ABOUT OUR TRIP LOGS
Nightborn Travel’s Trip Log series is meant to give our readers a more personal view of our travels. The little things that we learn and go through as explorers doesn’t often come through in a guide, so these short diary entries can give a different perspective about what getting to a place and being there was like. The style of these entries is more loose and personal, and we generally won’t be adding links and extra research to these posts. Trip Logs are about the experience and the adventure involved in visiting new places. Hopefully it will give you a taste for what visiting a location was really like, and then you can reference our guides for detailed information about how to create your own adventure.
Three Days in Solo Moloka’i
I’ve wanted to visit Molokai since I first saw it on the horizon while visiting Maui on family trips as a child. (This is a common occurrence for me, as I am a lover of islands large and small.) It was even more appealing to me due to its role in serving as a backdrop to the original Jurassic Park movie; I was expecting a jungle paradise when I finally had the opportunity to explore this lesser-known Hawaiian island, but it wasn’t what I was expecting at all (and that’s ok).
First off, I was expecting that I would be able to take a ferry from Maui to Molokai, since the two are right next-door, but it turns out that the ferry ceased service a while ago, so the only option was a flight. I scheduled mine to leave a few hours after I arrived on Maui, so I had some time to be confused when I arrived. Mokulele Airlines wasn’t listed on any of the Arrival/Departures screens in the main part of the Kahului Airport, so I wandered out past baggage claim, hoping that I might be able to ask someone for directions. Luckily for shy little me, I caught sight of a sign pointing to the Commuter Terminal. So I walked down past the rental car pick up area and up to the small, open-air building of the itty-bitty terminal that’s home to Mokulele and the other airlines that transfer among the islands.
I still had about three hours until my flight left, so the lovely people at Mokulele put me on a flight leaving right away. I basically walked right up and left within 20 minutes on one of those little planes that has to weigh you and your luggage before deciding where you’ll sit. Not knowing any better, I sat on the right side, missing all of the good views of the island when we flew past all of the mountains and canyons. This is one of my major regrets for this trip, as this turned out to be my only chance to take good pictures of the wild side of the island.
I thought that all of Molokai was like that, but I quickly discovered that most of the navigable parts of the island are flat and pretty dry. Even so, when I landed I sprung for a rental Jeep, because my Airbnb host had explained to me that most of the roads to the main hiking spots on Molokai are inaccessible to regular cars. I am SO glad that I listened to her, because it would have been very disappointing to miss out on the Nature Conservancy Preserves that became the basis of my trip. Particularly because I was hoping to spend a day hiking down to Kalaupapa National Historical Park but it turns out that this was impossible at the time I went because a landslide had taken out the trail.
After picking up my Jeep (I named her Gwen after the Spiderman character), I trundled down a highway that would become very familiar to me, and I paid careful heed to a large sign along the side of the road, hand-painted to say: SLOW DOWN This is Molokai. My Airbnb in Kepui Beach Resort was the perfect Hawaiian getaway, with a beach near by and a small studio with beautiful sliding doors that you could leave open to enjoy the perfect air.
Driving Around and Struggling Through the Sand
First thing I did when I had rested up for the night was drive over to the Nature Conservancy headquarters to ask about hiking in their parks. The friendly people manning the office gave me some maps, told me that 9am was way too late to head up into the mountains. They also checked to make sure I hadn’t already hiked on the Big Island, because there are some plant diseases/fungi from Hawaii that could threaten the forests of Molokai. Luckily, I had never been to the Big Island before, and my boots were clean anyway, so there was little worry about being a bio-contaminant.
Not knowing what else to do, I decided to try to drive down to the eastern end of the island, where I knew that the bigger mountains were. The paved road goes all the way out to a town called Halawa and it looked like a nice drive. It mostly was, and there were some great views of the beach and Lanai on the way, but I turned around when I got to a single lane, two-way road that weaved its way along the cliffs. I just didn’t have the energy for any high stakes driving.
I turned around, returned to the biggest city of Kaunakakai (where the only gas station is), and stopped in to Molokai Burger for lunch. Surprisingly, the only drive-thru on Molokai had one of the best burgers I have ever had. The meat was super juicy and the bun was impossibly soft. I’m missing it as I write about it.
At this point, I decided that I would run to the grocery store and then hike in the TNC’s Mo’omomi Nature Preserve. The Friendly Market Place turned out to be more of an adventure that I ever would have guessed. It was very small, and very busy and it turned out to be a big mistake that I grabbed a cart on the way in. It was almost impossible to move down the aisles with a cart because there were so many people and the register lines were also snaking up through some of them, making it even harder to move around and shop. It took patience to make it work, but I did my best to take cues from everyone else about how to maneuver and where to leave my cart such that it didn’t get in anyone else’s way.
After all that, I dropped off my food and then followed the TNC’s directions to the dirt road that would take me to Mo’omomi. I wasn’t expecting this to be a scary experience, but Molokai had “things” to teach me about dirt roads. In particular, this red, soft road tended to wear more on one side than the other, creating a situation in which you often found yourself and your vehicle tipping precariously to the side. After getting really worried that I would tip over, I learned to position myself so that my wheels were as level as possible. (I also kept trying to tell myself that this is what Jeeps are meant to do…)
In any case, I made it to the pavilion where they told me to park, and I struck out for the reserve, which was about a mile or so away. It turned into quite the slog, since this part of the island gets pretty hot, and I was hiking with boots through the deep, squishy sand of the beach, which made for a slow, strenuous trek. By the time I made it to the TNC gate, I was hot and tired, so even though the trail got much easier to walk, I had lost some of my drive to keep going. So, when I lost the trail in a thicket of trees and spiny bushes, I called it a day.
