Never heard of Molokai? You’re not alone! It’s one of the lesser-known and less-visited Hawaiian Islands, though people do actually live here! It’s called “The Friendly Isle,” and because it’s relatively untouched by the same tourism as the other islands, it’s also called the “most Hawaiian” island.
Another side effect of it being less-visited: there is very little information out there about the island! So I decided to fill in some gaps and let you in on the things we wish we’d known before we even started planning our trip. This island is very special and deserves to be known. Here’s the run-down of all the things to know before you go to Molokai!
- Molokai (mo-lo-ky): The name of the island literally means “twisting and turning of ocean waters.”
- Top Side: This refers to the whole island south of the sea cliffs. The Kalaupapa Peninsula, Halawa Valley, and other communities in the valleys of those beautiful sea cliffs on the island’s north face are the only parts of the island that are not considered “top side.”
For more Hawaiian terminology and things to know before you go, check out What to Know Before You Visit the Hawaiian Islands!
Kalaupapa, the Former Leper Colony
In years past, and hopefully in the near future, there have been two way to get to the Kalaupapa Peninsula: via short flight or a long hike up and over the mountains that separate the rest of the island from the former leper colony. However, there was a disastrous mudslide on December 25, 2018, that made the trail unsafe and impassable. At the time of this post, the only way to get to the Kalaupapa Peninsula is to fly. I hope they are able to reopen the hiking trail, but right now everyone I asked said it will take at least another year!
Important things to remember when visiting Kalaupapa:
- There are still 12 residents living here who are Hansen’s disease survivors. They are cured but have chosen to stay here, though they could have left any time after the end of separation (when Hansen’s disease patients and those without Hansen’s disease were unable to even touch each other) in 1969. Remember that this is their home, and you are a visitor; be respectful.
- The state of Hawaii cares for them and will as long as they live.
- You cannot get leprosy from the residents or from anything in their community.
- Visitors must be 16 or older. This is because the patients at Kalaupapa had to give up their children as soon as they were born, so it’s too difficult for them to see children running around.
Check out my Ultimate Guide to Visiting Kalaupapa for how to get there, more tips for your trip, and highlights from the tour!
Good to Know
Here is some essential information to help you plan your trip and fit in a little bit when you get there:
Where is Molokai Located?
Before you go, you should know where you’re going! If you’re coming from the U.S. mainland, you will likely have to change planes in Honolulu like we did. Molokai is the fifth largest Hawaiian island!
Most Businesses are Closed on Sundays.
The exceptions are a few restaurants in Kaunakakai and the Big Wind Kite Factory in Mauna Loa, so plan to do your beach-going or hiking on Sunday! If we had known this, we would have scheduled our trip a little differently, perhaps flying in Monday morning and leaving Saturday instead. We arrived on Molokai after most businesses closed on Saturday, and then left the island before anything opened the following Thursday, giving us only 3 out of 5 days to fit everything in! Stay tuned for my recommended 5-day itinerary for visiting Molokai.
Slow Down, This is Molokai.
Molokai has no traffic lights, only 1- and 2-lane roads, and speed limits ranging from 10-45 mph. When you get to Molokai, be prepared to enjoy a slower pace of life! Also, there will be animals on the road. You’ll just have to wait for them to cross!
Gas is Expensive!
As in, $5.04 per gallon expensive! But the island is small, so you really won’t be using that much gas anyway. In the whole five days we were there, we used only about half a tank!
Cell Service is Spotty, but Better than Expected.
We have T-mobile, and I was actually pleasantly surprised at how often we did have cell service, but there are definitely plenty of dead zones around the island! You won’t get service on Kalaupapa or in the Halawa Valley, or long stretches of the road between destinations. However, we did have good cell service in Kaunakakai, the airport, One Alii Beach Parks I and II, and more locations around the island!
There are No Chain Stores or Restaurants on the Island.
If you like to buy from locals and support local communities, Molokai is the place for you! There’s not even an ABC Store (which you’ll find on the four main islands in abundance), and definitely no Starbucks! The food on the island was amazing, and the few shops around sell plenty of locally-made products. We loved that.
Recommended Reading and Watching
I like to read up on the places I plan to visit, but understandably, most of the material about Molokai is really tough to read, as it all centers around the mistreatment of the leprosy patients at Kalaupapa. However, Alan Brennert has managed to artfully write two novels that give insight to the island, the patients, the illness, and progress through the years in a gripping way. Click the photos below for yours!
Molokai by Alan Brennert
This novel follows one girl’s experience from childhood in Hawaii to growing up at the leprosy colony on the Kalaupapa Peninsula on Molokai. I was fascinated by her journey and life experiences, but also the progress made at Kalaupapa through the years. Alan Brennert did a wonderful job of combining historical fact with excellently researched fiction.
Daughter of Molokai by Alan Brennert
This one is only loosely connected to Molokai, but it is the continuation of the story and two important characters. It also sheds light on another part of history I knew next to nothing about: Japanese internment camps in the United States during World War II. I highly recommend it, especially if you liked Molokai as much as I did!
Molokai: The Story of Father Damien
Since this is the Year of Movie Moments for the blog, I have to put in a mention for a movie! Molokai: The Story of Father Damien is about the man who helped change everything about Kalaupapa and the leper colony. He saved souls and lives, and he died as a direct result, which is what got him promoted to Sainthood.
Want more? Check out What to Know Before You Visit the Hawaiian Islands and my Pacific Islands Page!
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