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When in Molokai, Be a Molokaian

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

It's true you will not find crowded resorts and many facilities targeted to tourists on the Hawaiian island of Molokai, but that's exactly why you should go!

The Molokai experience - which, no matter who you are, is a total escape from life as you know it - begins even before you board your flight. It begins when you walk away from the main terminal, with its jet noise and nervous lines, and cross over to the commuter runways.

In Honolulu, the room where you wait for your flight to Molokai is huge and empty. You can actually hear the flight announcements. The attendant has time to walk around and answer questions. Doves fly in the room at one end and straight out the other.

If you depart from Maui, you stand in the breeze at the edge of the runway.

Your plane has two propellers. It doesn’t scream; it chuggles. And there’s no cattle chute - you walk across the tarmac, just like Elvis boarding one of those Pan Am Clippers. The plane’s full and snug, but there aren’t many passengers. A good number of them are probably Hawaiians carrying lunch pails. You fly along the tallest sea cliffs in the world, cloaked with wild greenery and sliced with amazing canyons - one of the Earth’s natural marvels - and your neighbors are talking about their kids.

When you come to Molokai, you become a Molokaian. As one island native put it: "People try to tell us, oh you could have this, you should do that. But no sense try to change us. We want you to change."

On Molokai, with fewer than 7,000 residents, everyone knows everyone else. They don’t get many outsiders. When they see one, they’re likely to slow down and wave you through the intersection. Or they’ll stop and ask if you’re okay. They might stare a little - till you break the ice, and then they melt. Conversations are direct and honest. They don’t have a "tourist industry." They’re not at all sure they want one. But they’re happy to have visitors.

Visitors experience Molokai simplicity from the moment they step into Ho‘olehua Airport - which is small enough that you can just about fill out your car-rental form with one hand and pick up your luggage with the other.

If it so happens that your bag is delayed till the next flight, don’t worry. Someone will bring it. Someone else will lend you a pair of shorts. The next step is to drive into town for supplies.

"Downtown" Molokai is one block long, crowded with stores on either side. Built during the ‘30s, the town looks something like the set for a movie Western that never got made. Your first reaction might be, "My gosh, there’s nothing here!" But the opposite is true; you can find everything in Kaunakakai. This fact is invisible from the street but obvious the minute you step into any one of the shops, which are crammed with the essentials of Molokai life.

There are two fully stocked groceries, Misaki’s and Friendly Market, plus a smaller place called Oviedo’s that specializes in Filipino food and serves the best roast pork in the state. Take’s Variety supplies everything from hammers to hose bibs, from Boggle games to bike parts. Molokai Drugs is a full-service pharmacy where people take the time to talk with you about your prescription. And there are several places to buy made-on-Molokai gifts, including Molokai Fish And Dive, which is packed to the rafters with fishing and camping gear, hats, tee-shirts, and curiosities. Molokai Wines ‘N Spirits is a total surprise - a great place to pick up a top-rated Cabernet, a ten-year-old Madeira, or a block of Roquefort cheese.

The wise visitor will do the food shopping immediately. The town is essentially closed on Sundays, and all of Molokai goes to sleep every day at sundown. Most accommodations assume that you’ll adopt this rural tempo - that you’ll set up a temporary home in an isolated location and wrap yourself in the splendid silence of the island.

But you don’t have to become a recluse when you visit Molokai. You can dine out for every meal and scarcely repeat yourself in a week.

Kaunakakai’s main street, Ala Malama Avenue, offers many options for a "local style" lunch. Oviedo’s is an authentic Filipino eatery. Kanemitsu Bakery serves diner-style breakfast and lunch. Big Daddy’s is good for bento (Japanese box lunch), poke (raw fish in marinade), and shave ice (island-style snow cones), then for a brief period in the late afternoon does a brisk business in Chinese take-out.

At one end of the street, the tiny Sundown Deli offers made-to-order sandwiches and good soup; at the other end, Outpost Natural Foods provides organic, vegetarian dishes at its daytime window. Nearby Molokai Drive Inn does fast-food service with Hawaiian-style plate lunches.

The town also has two good-sized restaurants that stay open through the din extensive menu - not just excellent pizzas but also chicken and ribs, sandwiches and pies. The Oceanfront Dining Room at Hotel Molokai offers comfortable seaside dining, breakfast-lunch-and-dinner every day. On Sunday nights they lay out a paniolo (cowboy) barbecue buffet. On Wednesdays they serve theme buffets (Thai, lu’au, Mexican, Italian...). Better yet, this is a great place to hear live music. The "Aloha Friday" gathering (each week from four to six pm) is one of the island’s best traditions. Two dozen or more kupuna (elders) come together for a jam session of favorite songs, hula, laughter, and plenty of aloha spirit. Wise visitors will want to soak up this experience of Hawai‘i "as it was."

Outside of town, your eating choices get rarer, but they’re just as diverse.

The east end of the island has defied civilization. It’s a place for hiking, horse-back riding, and hunting for castaway beaches. Out here, when your appetite starts to howl, you head for the Neighborhood Store near mile 16. The service window features burgers and shoyu chicken, saimin and stir-fry plates, floats and shakes.

North of town, in the upland area called Kala‘e, you have two choices. Molokai Coffee Plantation makes a stop for light lunch or snack – bagels, croissants, and salads along with hundred-percent Molokai coffee. Next door, the popular Kamuela’s Cookhouse serves hearty island food for breakfast and lunch (great homemade pies).

The west end of the island, remote as it seems, is scarcely more than a dozen miles from Kaunanakai. You have two dining choices here the small town of Maunaloa, site of Molokai’s triplex movie theater and the island’s most elegant accommodation, the Sheraton Molokai Lodge. One of these, situated next to the theater, is the Paniolo Café, a new place that serves hefty, high-quality plate lunches. If you find yourself looking for food late in the day, after Kaunakakai shuts down, come out here; they serve take-out food till 7:30.

The other restaurant in Maunaloa is the island’s finest – the Maunaloa Room at the Sheraton Molokai Lodge. Here you experience high-end dining at a scale appropriate to this unique island. The chef has designed “Molokai regional” cuisine, and the restaurant’s decor harmonizes with the Lodge’s beautifully stated theme as a luxury ranch house.

In short, you won’t go hungry on Molokai. Better yet, no matter where you eat, from the Maunaloa Room to the Neighborhood Store, you’ll be mingling with the people of the island. Over half of them are native Hawaiians, and all of them are unreservedly proud of being Molokaian.

They’re proud of their crime-free community and proud of their freedom from the noise and ambitions, the buildings and appliances of modern life. They’re notoriously friendly, but not so much outgoing as they are simply curious. After all, if you’re on the island, they’re going to make one assumption about you - for the time being, even if only for a day, you’re a Molokaian, too.

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Article Courtesy of the Molokai Visitors Association

Articles About Molokai Island

Molokai Travel Guide

Other Islands of Hawaii

Visitor Destinations in Hawaii

Hawaii for Visitors

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