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The Land of the Red Dust

The Kalaupapa Peninsula, The Land of Many Sorrows...

To the End of the Road

Information for Your Visit to Molokai




Molokai - Hawaii for Hawaiians
by Thomas Schueneman

You’re Not in Honolulu Anymore

They call it the “Friendly Isle”…

You may come away thinking of Molokai as the “Distant Isle”.

Be cause even though the throngs of tourists are just a cross the channel, sunning themselves on the bea ches of Maui, on ce landing on Molokai, you are a world away.

But what did you expect?

If you’ve come to Molokai for the nightlife, you’ve been woefully misled.

If you’ve come to Molokai to eat roasted pig at an “authentic” luau, while being entertained by “real Hawaiian hula dancers”; you’ve come to the wrong island…

But if you’ve come to Molokai to visit the place Hawaiians go to get away from it all, then you’ve come to the right pla ce. The people of Molokai are friendly indeed, but happy to go about their business and let you do the same.

This is Hawaii for Hawaiians; Hawaii off the beaten path.

Molokai is a rural, agricultural community. Over half of the population of about eight thousand is native Hawaiian. Except for the private island of Niihau, near Kauai, Molokai is the only island where the majority of residents are native Hawaiian.

A mystical quality emanates from Molokai, reaching far back into its past. Ancient heiaus (temples) dot the landscape from which the kahunas – or sorcerers – weaved their magic. The sorcerers of Molokai were revered and respected among the people of neighboring islands, as were the fierce warriors that defended the agricultural bounty of the island.

The island rose up from the sea about two million years ago, the third oldest of the main Hawaiian Islands. Borne of three volcanoes, now either dormant or inactive, Molokai consists of Pa’u Nana to the west; Kamakou to the east and centered in the small peninsula jutting off the central northern coast is the Kauhako crater.

Molokai sits as the northern point in a triangle with Maui and Lanai. Between these islands are the Pailolo and Kalohi Channels.

Thirty-seven miles long and no more than ten miles wide, Molokai is the fifth largest island of the Hawaiian chain. The climate is dry and arid on the western side, green and lush on the eastern side. Depending on locale, average temperature ranges from seventy-five to eighty-five degrees. Thirty inches of rainfall is the yearly average.

Situated near the geographic center of the Pacific Ocean, Molokai is one of the most isolated spots on earth…

And that’s why you want to go there, isn’t it?

That’s why we wanted to go there…

“Molokai is quiet, uncrowded, and laid-back – even for Hawaii”, the guidebooks told us prior to our departure. The guidebooks were right…

Taking advantage of a standing offer to “home exchange” our flat in San Francisco, we settled quietly into the little Hawaiian home tucked neatly into the peaceful little clutch of houses astride a long and sandy beach along Molokai’s southeastern shore...

We arrived on a warm, mid-September afternoon with two suitcases, a set of keys, and some vague instructions on finding the “nicely rusted” car and the house - “turn right out of the airport, go to the main road and turn left. Stay on that road for a while. After the nineteen-mile marker, you’ll see a little stone church on your left. The house is right next to the church.”

And there it was. A beautiful island home complete with a “tree house” lanai to sit and watch the evening sun cast an orange glow across the channel on the western shore of Maui.

The next two weeks were spent peacefully exploring the island with our new companion, Barkley. A Terrier mix, Barkley came with the house, and immediately adopted us and stole our hearts. So it was that we settled into our new home to discover a different side of Hawaii than most tourists see. The quiet side.

The Land of the Red Dust…

The white, rusting Toyota sedan leaned into the turn as we headed west down route 480, toward the arid West End of Molokai. Past ranches and ramshackle cottages, where, by outward appearance, people lived a hard life of continual Red Dust…,

A dog’s belly that should have been white was dusted red; pickup trucks with a thin red film on the outside; the West End is a rose-colored land of sweeping vistas and lonely isolation.

It is from the steep cliffs of Molokai’s West End that legend tells of the origins of the ancient Hula. The modern history of this area includes vast pineapple plantations, ranchland, and lush pastures – aided by extensive irrigation. But from our vantage point as we drove down the lonely road, it was mostly Red Dust…

We drove to the little community of Maunaloa, the only town on this side of the island. The little village sported some watered grass and jaunty, green-colored buildings to soften the blow of the harsh surroundings, as did the shimmering ocean on the horizon, but little else to hold us for very long.

A few miles outside of town, we headed northwest off the main road to an enclave of resort hotels and condos, curious as to where they tucked away all the tourists.

It was eerily quiet walking the grounds of one resort – a little spooky. A stiff breeze blew in from the southeast... The hotel seemed oddly out of pla ce; there were adequate attempts at lush, tropi cal vegetation; but ultimately, just underneath the surfa ce, all around, was the Red Dust.

The area did have access to an unobstructed vista of the open ocean. Oahu rested lazily in the distant haze of the western horizon. At the bottom of a cliff a wide, sandy beach stretched along the shore for at least a mile.

