MOLOKAI, the island that is ‘Hawaiian By Nature’


“There’s nothing there!” was what we mostly heard when we told people that, after O’ahu we planned on visiting the Hawaiian island of Moloka’i (pronounced ‘mo-lo-KAh-ee’).

That’s why we wanted to go. There was too much there for us on O’ahu, which was wonderful to explore but we had to do so together with a few million other people. Moloka’i is home to 7,000 and is roughly the same size as Salt Spring Island where we live. It just does not offer the same array of coffee shops, artist studios and other attractions.

What Moloka’i does offer is the authentic Hawaii. “It’s where Hawaiians go to get away from it all,” we were told.

IMG_6230The only way to reach the island is by airplane. We flew the mere half hour from Honolulu and landed in what felt like rural Zambia: a tiny, rustic airport, red earth, dusty pick-up trucks, hand-painted signs, even the vegetation felt like Zambia. I half expected to spot some giraffes. But what we saw instead was wind swept waves tumbling onto black rocks, white sand beaches without people and friendly locals.

Geographically it’s an interesting island. You can almost cut it in half: one half is relatively flat, a bit hilly, with dry red soil. The other half is green, tropical jungle valleys with the tallest sea cliffs in the world.

IMG_6242We had booked a condo on the west side, the flat part, of the island, Kepuhi Beach. It turned out to be a former Sheraton resort, sold to a Japanese company and now in decline. Half of the two level six-plexes were sold to individual owners, some of whom rented their unit out as vacation rentals. The other half of the former resort is falling apart. What used to be a restaurant and pub, are now sagging buildings with roof shingles missing and beams rotting away.

But the inhabited half has well maintained lawns, avid bird life, waving palms and a pretty pool. For just over a hundred dollars a night we could not find another place to stay in Hawaii.

You do need a car on Moloka’i but there’s only one small local car rental place and Alamo. The local cars were all gone for March when we tried to book in December. Alamo quoted us $550 for a week. “Try Dana!” was the advise our condo owner gave us. Dana found us a car, no problem. At just over half the cost of Alamo’s. “Your car will be sitting just outside the airport,” he told us, “It will be unlocked with the key under the seat.” That’s when we knew were going to like this island.

There are not many roads on the island and I think we drove them all. Near us is the range town of Manauloa, which looks exactly like an Australian town in the Outback with wide streets and western fronts. It is almost deserted, the general store empty and locked up.

The only town of significance is Kanaukakai. It looks like a western town with saloons front and pick-up trucks. The people are friendly and laid back. 

One morning we went to the Paddler’s Inn where locals gather to play Hawaiian music.We stopped at an organic farm but they didn’t have bananas and their small pineapples were US $6.50 a piece. They were juicy, though. We paid $1.50 for one potato in the resort store. Moloka’i is not for the faint of heart.

IMG_6258The island is most well know for its former Hansen’s disease (leprosy) colony. Kalaupapa Peninsula has an amazing history but is not accessible until the bridge is restored. Until then there is no way to visit the historic site. We did see a beautiful photo and artifact display of it at the Moloka’i Museum and Cultural Site where the Meyer Sugar Mill has been restored and where volunteers give information and show videos of the area. The book Moloka’i by Alan Brennert is a great (fictional) read with the colony as a realistic setting.


Restored Sugar Mill

Because there isn’t much else to do here, we decided to splurge on a ‘Cultural Hike’ in the Halawa Valley. The website is informative and the program sounds attractive so we paid our $60 p.p. and left early in the morning for the hour-and-a-half drive to the far opposite shore of the island.

IMG_6293The road along the ocean is pretty until you get to the dotted line on the map. We were happy to discover that it wasn’t dirt road but it did indicate a one-lane road only. Not only did it get super narrow, it wound like wet spaghetti around rocky cliffs overhanging the ocean. We crawled around blind corners hoping there wouldn’t be another car coming because backing up would have been even worse. Rocks, mud, water and wind blown branches added to a discouraging setting.

