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Touring Molokai by Sea

Article about ? See also more About Molokai, our guides to other Hawaiian Islands and our Hawaii Travel Guide.

A guide to sea excursions on Molokai, including kayaking, cruising, scuba diving, snorkeling, sailing, whalewatching, and fishing tours. Also includes information about the Molokai Ferry.

It’s just after dawn on the beach at the Hotel Molokai, and the light is brilliant. The wind and the sea are perfectly matched - both are barely moving and slightly cool.

You pull your bright yellow kayak slushing across the beach, sleekly into the water, and jump in. Right away you know what to do - start paddling. It’s instinctive. It’s what people have been doing here for thousands of years.

If you’re a novice paddler, it takes a few minutes to get the grip and rhythm. Meanwhile, during the first awkwardness, you also happen to be shooting straight out into the open sea. So you’re grateful that there are no waves breaking over your hull or pushing you sideways. In fact, there are no waves at all. The ocean is amazingly calm.

The sea floor is just a few feet below you, and no matter how far you travel away from shore, it stays right there. "If you fall out," says your guide, "just stand up."

Suddenly you begin to grasp the amazing nature of Molokai’s south coast. Now you can see that, in fact, there are waves - dead ahead. But they’re about a mile away! Out there, taking the blows of the sea, is the front edge of the reef - a natural wall that wraps more than thirty miles of this coastline. You’re paddling the shallow, lake-like surface of the most extensive fringing reef in the United States.

Needless to say, this is a great place to kayak. In the morning, before the tradewinds pick up velocity, you can paddle this coast with relative ease, investigating the ancient fishponds that line the coast. These fishponds -- sea-enclosures built of artfully stacked stone - give silent testimony to the skill and ingenuity of the bygone residents of this island.

Two companies provide these guided kayak excursions. Molokai Outdoors departs from its headquarters in the lobby of Hotel Molokai. Molokai Fish and Dive, a sporting goods store on Kaunakakai’s main strip, departs from the small-craft slip at Kaunakakai Wharf.

This latter kayak trip goes west along the coast to explore Pala‘au Fishpond, the largest of them all and the only one containing brackish water - a mix of sea water and fresh streamwater that rolls off the land into the stone enclosure. This circumstance gives the Pala‘au trip an extra kick: paddling through a dense jungle. The shoreline at Pala‘au is choked with an impenetrable forest of mangroves. (The mangrove is the only tree capable of growing in seawater. Once established, it forms a forty-foot-high thicket full of darkness, stillness, and the creaking of branches.) The guides of Molokai Fish and Dive have discovered that the fresh water streaming out of Pala‘au Fishpond creates a narrow channel through this jungle, a kind of kayak "trail." They take their guests on this eerie trail, which in places gets so close you have to drop your paddle and pull yourself along by grabbing roots and branches. Typically, guests will exclaim: "This is just like Disneyland!" And it is, with one important difference - this is no amusement park. It’s the real McCoy.

A kayak excursion is just one way to experience Molokai by sea. The people of the island have always lived and thrived on contact with the ocean, and they like sharing this tradition with their guests.

Molokai Charters, for example, operates a forty-two-foot sloop called Satan’s Doll, which recently returned from a four-year trip around the world. Owners Richard and Doris Reed will take you sailing on a two-hour sunset cruise, a half-day whale-watch, or a full-day trek to snorkel isolated anchorages on the coast of Lana‘i. Sportfishing boats -- the thirty-one-foot, twin-diesel Alyce C., for example, or the twenty-seven-foot Ahi of Fun Hogs Hawai‘i - offer the excitement of hooking up to a big marlin, a mahi mahi, or an ono. (They go whale-watching, too.) Ahi captain Mike Holmes is one of the only fishing-boat skippers in Hawai‘i who believes his guests should keep whatever they catch.

Fun Hogs will also take you outside the reef to find the best waves on the island, hand you a boogie board and some advice, then let you play. Or Mike will cross over to Manele Harbor on Lana‘i, sometimes providing one-way passage for independent-minded travelers exploring Hawai‘i’s small, undeveloped islands.

Scuba diving on Molokai? You bet. Molokai Fish and Dive, the kayak provider, offers many kinds of activities but scuba is a particular specialty. For dive trips, they use Mike Holmes’s Ahi and some skillful guides - young men who are not only PADI certified but also born-and-raised island boys who know the waters as well as anyone alive. They know all the "blue holes," the underwater caves, and places for swimming with hammerhead sharks.

All of these sea-going excursions begin and end at the Kaunakakai Wharf, on the reef-protected south shore. Along the north shore, though, where wave and wind strike against the tallest sea-cliffs in the world, boating is a different experience altogether. For that you need Walter Naki of Molokai Action Adventures and his twenty-one-foot Boston whaler called Puakea O Wailau. Walter has unique qualifications for taking people "backside." First of all, he’s an exceptionally competent outdoorsman - hunter, fisher, diver. Moreover, his family roots are here along this intense coastline, in now-uninhabited Wailau Valley. Walter’s grandfather was one of the last Hawaiians to leave the valley and adopt a more civilized lifestyle.

The trip leaves from Halawa Valley, at the extreme road’s-end of east Molokai. Walter’s little boat bounces and dances over the swells as he races past the cliffs, a big grin on his face. He’s home. He points out the sights - Hawaii’s longest waterfall, rare seabirds with fantastically long tails, strange rock formations associated with old legends. He shoots his boat through a natural tunnel in the seacliffs. He lets his passengers wade ashore at Wailau Valley, where they wander around in a waking dream of lost Polynesia. It’s a wild ride - "for hardy people," says Walter. But he not-so-modestly declares his trip to be one of the two best activities on Molokai (the other being the trek to Kalaupapa Peninsula). By the standard of pure exhilaration, there’s no doubt he’s right.

Molokai Action Adventures (that is, Walter Naki) also offers customized experiences of deep-sea fishing, hunting, spear fishing, reef trolling, and even fly-fishing. Just say what you want, and we will provide - that’s the Molokai spirit. In the world of "package" travel, this island is always personal.

The largest seagoing vessel that you are likely to see docked at Molokai is the ferry. It crosses the Pailolo Channel every day between Kaunakakai and Lahaina, West Maui. Molokaians use the ferry to commute to jobs or to do their bulk buying on the much larger neighbor island.

Conversely, visitors to West Maui will use the ferry so that they can include Molokai in their travel experiences. The channel crossing, which takes less than two hours, costs about half the price of an airplane ticket.

Actually there are two vessels in the ferry fleet. The Maui Princess is 118 feet long, a high-speed touring yacht that carries as many as 150 people. The Molokai Princess is a similar craft and almost as large. Both vessels have been fitted with gyroscopic stabilizers that help take some of the chop out of rough channel crossings. Activity providers such as Molokai Outdoors offer programs that greet guests at the ferry landing and get them back in time for the return trip. This means that Maui visitors can make a day trip to Molokai. But most people would agree that a few hours on Molokai isn’t nearly enough time. A two or three night stay between channel crossings makes a lot more sense.

Aside from the seagoing activities mentioned here, you’ll see little else in the way of traffic on Molokai’s pristine and brilliant blue seas. There’s no yacht harbor choked with masts, no giant glass-bottom dinner-dance cruise boats, no submarine rides, no parasails. Molokai is not for everybody - and that’s precisely the reason to go.

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Article Courtesy of the Molokai Visitors Association

Articles About Molokai Island

Molokai Travel Guide

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