts as I did-mules itch!
Molokai, Hawaii, mule ride, Lee Abbamonte
The mule ride takes about 90 minutes down and then only about 75 minutes back up. The guides may stop intermittently for feedings or just rest. Also, just accept the fact that the mules poop and fart a lot and move on! It’s all part of the experience!
Molokai, Hawaii, mule ride
At the bottom of the mule ride, you will take part in a Father Damien Tour. This is literally a one of a kind tour that I didn’t even know I was going to be doing-it’s part of the mule ride experience. The small north shore village of Kalaupapa is the site of the tour and you are met by a century old yellow school bus at the bottom of the mule ride.
Molokai, Hawaii, Kalaupapa, school bus, Father Damien Tour
Kalaupapa is where the Hawaiian Government quarantined sufferers of Hansen’s Disease or Leprosy. Today, there are no active cases of Leprosy but several “patients” still choose to live in the very remote and isolated settlement. In fact, they are cut off from the rest of Molokai and only get one shipment of supplies per year. Literally they get one supply barge that comes to visit them each July.
Molokai, Hawaii, Kalaupapa, Father Damien Tour, church
The Father Damien tour was really weird to me and even now I still don’t know how I feel about it. It’s a historically notorious place and nowadays, devout Catholics go to pray for healing and religious guidance. We had a dozen or so on our bus, although it took me a while to figure out what was going on.
Molokai, Hawaii, Kalaupapa, Father Damien Tour
I am not a religious person so I found it strange, especially as I was unaware I would be on the tour in the first place. Since Kalaupapa is so isolated and the patients make the rules, you are not allowed to walk anywhere and must take the bus everywhere-even if one site is 100 feet from the other-it’s very strange. I actually got scolded for walking 50 feet away to take this picture from the dock.
Molokai, Hawaii, Kalaupapa, View from dock
That said, there are some very beautiful spots in and around Kalaupapa and some of my favorite pictures from Molokai were from here. I would recommend the tour if you’re on Molokai because it’s part of the history but do a little research first and know what you’re seeing and why it’s the way it is. That was my mistake.
Molokai, Hawaii, Kalaupapa, View
The 2 best things to do on Molokai are to do the classic coastal drive to the Halawa Valley and to see the West End beaches. The Halawa Valley is fantastic. It is about 20 miles or so from town and winds in and out of great coastal turns and views. The Halawa Valley views are stunning and there are usually locals camping out or having barbeques once you get down there.
Molokai, Hawaii,  Halawa Valley
The pictures are to die for and if you get to be the one driving-you’re in for a treat! Just make sure there isn’t someone taking a picture of you taking a picture!
Molokai, Hawaii, Halawa Valley, Lee Abbamonte
The West End beaches feature Papohaku Beach; which is the longest beach in the state of Hawaii. You will likely be the only person on the beach. It is breathtaking and reminds me a little of Polihua Beach on Lanai.
Papohaku Beach, Molokai, Hawaii
You can go crazy getting idyllic beach photos but there are three things you must know about the beach before you go. First, the walk from the car to the beach is pretty far and if you go barefoot, your feet will fry. So bring flip-flops and be prepared to trudge through the sand until it’s safe to go barefoot near the water!
Papohaku Beach, Molokai, Hawaii
Second, Papohaku Beach can be very windy. I mean windy to the point where it is no longer enjoyable and you are getting sandblasted if you’re laying on the sand. Even if you’re walking it can hurt your calves.
Molokai, kayaking, Hawaii
Third, the water is not safe to swim in. There are portions of the beach where you can swim but just be aware that the currents are said to be incredibly strong and not safe to swim on your own. There are no lifeguards on duty. There are also a lot of rocks just under sea level so be careful. All that said, Papohaku Beach is truly beautiful and 100% worth a visit! Besides, if you really want to do water sports, you can go kayaking or standup paddle boarding on the other side of the island with Molokai Outdoors!
Hotel Molokai, drinks, Molokai, Hawaii
I based myself at the lovely Hotel Molokai just on the outskirts of town on a small coastal beach with spectacular views of Lanai. Hotel Molokai is the best place to stay around town and is 100% where I would stay again if I go back to Molokai.
Aloha Friday, Molokai
Aside from good accommodation and hammocks, they have a great Aloha Friday music party where a lot of “Aunties” and “Uncles” from around Molokai come and sing around happy hour time! It is a real treat and was probably my favorite thing I saw or did in my 4 days, 3 nights on Molokai.
hammock, Molokai, Hawaii
As far as restaurants and bars, it is slim pickens but there are some decent places to get burgers and pizza in town and even a sports bar called the Paddlers Inn with pretty good food. The thing about Molokai that you must keep in mind is that hours are not as you’d expect. Things often close early, open late or might not open at all without advance notice.
view, Molokai, Hawaii
Like I said, Molokai is the most interesting island in Hawaii and unique. It is a Hawaiian experience not to be missed because it is so different than any of the other islands and I have been to them all! It feels like a real South Pacific island rather than Hawaii, but I think that’s what makes it so cool. Plus, Molokai may have the nicest people in America-true story!