Finishing our investigation of the area, we were glad we had somewhere else to go. Driving back up the windswept road toward Route 480, clouds of Red Dust billowed around our tires as we passed; Heading home toward the cool, green paradise of the East End and our little home by the sea…

The Kalaupapa Peninsula, The Land of Many Sorrows

On May 10, 1873, Father Joseph Damien deVeuster came ashore at the Kalaupapa Peninsula, carrying with him only a prayer book and the clothes on his back. He voluntarily came where others are banished; to Molokai’s infamous “leper colony”.

Father Damien spent many years caring for these unfortunate people. He used his political skills to focus the Church, and finally the world, to the inhumane living conditions these people were forced to endure. This attention would lead to outrage and indignation, and finally to change.

Father Damien gave himself so completely to his life’s work that he himself succumbed to leprosy (now more commonly known as “Hansen’s Disease”) and died in 1889, sixteen years after his unceremonious arrival on the island. On the day he died, Father Damien became forever known as “The Martyr of Molokai”

This four-mile-square peninsula jutting off the central northern coast of Molokai was not always home to such misery. Before the establishment of the colony in 1865 by King Kamehameha V, natives lived in a village on the western side of the peninsula; raising pigs, growing sweet potatoes, and fishing.

Kauhako forms the peninsula, and at the bottom of this extinct volcano lays a large lake more than 800 feet deep. At one time used as a burial site the lake still supports a variety of shrimp not found anywhere else in the world.

The Department of Health maintains jurisdiction over the peninsula, but forced isolation of the residents of the village was abolished in 1969. A cure for “Hansen’s Disease” has been around since the 1940’s

Access to the village is restricted to guests of residents, or those on an official tour of the peninsula. You must be at least sixteen years old to participate in the tours.

I pondered all this as we stood overlooking the neat, trim village from the high cliffs that isolate this area from the rest of the island. We had driven north along route 470 to Palaau State Park. A short path leading through tall forest leads to the Kalaupapa Lookout, with a panoramic view of the peninsula, the lush, magnificently rugged northern coast, and the deep blue of the open ocean.

Thoughts of the dark past of this little peninsula faded from view as the sun shimmered on the breaking surf far below.

To the End of the Road

Clouds hung heavy on the horizon, the gray mid-morning light silhouetted the sharp rise of Maui, looming across the channel. My eyes were getting droopy and the book in my hand began to slip. A gentle, moist wind blew in off the coast, with the occasional drop of rain tapping lightly on the awning... The sound of the surf filled my brain, warm and drowsy.

By early afternoon, the day had brightened somewhat. It was shaping up to be a perfect day for drive to the End of the Road at the northeast tip of Molokai; the Halawa valley

The weather alternated between brief, light rain showers and bands of sunlight breaking through the clouds. We packed dog, water bottles, and cameras in the car and headed east.

After a mile or two, the road narrowed, hugging the coast, waves occasionally breaking over the stone seawall, splashing across the road. Barkley strained against the car door as she stuck her face into the wind. Turning and twisting, each bend in the road offered a magnificent view of the coast, cliff, and sea. After climbing a bit, the road turned inland at the eastern tip of the island. The terrain flattened and we drove through small tracts of ranch land. We made our way across the tip of the island and into the jagged cliffs of the northeast coast. The road cut through the side of a mountain, debris from rock and mudslides littered the road. We were now in the most verdant and green part of the island, truly a tropical rainforest. The misting rain and gray overcast contrasted the lushness of the surrounding woodland; a foggy, enchanted forest....

Just beyond the 27 mile marker was the end of the road – the Halawa valley. To the north was large tidal pond, a small boat anchored on the opposite shore, with two small structures just beyond. The boat and small buildings were the only clue that any other people existed at all in the world.

We walked along the shoreline of the tidal pool, underneath an expansive banyan tree, toward the pounding surf of the north coast. The protective reefs that line the southeast coast disappear as you make your way around the eastern tip of the island. The sea comes crashing ashore with all her might and glory.

Behind us, the steep, green ridges rose up, sheathed in lush, tropical rainforest, and shrouded in mist and fog...

Two waterfalls cascaded silently in the distance down the side of one ridge.

A rare peace and serenity lit softly upon me like the mist on the hills.

We had come to the end of the road, and it was like the end of the earth...

The precious commodity of solitude, so hard to find in this modern world full of distraction and noise, fell softly on us as we stood and watched the magnificent ocean crash into the shore...

This is what Molokai has to offer the world-weary traveler - a little peace and quiet, far from the madding crowd.

Leave the resort hotels to Oahu, Maui, and the Big Island; when you come to Molokai, find a good rental house, condominium, or arrange a home ex change. Then relax, shake off the noisy world, and get into the groove of Hawaii – for Hawaiians.

Information for your visit to Molokai:

  • Resour ces and information for your Molokai visit are available from the following resources:
  • Visit Molokai. com - - Find maps, history and culture, events, climate, lodging ranging from hotel rooms to rental cottages, and more.
  • Molokai Visitors Asso ciation - or call (800) 800-6367 – The official site for the Molokai visitor’s association.

Tom lives in San Francisco and works as a sound engineer, freelance writer, and entrepreneur. He enjoys traveling, nature, reading, photography, and music.


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