Health & Wellness, Special Section, Travel

Hawaii unplugged

By Karen Villalpando, 11/07/2013

Mellow Molokai, Hawaiian by nature


If you take the mules or hike into Kalaupapa, you’ll miss this photo op. Taken from the window of the ten-seat turbo prop plane, the view of the Kalaupapa cliffs were stunning. (photo by Michael Villalpando)

For our special section on health and wellness, we thought we would entice you with one of the best ways to relax and rejuvenate – go on a vacation. If you are looking for a place to renew your spirit, relax beyond belief, and explore the wonders of nature, consider one of the lesser known Hawaiian islands, the island of Molokai. You won’t find crowds, busy shopping malls, luxury hotels and spas or even fancy restaurants. What you will find is peace, tranquility and the beauty of untouched Hawaii.


The people of Molokai are proud of their Hawaiian heritage – and proud of their united force of keeping Molokai free from commercialism. There are no Starbucks or McDonalds. All of the retail on the island is family owned and operated, as are the restaurants – Molokai Pizza and Molokai Burger, Dave’ Hawaiian Shaved Ice. There is a wine and spirits shop in town that sells a decent selection of wines, cheeses, and even prosciutto. The grocery stores are well provisioned, but don’t plan to shop for beachwear. Even Molokai t-shirts are hard to come by.



Hotel Molokai

For lodging, Hotel Molokai is the only hotel on the island, although there is plenty of beachfront rental property. The rooms at Hotel Molokai are clean, newly renovated, and comfortable. More importantly, the service is warm, friendly and personable. The General Manager, Michael Drew, welcomed us upon our arrival and escorted us to the nice bar, where they make a memorable piña colada. The Hula Shores restaurant is currently being remodeled, yet on Friday afternoons they offer a limited bar menu and music performed by local Kupuna (grandparents) who play their ukuleles and guitars at the beachfront bar for a couple hours. We had a

The affable general manager of Hotel Molokai, Michael Drew, left and Michael. (photo by Karen Villalpando)

kitchenette in our room where we prepared dinner each night. We hooked up with some local fisherman who set up tents on the main street and sell the day’s catch. We selected a whole ahi tuna which they cleaned and fileted for us for $15. We purchased some sesame oil, soy sauce and wasabi from the local grocery store and made ourselves some delicious poke.


But you don’t visit Molokai for the accommodations and dining. You visit for the splendor and the beauty of the island. Pristine, wide-open beaches beckon with only a handful of people on them. Lush, green landscape, waterfalls, winding roads that hug the coastline are scenes from the east side of the 60 mile wide island. Traveling to the west side the terrain changes. A large resort property is abandoned. Thick, gnarled trees – we referred to them as “the angry trees” –  cover acres and acres of land. The area is desolate and empty. In fact, the beaches, while expansive, felt eerie and quite lonely. It seemed as if the tiki gods did their best at shooing tourists and even locals back to the other side of the island.


To get to Molokai, you must fly to a larger airport, like Honolulu or Kona, and then fly on Mokolele Airlines – in a ten-seat plane to Molokai, about a 30 minute flight from Honolulu. We rented a car and drove into town. After checking in at Hotel Molokai, we walked on the beach and enjoyed a spectacular sunset. We had an early start the next morning – a trip to Kalaupapa, the peninsula on the north side of the island where Father Damien arrived in 1873 to care for patients with Hansen’s disease, or leprosy.



This view from the top of Halawa Valley was one of the most breathtaking we had ever experienced. We enjoyed the beach at the cove in the center of the photo. (photo by Michael Villalpando)

To get to Kalaupapa, one must hike or ride mules to descend the 1,600 foot high cliffs. The other option is to fly – there is a small air strip for deliveries to the settlement.  Visitors must be over 16 years of age, and must be part of the Damien Tours of Kalaupapa. Once on the peninsula, you are with a guide at all times who explains the history of Kalaupapa and the profound service Father Damien gave to the patients who lived there. He contracted the disease and died on Kalaupapa after 16 years of dedicated care.  Mother Marianne arrived on the island in 1883 and with five other nuns, cared for the patients on Molokai for 29 years.  None of these women contracted the disease. Mother Marianne was canonized in 2012. There are less than a dozen patients left on the peninsula, yet the area is still highly protected.


One of the most beautiful sights was flying to Kalaupapa over the magnificent cliffs. Truly an awe-inspiring panorama. When I think back on our trip to Molokai, I think of this scene and of the view descending into Halawa Valley – both vistas unlike any place I’ve seen. The road to Halawa Valley on the east end of the island was similar to the road to Hana – not as long, but almost nearly as winding with many single lane passes. Down, down into the valley we drove, ending at cove surrounded by cliffs. To get to the beach, we had to wade through a twenty-foot wide, fresh water stream, nearly to our waists. There was another family day-camping on the beach, and then another joined us. All told there were about a dozen of us on this secluded hideaway.  The water was warm and calm, and we enjoyed a nice nap – until a sudden rain cloud appeared pelting us with intense raindrops, which ended nearly as quickly as it started.

Father Damien’s burial site on Kalaupapa is revered by local and visitors. (photo by Michael Villalpando)

Now that’s what I call “a day at the beach.”