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  1. I’ve never even heard of Molokai but looks and sounds cool. Certainly different than Oahu!

  2. Chemical Market Intelligence says

    Awesome post, thanks for sharing this post..

  3. Love Molokai says

    I have been to Moloka’i over 25 times. As you stated, it is a truly unique island. I am lucky enough to stay with locals now and am treated like “ohana” rather than a “haole”. Years ago there was Kaluakoi Resort with an 18 hole golf course and Moloka’i Ranch. Did you make it to the Lookout on the west end and the sleepy town of Maunaloa and Big Wind Kite Factory? Glad you pointed out about the waves/surf @ Papohuku-I have witnessed so many people get knocked on their okole thinking they could swim-if the locals don’t go in the water-NEITHER SHOULD YOU!
    Moloka’i Mo Bettah!

  4. Aloha, and Mahalo for putting this together and sharing it! This is definitely a nice overview of this tiny island, with some great photos and fine advice. (E.g., the beauty and dangers of Papohaku, the joy of mule-riding down the 26 switches of sea cliff, the Friday music fests by NaKapuna at Hotel Moloka’i, stand-up paddleboard, hunting and hiking in the east, Damien Tours of the former “leper colony”, etc.) If there for a while, best follow the advice to be “open” to the local culture, and to enjoy the nature; there are some other more-swimmable beaches (such as Dixie Maru), as well. If driving North from ‘the town’ or Hotel Molokai (the only actual ‘hotel’ on the tiny island) towards the park (phallic rock and Kalaupapa Overview), there’s a tiny museum, and at Farrington Ave, the Coffees of Hawaii plantation, where locals go for their fix of “Mocha Mama” cold (coffee) drinks. COH, like Paddlers and Hotel Molokai, also has local (weekend) gatherings of authentic Hawaiian-music players. I’d recommend the nearby Cookhouse for fine dining (in a wooden dining room or big picnic annex outdoors) in additions to Paddlers or Pizza (near the wharf). The Hotel Molokai is hopefully soon to re-open its once-beloved restaurant too, closed a few years now post-fire. Oh, if you have a fridge, the place to stock up on food is of course “The Friendly Market”. Keep in mind, this is also known as “the friendly isle”, and “real Hawaii”, but it is tiny, and more respectful of nature and tradition than enthusiastic about tourists or (especially) developers. Yes, be open, be respectful, and you’ll be awed by all the beauty, history, and naturalness on Moloka’i.

    (Very true – as someone commented – Moloka’i is definitely NOT anything like Oahu/Honolulu, except for blue water. NO traffic lights at all, one paved road, not much wi-fi, and yes, still “real” and beautiful Hawai’i.)