But we persevered and made it in one piece to the far end: the Halawa Valley. There we met six other couples brave enough to tackle this hike and our guide, a member of the local indigenous family conducting these programs. Unfortunately he announced that, due to the rain and storm, we were unable to go for a hike. He did offer the cultural part but we decided to perhaps try our luck on another day. 

We crawled back along the narrow road, all the way to town, only to discover we had left our pack at the very far end. There was no way we’d brave that road again so we frantically tried to contact the guide who had no cell phone reception and had no internet in that remote valley. But with the help of very friendly local people we did manage to relay the message and, at night, he actually came to town bringing our pack with him. Relief.

After all that we decided to celebrate with a steak dinner in the Inn. It took a while but we were happy to sit and sip a beer. Then the waitress plonked one plate on the table. And when we asked where the second steak was she said “Oh, really? You each wanted one?” So we shared a steak and a good laugh.


On one trip back to our condo, we passed three young American soldiers. Hitchhiking. We stopped and offered them our back seat, on which we had our stash from the organic farm: one tomato and one pineapple. We drove them to town for hamburgers. We tried to get them to offer us a ride in their helicopter to the leper colony, but no luck.

Our week on Moloka’s has been pleasant and very relaxing, but incredibly windy. Wind and rain prevented us from as much hiking and swimming as we wanted but we did also have blue sky and times when we could go out. But we were happy to have good books with us. IMG_6291

Pearl Harbour: War and Peace

IMG_6156Being in Honolulu and not going to see the historic Pearl Harbour Memorial site is like going to Paris and not seeing the Eiffel Tower. Before we visited this National Historic Park, we watched this YouTube about World War II and the attack on Pearl Harbour:    We found it very beneficial to have seen this before going.

The website of the Memorial Park answers most if not all questions a visitor might have:

IMG_6177From it we learned the exact location, the opening hours, the fact that you need a ticket but tickets are free and much more. The hardest part is having to get up at 6 AM. Tickets are handed out starting at 7 AM. Tickets are attached to a time slot so you may have to come back later in the day. 

We planned our visit for a Monday morning and were lucky: after standing in line for only 15 minutes, we were handed tickets for the first time slot at 7:30.

First, you visit a theatre to watch a movie, much of it authentic footage which I found very impressive. I mean, who was filming this? Because, let’s face it, this was a surprise attack that no one was expecting. Yet, on both the American side and the Japanese side, there is all this footage that makes for a complete documentary of what was happening. 

IMG_6164Like the war in Holland, the figures of the dead, the heroic deeds, the number of planes and ships involved, are all staggering. Of the number of ships that sank in the tropical, picturesque site of Pearl Harbour, the one that took most lives was the S.S. Arizona. Made of thick steel, it was impossible to rescue the men on board. The ship was left were it sank.

Eventually the National Parks and US Navy erected a plain white, ship-shaped hall width wise over the rusted remains. It’s a sober place to visit where the fact that this was a world war, not just a European tragedy, was really brought home to me. IMG_6171

After visiting the site, by boat, we walked through the museum. Besides the usually models, maps, videos, and artifacts my favorite display here was that of Sadako’s paper cranes where an original of the thousands of cranes that have inspired children to talk about peace, is on display.

US’s involvement in WWII started with the attack on Pearl Harbour in 1941. It ended on August 6, 1945 when American forces dropped an atomic bomb on Hiroshima, Japan. Sadako Sasaki was two years old when this catastrophic event happened. Then years later she was diagnosed with leukemia, a cancer caused by exposure to nuclear radiation. Sadako clung to the Japanese legend that, if you fold 1,000 paper cranes the gods will grant your wishes. She folded many of her cranes using paper medicine wrappers while she was in hospital. After she died in 1955, Sadako’s paper cranes became a symbol for peace. Eventually, students in the US and Japan began sending each other paper cranes with peace messages written on them. One of Sadako’s original cranes is displayed at Pearl Harbour. 

