Thursday, April 23, 2009


Best birthday gift ever?

Three days on the Hawaiian island of Moloka'i with my sweetie.

I'd never been to Hawaii before. My sweetie has, but only to Honolulu and Maui. Moloka'i is one of the smaller islands--38 miles long by 10 miles wide--and has about 7000 residents. No stoplights anywhere. One small town. Lots of pickup trucks. Anybody looking for the hustle and bustle of a tourist resort won't find it. But if you want peaceful, rural, and unbelievably beautiful--which we did--well, that's Moloka'i. People we met there said, "We don't want to be another Maui." And they mean it. The residents of Moloka'i have fought off development for decades...most recently, a proposed luxury home development on their southwestern shore. They want to keep Moloka'i, Moloka'i. A picture being worth a thousand words, and all that, you can see why we hope they continue to succeed.

This is Papohaku Beach. Three miles long, one of Hawaii's longest beaches. And in the middle of a weekday afternoon, we were the only ones there. It was still too early in the spring for swimming--the sea was way too rough--but it was gorgeous. One weird thing, though: look at how clean that sand is! In Oregon and California, we're used to kelp, driftwood, the occasional dead crab...but none of that on Papohaku. No idea why, but it was amazing.

A few miles away we found Kapukahehu Beach (aka Dixie Maru Beach) and its calm cove waters. Perfect for the likes of me, who can't see six inches ahead--literally--and therefore routinely get knocked over by waves. (I made a lousy Californian.) This was the most crowded place we experienced during our stay...all of about ten people sharing the sun, sand and warm water. I'm not much into sunbathing (not only severely myopic, but also melanin-challenged--yeah, I made a really lousy Californian) but yeah, this was bliss.

Driving the southern coast highway to the eastern tip of the island, we passed a sign warning us of a nene crossing. Nenes are the Hawaiian state bird, and endangered; only about 800 still survive on all the islands. A mile or so later, we came across a group of nenes, and sure enough--they were crossing the road. Now that's an accurate sign.

Looking from the rocky Halawa beach deep inland to the Halawa Valley and one of its waterfalls. Halawa Valley was the location of one of the earliest known settlements in all of Hawaii.
Kalaupapa Peninsula, on the northern shore. This is where Hawaii's famous leper colony is situated. Beginning in the 1860s, people in the Hawaiian islands diagnosed with Hansen's disease (leprosy) were taken away involuntarily from their families and quarantined here. For much of the colony's history, patients were kept on this almost inaccessible peninsula, in virtual prison, for the rest of their lives.
There's a daily tour of the colony, and we were eager to go. But getting to the tour, we learned, is a whole adventure in itself. Even today, the only land access is a 3-mile trail that drops 1700 feet from the top of a sea cliff down 26 switchbacks to the peninsula below. (Did I mention that Moloka'i has the highest sea cliffs in the world?) Two ways to tackle the trail: 1) saddle up with Moloka'i Mule Ride, or 2) hoof it on our own two feet. Since we're idiots, it didn't occur to us to reserve mule saddles in advance. So we showed up at the trailhead early in the morning, got our state permits (required to enter the peninsula), and started hiking before the four-leggeds were on the move.

A section of the cliff trail. This particular bit has a railing; much of the trail doesn't. And yeah, the ocean at the bottom is as clear as it looks. Absolutely spectacular.

A view of the sea cliff and part of the trail cutting across it.

St. Philomena was the first church built by Father Damien, a Belgian priest who ministered to the colony for sixteen years. He didn't just give sermons; he dressed patients' sores, built houses and two churches, and lived and worked alongside the banished outcasts of Kalaupapa until his own death from leprosy in 1889. Father Damien will be canonized as a Catholic saint in a ceremony on Kalaupapa peninsula on October 11, 2009. Our tour guide told us, in what I think is an understatement: "That will be a big day on Moloka'i."

A view of the sea cliffs from the Kalaupapa peninsula.

The cottage where we stayed. Just the most beautiful, welcoming place. From it, we could see the south shore, the islands of Maui and Lanai and--most exciting of all--whales spouting in the ocean between.
The view from our cottage, our last morning on Moloka'i: a rainbow over Maui.
And then: back home, far too soon.
Mahalo, Moloka'i, for reminding us to take it slow.

The resident goofballs. Yeah, we missed 'em.


Lisa Schroeder said...

Wow, what a lovely place! Thanks for sharing with us. So glad you got away. And happy belated birthday!!

Amber said...

WOW..... i can only close my eyes and imagine. If only you guys could have stayed longer!!! MY birthday is coming up soon BTW and YES I would love to go.

lkmadigan said...

We've been meaning to go to Molokai for years. Now it's a definite MUST SEE!

Gorgeous. Thank you for sharing these photos with us.

Weronika Janczuk said...

Thank you very much for taking the time to share! Those photos are all gorgeous and I'm glad to read that you enjoyed yourselves.

Happy belated birthday! :)

Walter said...

Wow! I remember seeing Molokai from Maui and thinking "I want to go there". And Maui's no slouch when it comes to peaceful and relaxing, so you know Molokai's gotta just have that look. Thanks for bringing back the memories! What beautiful pictures.
Oh yeah, and happy way-belated birthday!
Is it true mahalo means 'trash' in Hawaiian? I just assumed so since it's on all the trash bins....

Melissa Amateis said...

Gorgeous! Wow. That is just the type of place I'd like to go if I go to Hawaii - not hampered by all those tourists, but unspoiled and beautiful.

Laini Taylor said...

Oh Christine, you lucky lucky girl. So beautiful! I've only been to Oahu (and once the big island, but I was a baby) and have always wanted to go to one of the wilder places in Hawaii. Some day!

I laughed at your description: myopic and melanin-challenged! I loved swimming in the ocean as a kid, but now as an adult, with contact lenses, it's just not the same. Plus, since Jim had skin cancer several years ago, we can't enjoy the sun much any more -- we can enjoying seeing sun from the comfort and safety of shade :-) I do miss the carefree beach days of childhood when I could open my eyes under water and actually see and just be in the sun all day without fretting.

(And your dogs are so cute!)

Christine Fletcher said...

Thanks, everyone! It's hard to believe we've been home for over a week now...I think part of me is still back on the beach.

sally nemeth said...

Thanks alot - now I have ANOTHER place on earth I MUST GO SEE!

Gorgeous. I've added it to the list!

Lisa Nowak said...

Sounds like a great trip. Thanks for sharing the wonderful description and pictures. I figured you'd been too busy to post lately, so it's nice to know that you were having a fun, relaxing time instead!