Kalaupapa National Historical Park


These are words with universal meanings, and at Kalaupapa these words describe human experiences, both past and present. Family refers to blood families torn apart by the physical removal of a parent or a child, as well as extended families created through bonding and support for survival. Community refers to the sense of "specialness" that residents of Kalaupapa feel about each other and about the place where they have chosen to live out their lives. Dignity refers to how Kalaupapa residents expect to be treated, and how they carry themselves in the face of societal attitudes towards a frightening illness, Hansen's disease, also known as leprosy.

Two tragedies occurred on the Kalaupapa Peninsula on the north shore of the island of Moloka'i; the first was the removal of indigenous peoples in 1865 and 1895, the second was the forced isolation of sick people to this remote place from 1866 until 1969. The removal of Native Hawaiians from where they had lived for 900 years cut the cultural ties and associations of generations of people with the 'aina (land). The establishment of an isolation settlement, first at Kalawao and then at Kalaupapa, tore apart Hawaiian society as the kingdom, and subsequently, the territory of Hawaii tried to control a feared disease. The impact of broken connections with the 'aina and of family members "lost" to Kalaupapa are still felt in Hawaii today.

Kalaupapa National Historical Park, established in 1980, contains the physical setting for these stories. Within its boundaries are the historic Hansen's disease settlements of Kalaupapa and Kalawao. The community of Kalaupapa, on the leeward side of Kalaupapa Peninsula, is still home for many surviving Hansen's disease patients, whose memories and experiences are cherished values. In Kalawao on the windward side of the peninsula are the churches of Siloama, established in 1866, and Saint Philomena, associated with the work of Father Damien (Joseph De Veuster).

The park contains the Kalaupapa Peninsula, adjacent cliffs and valleys, and submerged lands and waters out to 1/4 mile from shore. Hawaiian people inhabited the peninsula and valleys for hundreds of years prior to the establishment of the isolation settlement at Kalawao in 1866. Evidence of this occupation in four ahupua'a (historic Hawaiian land divisions) on the peninsula and in valleys is relatively undisturbed and represents one of the richest archeological preserves in Hawaii.

The Moloka'i Lighthouse, opened in 1909 and standing on the northern tip of the peninsula, is the tallest US lighthouse in the Pacific Ocean. It guides ocean vessels past Moloka'i and into Honolulu Harbor on O'ahu.

Spectacular north shore sea cliffs, narrow valleys, a volcanic crater, rain forest, lava tubes and caves, and off-shore islands and waters are in the national park. Several of these areas provide rare native habitat for threatened or endangered Hawaiian plants and animals. For example, Hawaiian monk seal pups have been born on Kalaupapa's beaches. These endangered mammals require solitude; Kalaupapa's physical isolation provides the perfect habitat to support these births and subsequent care.

The park is within the Kalaupapa Leprosy Settlement, listed on the National Register of Historic Places as a national historic landmark. A section of the park is included within the North Shore Cliffs National Natural Landmark. The Moloka'i Lighthouse is listed separately on the national register.

Interaction with residents, physical isolation, scenic beauty, and the brilliant night sky contribute to memorable visitor experiences at Kalaupapa National Historical Park.

On average approximately 76,000 people visit the park each year. About 66,000 people visit the Kalaupapa Peninsula overlook in Pala'au State Park, while 10,000 people come to the settlement via mule rides, hiking or by plane. Visitation is fairly steady throughout the year.

There are three types of visitation at the park: those who view the peninsula from the overlook, visitors who tour historic Kalaupapa and Kalawao through a commercial tour, and guests of residents. Guests of residents may stay overnight in visitor quarters or in private homes. They may travel beyond the boundaries of the Kalaupapa settlement if their sponsor accompanies them.

Organized groups of volunteers come to Kalaupapa throughout the year on service trips. They work on natural and cultural resource protection projects in the settlement and in the park.

One park purpose is to protect the lifestyle and individual privacy of the Hansen's disease patients, so there are several restrictions for all visitors at Kalaupapa. These include, but are not limited to: permission required to enter the settlement, no children under the age of 16, no photographs of patients without their written permission, no pets, no camping, no hunting or firearms, no diving tanks, and pole fishing only.

The park is on the north shore of the island of Moloka'i in Hawaii.

Kalaupapa National Historical Park
P.O. Box 2222
Kalaupapa, HI 96742

(808) 567-6802

The park is open 365 days each year. There are no "opening and closing hours" due to the restricted visitation and active Kalaupapa community of people. The commercial tours operate Monday through Saturday, except Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Day and New Years Day.