IMG_1527Sadako’s initiative has led to books, a movie and tens of thousands of children around the world folding paper cranes as a symbol of peace. I bought a paper cranes at the visitors’ centre at Pearl Harbour and found out that all cranes, sold for $1.-, help the Pacific Historic Parks organization to support educational programs. These include Make A Wish projects for children and their families to visit Pearl Harbour. They also provide a virtual tour of the Pearl Harbour National Memorial for school groups across the nation and internationally, who would not be able to travel to Hawaii. 

Hawaiian school children regularly fold cranes at the Pearl Harbour Memorial to demonstrate and interact with visitors from all over the world. Meanwhile, teachers and students in Japan fold origami paper cranes and write a message of peace on the wings. These cranes are sent to Pearl Harbour to be shared with visitors who are


encouraged to take a crane back home and spread the message of peace. To date, the centre has received over 65,000 cranes from Japan.

For more details see:

From Koko Head to the Pipeline: Driving Around O’ahu, Hawaii

oahu_ast_2010013It’s good to have a car on O’ahu. Unless you are staying in one place on the beach with no intention of seeing the rest if the island, a car is the best option to getting around. Public transit is here but not very efficient to get around the island.

IMG_6105First we drove the loop from Waikiki to the south shore. We drove along several beautiful beach parks. Parking was hard to find since we weren’t the only ones exploring the coast. So we passed a few beaches until we found one with empty spots to park. We drove around Koko Head, enjoyed a stroll on Makapuu Beach and dipped our toes in the ocean. Not all beaches in Hawaii are made for swimming so it’s a good idea to check signs. There are dangerous undertows in many locations. We continued north to Bellows, then took Highway 61 back, a loop we could have driven in an hour but enjoyed sauntering along for much of a day.

We returned to Koko Head a few days later to hike the trail in this crater. Yet another ancient volcano, Koko Head is a sheltered bowl with a nice hiking trail in a botanical garden. I learned more about the trail on this great website site:

It described the location, the parking and the trail in detail. We found it to be very accurate and enjoyed walking along the variety of trees and shrubs here, even recognizing trees and blossoms we had seen in Africa. Too bad there are no elephants in the crater – they would have loved the fruit of the sausage trees we saw and the large blossoms we saw them devour in Tanzania.


Diamond Head

IMG_6183The most hilarious thing we saw in the botanical garden was a bride and groom having their wedding pictures taken. No mistake about this being Hawaii: the groom wore a black suit with bowtie and shorts…

I could have bought a t-shirt that would have told the world from now on that “I climbed Diamond Head”. I didn’t buy the shirt but felt good making it to the top of this ancient volcano edge, following in the distant dust of my hiking husband. I was upset that he wasn’t even panting while I hauled myself up the trail that gained nearly 600’ in elevation, has hundreds of steep stairs and a tunnel.


One of many stairs to climb Diamond Head.


And then you have to crawl out of the top ‘bunker type’ part to see the view… But the views of ocean, cities and island were worth it. Especially when I got fresh pineapple juice at the end.








The next time we ventured out, we drove north along the west coast. First it was a matter of getting around the metropolis and away from traffic and high rises. Then we enjoyed the laid back drive north to Waianae and Makaha. In the last town we bought Hawaiian BBQ from a fast food stand to eat on the beach. IMG_6100

Finally, on a third day, we drove the largest loop from Waikiki/Honolulu north on the Kamehameha highway to Haleiwa. The north shore reminded me of California in the 70’s with surf shacks, Volkswagens and hippies on surfboards. The famed Pipeline beach was crowded with surfers but the waves were not nearly as high as I’d imagined. I guess it differs with the wind and the weather.IMG_6099

We continued a pleasant, slow drive along the north side of O’ahu, decided to pass on the church-affiliated Cultural Centre (we watched videos of it and it seemed just a bit too touristy). We did enjoy many white sand beaches with tall palm trees. The volcanic, green slopes coming down to the ocean were spectacular on the east side of island – probably our favourite coast. We are amazed at how small the island really is. It’s easy to see the entire island, given enough time and a car.