While we were on the island, a very special occasion was observed. Each year in May, the people of the island celebrate the birth of Hula, culminating in a grand Ho’olaule’a (celebration) with Hula being the theme.


The “talk stories”, or spoken histories of Moloka’i, tell of a woman named La’ila’i, who settled and made her home in pre-western Molokai. She brought with her the art of the dance, and introduced this unusual art form to the people. Her style of dance influenced many to travel from the neighboring islands to Moloka’i, to behold the beauty of her dancing. For five generations after the passing of La’ila’i, the art of the hula was kept secret and only passed down to her descendants who performed their sacred dances only on Molokai.

During the fifth generation of La’ila’i dancers, Laka was born into the La’ila’i clan and was taught the art of the dance by her older sister. Unlike those family members before her, Laka chose to leave the Island of Molokai to spread the art of the dance throughout the islands against her family’s consent. Thus, the art of hula was spread throughout all of Hawaii and Laka was remembered as the first woman of the dance until the present time.


Each year, a cultural theme is chosen from certain aspects of ancient Moloka’i tradition, calling on all the residents to come out and rejoice in the celebration, with food, dance, music and family. The festival is more authentic than any luau you’ll attend – it’s just real people, doing what they know and love.

Purdy’s Nut Farm

How many times have you bit into a macadamia nut and smiled with contentment? Well, wait until you taste a Purdy’s macadamia nut. Not only will you be pleased with its taste, but its fresh and unprocessed texture. And as the Purdys tell you, these nuts are actually good for you! We walked up the driveway through the macadamia nut

The sandy beach at Hotel Molokai offered beautiful sunset views. (photo by Michael Villalpando)

grove and met Makaila Purdy, sister of owner Tuddie Purdy. She was watering the plants and tending to the grove. The family is happy to show you how to crack a nut and the drying and roasting process. The nuts contain far less fat than the commercially produced variety. Online orders are available through the Molokai Visitors website

Ironwood Hills Golf Course

Yes! There is a golf course on Molokai. Nestled in cool up-country Kalae, Ironwood Hills offers 9 holes of surprisingly challenging golf, yet also the perfect place to enjoy the day with family and friends. With splendid views of the north and south shores of the island, and the lush ironwood forests surrounding the course, it’s a great place to spend a few hours. PGA pro Darrell Rego is happy to show you one of the island’s best kept secrets.


People – everybody’s related

Mokolele Airlines provides inter-island travel from the major airports to Molokai daily. (photo by MIchael Villalpando)

Okay, everybody’s not really related, but here, everyone is your brother, sister, uncle or auntie. We met Dave, our server at the Hula Shores bar at Hotel Molokai. Turns out he owns Dave’s Hawaiian Shaved Ice in town, as well as a t-shirt shop. During our conversation, he mentioned the gentleman providing musical entertainment that evening was his father-in-law, Eddie Tanaka.

The next day at the hula festival, we stopped at a booth selling t-shirts boasting the phrase “What happens on Molokai, everybody already knows.” The woman selling the shirts was Dave’s wife. All serendipitous meetings, yet all connected. She gave us a CD of her father’s recordings and we listen to it often. The songs are all Hawaiian and conjure up images and memories of our trip to Molokai.

When I called the hotel for any updated information, not only did Michael Drew remember me, it was like talking to a relative I hadn’t seen in a while.

A visit to Molokai is truly inspiring and authentic. It’s good for the mind, body and soul. You feel connected to the island and to the people. You feel the mysticism in the air. And you understand why the people on Molokai don’t want it to change.

The Molokai Visitors Association is happy to help you plan a trip to the island. Go to their website at For Hotel Molokai, visit





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6 Responses to “Hawaii unplugged”

  1. Wendy says:

    Molokai is one of my favorite islands but sometimes misunderstood. I’m glad you captured the true essence of this magical island! Great article!

  2. Barbie says:

    I’m sorry to hear you didn’t enjoy the West end. The Paniolo’s (cowboys) the Harbor, Maunaloa Town and beaches like Papohaku and Dixie Maru are favorites of ours when we stay on the West end. You really did get the feeling of the island, Friendly & Caring while being fiercely Loyal & Protective of the History and Heritage.

  3. Charlene says:

    We have our reservations for February 2015 and this wonderful story makes me want the fifteen months to fly so we can get there sooner! Thanks for a great read.

  4. Irene says:

    Going to Molokai and Maui Feb of 2018…can’t wait!!

  5. Sandy says:

    Was thinking of giving my daughter and her fiance a honeymoon to Hotel Molokai. Would this be a good place or Maui Banyan. Can anyone give any pro’s or cons.

  6. Bill says:

    Just now getting around to reading this. What a treat it was to re-live. My wife and I were there in January of ’12. We still remember Michael, fondly. I’ll never forget the first time I bellied up to the bar at Hula Shores. It was only a matter of minutes before I realized that I was the only hotel guest at the bar. They were all locals and I considered them all friends by the time we left. My wife still dreams of moving to Molokai and sings the “Molokai Slide” often. This might be my favorite place on earth. Thanks for the memories.

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