One of the beautiful things about visiting Honolulu, the central hub of Hawaii aptly nicknamed the “Gathering Island,” is that visiting islands are a hop, skip and a jump away. The island closest to the eastern shores of Oahu is Moloka`i, with a population of just around 8,000, mostly Native Hawaiian inhabitants. You can see the island from Oahu across the channel which is one of the most treacherous in the islands.
If you’re in the mood for a one or two day island hopping trip, visiting secluded Moloka`i can be an affordable option, depending on how many people are in your party. Tickets to Moloka`i from Honolulu usually be purchased for around $65, even last minute.
Now here’s a heads up. If you book a flight on Go! Airlines, you’ll end up in a small eight seat propeller plane reminiscent of a tine can. It will most likely bounce and shake, but that just adds to the excitement, right? If you book a flight with Island Air, you’ll end up in a much more “normal” plane, yet still smaller than most.
So what to do once you land on Moloka`i? Go the beach of course! Moloka`i’s claim to fame is being home to the longest white sand beach in Hawaii, Papohaku Beach on the west shore. It’s about a half hour drive from the airport to the beach along a winding, empty paved road that could loosely be described as a highway. First though, it’s a good idea to hit up the local supermarket in Kaunakakai, Moloka`i’s main town for food to bring to the beach. After this, it’s slim pickins as far as shopping goes, except for a tiny mini mart in the Kaluakoi Villas just before Papohaku.
Loooong Papohaku Beach — Photo courtesy of Jade Eckardt
The beach has bathrooms and cold showers, as well as barbecue pits. Three miles of fine white sand blanket the beach, and the west side sun beats down heard enough to tan, and burn, anyone. One thing it’s important to remember out here is that this is unobstructed ocean - there is nothing to break up the currents or the waves and it should only be swam in during the calmest of conditions.
Moloka`i is small, so even hours spent at Papohaku leave you with enough to see and so a few other things. The overlook at Kalaupapa, the town and National Historic Site where people sick with leprosy when the epidemic hit Hawaii the 1800s. This is where Father Damian, a Catholic missionary priest from Belgium chose to live to help the sick people living there and better their conditions which were, to put it lightly, less than favorable. You can take a tour down via hike or mule ride with Damien Tours or just hang out up top and take photos of the amazing view.
Last but not least, if you spend another day or decide to mix and match with the preciously mentioned options, a ride out to Halawa Valley on the eastern tip of the island is a must do. This is at the very opposite end of the island than Papohaku, so unless you get in at the crack of dawn and leave late at night, it’s best to combine Halawa or Papohaku with Kalaupapa.
The drive alone is simply gorgeous, weaving along the shore, passing whales (in season), beaches, old style homes, rocky coastal views, and pasture land reaching inland. It’s one long photo opportunity, with views of Lana`i and Maui across the water.
It’s a steep drive down into the Valley, but four wheel drive isn’t necessary, any rental car will do. Once down there you can check out the river, swim in the ocean (given the waves are mellow, right?) and just hang out on the beach.
You’ll want to bring food for this trip, there’s nothing around in terms of stores. Just nature and homes. Whenever and wherever you drive on Moloka`i, driving slow is a must.