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Molokai Missed The Tourism Bandwagon

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!

It’s dusk on the island of Moloka‘i. You pull your car out onto the main highway, heading to a restaurant for dinner. This is the busy part of the island, near the main town of Kaunakakai. Then you notice something strange and marvelous... nothing.

The two-lane highway is straight as a stick, and you can’t see a single car all the way down the road. No headlights at all in your rear-view mirror. No tall buildings or crowded luxury homes separate you from the lake-like sea, which is shining with the last colors of the sunset. The emerging stars look close enough to touch, and the sky is full of silence. You pass a huge plumeria tree loaded with flowers and, even with the windows rolled up, the sweet perfume fills the car and becomes a topic of conversation.

Yes, it’s true there’s "nothing" on Moloka‘i, lots of it - an abundance of the delicious "nothing" that busy people crave when their jobs and lives crowd them. No red lights, ever.

On a drive like this, you feel muscles unclench.

"People come here for the vicarious Robinson Crusoe experience," say Akiko and Glenn Foster, who offer secluded bed-and-breakfast accommodations under the name Kamalo Plantation. "They’re people who like nature and want peace and quiet. Many of them have seen the other Hawaiian islands, and they want to get away from hotels and glitz. They want to do their own thing -- buy a bunch of groceries in town, then settle in for some privacy."

The Fosters themselves found Moloka‘i through a very Robinson-Crusoe-like boating mishap. Their sailboat dismasted, and they had to limp into

Kaunakakai Harbor for repairs. The people at the harbor were so friendly and helpful that the Fosters decided to explore the island a bit. Rather quickly, they changed their lives and retired from their international Pacific-Rim business. "We came back to Moloka‘i. It gave us this uplifted feeling. More energy," says Glenn.

“People write about this experience all the time in our guest book. They say you have time here to regroup. To rediscover yourself.”

Kamalo Plantation’s two fully furnished houses -- one tucked in an ancient grove next to an old Hawaiian temple of healing, and the other set above its own pocket-sized beach on the island’s remote east end -- make good examples of Moloka‘i’s out-of-the-ordinary guest accommodations.

Here are some others. At the east end, Pu‘u O Hoku Ranch offers two large hand-crafted cottages, each with a land-and-sea-scape that goes on for miles. Exactly opposite Pu‘u O Hoku Ranch, at the island’s dry west end with its huge beaches, travelers can rent large homes that have swimming pools, hot tubs, and views across wild land to a sandy cove. One of these, Papapa Plantation, is a beautiful cedar home with four separate bedrooms -- a perfect share situation for friends or a family group. Next door, Miller Moloka‘i has a similar layout and rents its rooms separately to travelers who don’t mind mingling in the spacious common areas.

Central Moloka‘i provides a variety of bed-and-breakfast type accommodations. For example, at A‘ahi Place, just two miles from Kaunakakai, visitors can rent a furnished cottage surrounded by fruit trees and tropical plants. The cedar-walled cottage sleeps four and - typical of such places - comes with all the kitchen basics, a washer, towels, and snorkel gear. Owner Steve Sears has added a cut-rate "backpackers lodging" and an open-air communal barbecue area with television, a dipping pool, an outdoor shower, and the occasional Moloka‘i-style jam session. Steve is a carpenter who happened to be sailing past Moloka‘i one day, stopped for supplies, and decided not to leave. Keeping with the spirit of this island’s aloha, he’s happy to meet guests at the airport or ferry landing and help them get oriented. Says Steve: "That’s what B&Bs do -- look out for people."

Along its sheltered south shore the island also offers three modest mini-resorts. Two of them -- Wavecrest and Moloka‘i Shores -- are condominiums designed for home-style living. Ocean-view buildings enclose a central lawn, swimming pool, and barbecues. These are quiet places where guests sit seaside watching the sun set -- or rise. (This is one of the few places in Hawai‘i where you can watch both events from the comfort of the same park bench.) The third such option is the likeable Hotel Moloka‘i, a cluster of two-story buildings designed like the classic South Seas "long-house". The hotel includes a very good restaurant and, on many nights, Moloka‘i musicians playing pool-side.

If you crave big, hot stretches of sand, you’ll find them on the west-facing shore at Kaluako‘i. Three excellent condominiums take full advantage of their beach-view locations -- the Paniolo Hale perched on a natural ledge, Ke Nani Kai with pool, barbecue, and tennis courts, and Kaluako‘i Villas rambling over 29 acres. All three offer golf course privileges at the nine-hole course nearby.

For both comfort and novelty, nothing on the island can match the Sheraton Moloka‘i. Based in the small hilltop town of Maunaloa, the Sheraton offers two radically different experiences. First, the Beach Village constitutes what must be the most comfortable beach-side campground in the world. Guests stay in two-bedroom "beach bungalows" -- ingeniously designed canvas-walled suites with solar energy, private bathrooms, and daily maid service -- and they eat at a restaurant pavilion next to the crashing surf. Second (and many Sheraton Moloka‘i guests like to do them in this order), the Lodge provides the island’s most luxurious hotel experience. Here, ‘ 30s-era ranch-house meets spa, billiards room, and deep sofa. Sheraton Moloka‘i’s Cultural Center also offers a long list of opportunities to hike, bike, ride horses, snorkel, surf, and practice marksmanship (archery, clay shooting, pellet guns, and paint ball).

Two companies provide information and bookings for the dozens of Moloka‘i homes, condos, and cottages that are available for rent. Visitors who are planning a trip can learn a lot at either of these websites: Moloka‘i Vacation Rentals (www.molokai-vacation-rental.com) and Moloka‘i Resorts (www.molokairesorts.com).

None of these getaways is taller than three stories, and all of them provide natural solitude. It’s the same natural solitude you experience while kayaking along the island’s reef-protected south shore, while finding an unpopulated beach, while hiking to Moa‘ula Falls, while loafing.

Some families find this natural solitude to be a perfect backdrop for a family-bonding vacation. Moloka‘i simply lacks a dozen different reasons to scatter in all directions. So families share their adventures - mountain-biking together, riding horses together, learning to windsurf together. They have time to talk, to push the world aside and revive the most fundamental relationships of their lives.

For couples - especially couples who love the outdoors or couples who like the simplicity of quiet conversation - Moloka‘i is wonderfully renewing, if not downright romantic.

Moloka‘i is not for everyone. To be frank, the drive from the airport is rather bleak, passing through a parched landscape of abandoned pineapple fields. But when you get inside Moloka‘i, the riches unfold.

Says B&B owner Steve Sears, "Moloka‘i attracts independent travelers who don’t want to be isolated in a hotel with other tourists. They want to see how people live. They like the freedom and safety here."

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Article Courtesy of the Molokai Visitors Association


Molokai Island Travel Guide

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Hawaii for Visitors












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