    Great photos, great overview, great advice. Totally agreed, this is the most unique and interesting of the Hawaiian Islands, between its geology (sea cliffs, valleys, and ‘the peninsula’), history, and people.

  5. HI! I do really like this post but there are something that I don’t agree with. First I am from Maui Hawaii lived here most of my life went to Maui school and work now Maui. I have been to Molokai several times in my life and for extended points of time (more then a mouth). Sense Molokai is part of Maui County it is very easy to get there we can just take a fair. The first thing is Molokai is not the smallest populated island, Lanai is small by a few thousand people (that makes a dig different here in Hawaii) and Niihau is also smaller then even Lanai. But to go to Niihau you have to be in invited by the Hawaiian people. The mules are a thing in Molokai did not as big as you make it sound, there is a lot more industry there that you never mentioned like the Coffee industry and the mules help with coffee too. All being said I do like this post a lot not a lot of people from the mainland or any where else really know about the island. But I think Lanai is a lot more interesting then Molokai.

  6. The VERY FIRST line in your article there is an error. It states: Molokai is the least populated of the inhabited Hawaiian Islands.
    The least populated Hawaiian island is not Molokai, it is Ni’ihau, followed by Lanai:
    The population of Molokai has approximately 7,404 people.
    Lanai has a population of approximately 3,102
    Currently Ni’ihau has approximately 130 people.

  7. Sounds like my kind of island! What’s the best way of getting to Molokai?

    • Aloha Ray, the best way to get to Molokai is by inter island air. There are several companies that fly several times a day from Maui and Oahu at a very reasonable price. You can also take the ferry from Maui, but it cost more and takes 3 times as long as flying. You can check out Hawaiian Airlines (Ohana), Makani Kai Helecopter (Also have planes) and Mokulele Airlines. We live on Oahu and go to Molokai whenever we can.

  8. Hawaii has plenty most beautiful and gorgeous islands to explore the views of nature beauty. Molokai is also famous destination and my favorite too. I love this destinations due to its shiny water\’s crystal blue color and its nearest attractions. I have been there before my washington dc to niagara falls bus tour many times in my life to enjoy incredible beauty of this park. I really enjoyed there photography.

  9. Lydia Bennett says

    I am a senior citizen have never been to Hawaii but have always wanted to.But if I ever get there I wanted to the less populated the real Hawaii so to speak! This so interesting!?

  10. Carole Vincent says

    Just discovered this post today in 2020. Fun to read the posts on Molokai, Kauai and Lanai. For many years my late husband and I enjoyed going to Hawaii for vacations from California. We visited the 6 populated islands but not Ni\’ihau, as we were not invited to that one. Our favorite was Kauai, where we stayed at Poipu Beach until Hurricane Iniki wiped out our place in 1992. Then we bought a condo at Ke Nani Kai with some other families at the west end of Molokai. (Some of those condos are also for rent, buy the way.) We went there twice a year, winter and summer, for 18 years, explored almost every part of it, and met very friendly, generous people. Some are still friends today. We did the mule ride down the cliff the first time, when there were still more residents living on the isolated peninsula with Hansen\’s Disease. Then we flew down twice more in a tiny plane from the top of Molokai at the airport to the little landing strip on the peninsula at Kalaupapa. It\’s my understanding that when a sulfone drug became available as a treatment for leprosy, the infected Hawaiians living in isolation on Molokai were allowed to fly off the peninsula to top side and from there to the mainland U.S. We met some of those Hawaiians. When they asked where we lived (California) and why we were in Molokai, we told them all the joys of being on a true, relaxing friendly and beautiful island. They told us that their favorite place to visit was Las Vegas! The last time we were there, 2012, there were very few elderly Hawaiians still living on the peninsula, and I think the plan was that after their deaths, the area would become (or has already become?) a National Historic State Park to keep it pristine and undeveloped. A website shows that it\’s closed now, but when open, one needs a permit to visit. The history is fascinating and important!

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