Facing My Fears On Kamakou
Talking with the TNC personnel and driving the very uneven (to me) road to Mo’omomi made me worried about attempting to get up to the Kamakou Forest Preserve, but I steeled myself, because that was honestly the place I wanted to visit most on Molokai. Luckily for me, despite my misgivings and all of the online reviews saying that the road was horrible, it actually wasn’t that bad, and besides being narrow, I had no problem with it. I had to reverse a few times to let people pass and vice versa, but it was in good condition and the weather was sunny as well.
I did decide to park at the outlook and hike the two miles up the road from there to the Pepe’opae Bog Trail, my goal. That turned out to be a great idea, because the road above the outlook was way more technical than I would have known how to handle. In fact, it was so slippery that I had trouble walking on it at times.
I did enjoy the Pepe’opae Trail, but it turned out that “bog” was a great name for it, as I had to walk on boards of wood, and at one point I fell off and my leg sunk up to the knee into the mud. It didn’t make me particularly happy to be covered in muck. I also ended up getting soaking wet because all of the plants had dew all over them. I honestly think that my anxiety about the whole experience just summed itself into a general annoyance with the trail, but it certainly wasn’t an easy or particularly safe trek.
I did get a great view of the interior of the island, however, which honestly made it worth all of the struggle. It was probably one of the most beautiful things that I have seen and having had to fight to see it made it sweeter. Type Two fun is real!
After that though, I was ready to get down and get some distance from the worry that had crowded the trip. I felt so good when I got down from the mountain, in fact, that I felt a rush of energy and ended up driving over to Pala’au State Park where I had a little picnic, saw the phallic rock (which was way more phallic than I was expecting for some reason), and got a glimpse of Kalaupapa Peninsula. It was a sobering moment, honestly, looking down from the insanely tall and steep cliffs at the small town where people with leprosy were once abandoned and sequestered from the rest of the world. I still wish I had had the opportunity to visit and learn more about their experiences. But at least these days no one is forced to live there and we have treatments for the disease; now it’s a place to contemplate and learn from, which it turns out you can even do from quite far away.
Four Wheeling and Wandering the Forest on Lana’i
A day after I returned to Maui from Moloka’i, I was planning on hopping on a ferry to Lanai. I was extremely tired after all the flying and hiking, and I seriously considered not going, but reminding myself that I have only ever regretted just not going somewhere I had been planning to visit (not for safety reasons), I forced myself to get up and make it to the boat. Thank goodness I did, because I had a lovely day on the smaller island.
The ride over was very smooth and there were whales swimming near-by. We didn’t stop to look at them, but I appreciated that- it was nice to enjoy them while minding our own business. Once I got off at the ferry terminal I picked up my Jeep (which I rented from an extremely helpful and friendly Lanai resident and named Peter B. Parker), and drove straight to the Munro Trailhead.
Trailhead turned out to be a bit of a generous name, as it’s more of a four-wheel road, and that’s less than ideal in places where the roads are used as commonly as this one. I had to be constantly on the lookout for cars. Tourists and locals alike drove relatively fast through the forest, and the last thing I wanted was to get hit. While this wasn’t preferable, the Munro Trail is long enough for a hiker to get a good sample of the terrain of Lanai and it has access to the island’s highpoint, so I pressed on anyway with the hope that I might make it up into the mountains.
I ended up turning around at about 4 miles in when my body started telling me that it was just tired of the uphill trek, and I lacked real motivation to keep going, since I really had no way to tell when I had gotten to the island highpoint. It’s good that I did, because even though I was on the last ferry out that night, there was more to see than it turned out that I had time for.
After I trekked back to my Jeep, I spent some time in Lanai City enjoying the food, chai tea, and scenery. I really fell in love with the architecture and character of this village; everyone just seemed quiet and friendly. I felt very welcomed and at-home there, which is saying a lot for me since I tend to prefer more wild places and keeping to my solo travel style.
I may have been a little too relaxed in my time spent there, however, because by the time I left, I only had a few more hours on the island. I still wanted to visit Shipwreck Beach and the Garden of the Gods, but the sandy conditions of the road to Shipwreck caused me to waste some more time fretting over what to do, and eventually I tested out my sand-driving skills on a longer road out to an old church tucked away in the coastal scrub. It wasn’t as hard as I thought it was (I was very preoccupied with the idea of getting stuck), but by the time I came back and considered Shipwreck, I felt like it would be a better use of my time to see the Garden of the Gods.
Unfortunately, I ended up getting lost and didn’t go to either. Which was disappointing, but I was too worried about being to the ferry on time, so I spent my last hour on Hulopo’e Beach, which was just as beautiful as I was told it would be. There were some otherworldy red-rock cliffs and formations that I absolutely loved, and there was a nice little hike to be done up the coast as well. I could also spy the infamous Four Seasons ($1,000 a night) from here, and it was odd to think about the kinds of people that might be staying there. I couldn’t say, in that moment, that I envied them. Lanai has so much to offer anyone who makes it there, rich or otherwise.