Hawaii enjoys moderate temperatures year-round. Rain increases in winter; some summer days are hot and humid. Tradewinds are fairly constant. Temperatures range from the 70s in winter to the 90s in the summer. A rain jacket is recommended, as is a brimmed hat and sunscreen. Visitors who hike the trail should carry plenty of water.

The park can be reached by air through commercial and charter flights from Honolulu, O'ahu, and from Hoolehua, Moloka'i. Some visitors arrive by private boats and tie to buoys near the dock at Kalaupapa. Visitors also hike or ride mules down the steep Kalaupapa Trail, accessed off highway 470 near Pala'au State Park and the Kalaupapa overlook. At the bottom of the trail, visitors connect with the commercial tour of the settlement. There is no vehicular access to the park due to the ocean and steep cliffs.

Kalaupapa National Historical Park can be reached by air from O'ahu, Maui, and from Ho'olehua, Moloka'i. Flights into Kalaupapa Airport (LUP) can be arranged through Island Air (800-652-6541 Hawaii; 800-323-3345 mainland), Pacific Wings (888-575-4546), Moloka'i Lana'i Air Shuttle (808-567-6847), and Paragon Air (800-428-1231).

There is no entrance fee for the park, nor are there fees for any park facilities. Overnight guests pay nominal lodging expenses. There are costs involved with the commercial tours, mule rides and air flights.

Guests of residents may tour Kalaupapa and Kalawao settlements and stay overnight. Facilities include picnic pavilions, post office, religious services at local churches, and visitor quarters for overnight stays. All other visitors may tour Kalaupapa and Kalawao settlements on a commercial tour. Lunch is enjoyed at a picnic pavilion at Kalawao with scenic views of the north shore cliffs and off-shore islands.

There are 8,725 acres of land and 2,000 acres of water within the park's authorized boundary; 23 acres are owned in fee by the federal government.

The park is administered jointly by the National Park Service and several state agencies, including the Hawaii Department of Health and the Division of Land and Natural Resources.

Visitor Center/Exhibits:
There is a visitor center in Kalaupapa at the Americans of Japanese Ancestry (AJA) Hall. The visitor center has interpretive materials and artifact display cases. The park's cooperating association, Arizona Memorial Museum Association, maintains a small sales outlet. The visitor center has limited operating hours six days a week (except Sunday).

There are wayside exhibits on the peninsula's people, history and archaeology located throughout Kalawao and Kalaupapa settlements. Wayside exhibits are also at the Kalaupapa airport and at the Kalaupapa overlook at Pala'au State Park.

There is no vehicular access to the Kalaupapa Peninsula, as it is surrounded on three sides by ocean, and on a fourth side by a steep pali. Dirt roads cross the peninsula proper. There are paved roads within the settlement of Kalaupapa, to the airport, and to the historic Kalawao settlement. A trail from topside Moloka'i down the pali reaches Kalaupapa; the trail has a 1,700-ft. elevation change, is three miles long, and has 26 switchbacks.

The National Park Service does not offer any regularly scheduled interpretive programs or activities because of the restricted nature of visitation to the park, and because tours are offered through a commercial service.

Lodging and Camping Facilities:
There is no camping within the park. Overnight stays in the visitor quarters are limited to guests of residents. The nearest lodging outside the park on topside Moloka'i is in Kaunakakai; the nearest camping is in Pala'au State Park.

The National Park Service concession mule ride operator will sell box lunches to visitors who sign up for the commercial Damien Tours. All other day visitors must bring their own lunches. No other supplies are available, and guests of residents generally bring their own food supplies. Snacks and beverages are available at a local bar. Food and supplies outside the park are in Kaunakakai, Moloka'i.

Available opportunities are different for visitors on a commercial tour and for guests of residents. Visitors on tours can visit Kalaupapa and Kalawao. Guests of residents can swim and snorkel, fish, picnic, and walk through Kalaupapa settlement unescorted. Whales can often be seen from November to March. Migratory birds from Alaska are present during the winter months.

Kalaupapa National Historical Park is administered in cooperation with several Hawaii state agencies. All visitors to the park must receive a permit from the Department of Health to enter the Kalaupapa settlement. The commercial tour company arranges the permit for their customers. Guests of residents have their permits arranged by their sponsor. Reservations are required for commercial tours of the settlement, mule rides on the trail, and air flights. Visitors are encouraged to make these reservations in advance.

Published: 29 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


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