Hawaii Solitude on Molokai
Since the 1860s, when thousands of victims of leprosy were exiled to Molokai's Kalaupapa peninsula, the island has suffered from an unfair reputation as the Leper Isle. The disease is no longer considered a threat, but the lingering stigma may help to explain why Molokai tourism hasn't exactly boomed. Even so, the still-inhabited community at Kalaupapa National Historic Park has become the best-known landmark on the island. Visitors can join a guided hike or mule ride down the steep, three-mile trail to the site, or take a trail through nearby Pala'au State Park to an overlook high above the peninsula.
Short on time, we opted for the latter. The drive from the west side of the island takes less than an hour, but the relatively desolate sprawl of desert-like shrubs quickly gives way to greener surroundings. The trail through Pala'au led us through an ironwood and eucalyptus forest, ending at a sea cliff 1,700 feet above the water. Along with a few other visitors, we looked out onto the peninsula and saw a dense, green valley creeping up behind it. The far side of the islandthe rainforest sidewould be our next stop.
Another hour in the car finished the dramatic transition from the arid west coast to the humid east. As we descended into the valley, we started to feel the weight of the wet air that keeps this side of the island so lush. We parked where the road ends, at Halawa Valley, and walked onto the sand. Behind us, storm clouds clung to the peaks, and Moa'ula Falls spilled down the mountainside. The small parking area contained half a dozen cars, but their occupants were nowhere to be seen. We waded across the estuary to explore the other side of the beach in total solitude, then followed a rugged trail a short distance into the valley before heading back to our home base on the island's dry side.
How deserted is it here? In a day of driving the entire length of the island, we didn't come across a single stoplight.
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication