Description - This small island (38 x 10 miles) was formed by the junction of two shield volcanoes. Today it is home to many Hawaiians due to the Hawaiian Home Lands Act. Molokai is not as developed for tourism as the islands of Maui, Hawaii and O'ahu. There has been a grassroots movement to maintain Molokai's rural state. The most populated region of the island is the southeastern coast. Traditionally this area was ideal for the Hawaiian system of fishponds and taro growing. Today the ruins of these structures outnumber those in any other region of the state.
Copyright: Craig Rowland-NFWS
Kakahaia National Wildlife Refuge
- The largest community on the southeastern shore, and all of Molokai, is Kaunakakai. This is a small town that lies on the Kamehameha V Highway.
The Kamehameha V Highway leads visitors along the southern coast of Molokai for 30 miles east of Kaunakakai. It passes through several small coastal villages and provides a good scenic tour of the area. Because the area has been settled for hundreds of years, there area many sites of historic or cultural interest along the highway. Evidence of traditional Hawaiian and Christian missionary activities lie in the remains of structures throughout the region.
The community of Kawela, which lies east of Kaunakakai along the highway, maintains a beach park with picnic tables and access to the Kakahaia National Wildlife Refuge. This site is home to several endangered species and the only public access to the refuge. Further east lies the small community of Ualapue, which is home to the Ualapue Fishpond, which has been restored. The fishpond supports a population of mullet and milkfish.
The eastern shore of the island is characterized by a few small communities all with beach access. Pukoo, Waialua and Halawa each have sandy beach areas. Twenty-mile beach near Waialua is shallow with a reef for snorkeling and good conditions for surfing. Halawa Beach Park is also good place for board surfing and swimming, with two sheltered coves. When the surf is high rip currents can be dangerous. Be sure to ask about conditions before entering the water.
Northeastern Molokai is mainly protected natural area, containing Kalaupapa National Historical Park and Molokai Forest Reserve. The National Historical Park lies on the Kalaupapa peninsula. This land is very isolated and was designated as the leprosy colony for all of the islands in 1865. The Molokai Forest Reserve is a wild area with few points of access. Portions of the reserve are maintained by the Nature Conservancy and contain trails, four-wheel drive roads and scenery lookouts.
The central portion of the island is comprised of plains formed by lava flows that joined the two volcanoes forming the island. This area is used for agriculture despite the dry conditions created by the rain shadow of eastern highlands. The Hoolehua plains are centered around the community of Hoolehua, where the airport for the island lies. Highway 460, known from this area west as Maunaloa Highway, leads through the middle of the island to Maunaloa.
Maunaloa is a small community developed during the 1920s for pineapple plantation workers. The name Maunaloa also refers to the mountain range on the western side of the island. The high point of this range is Puu Nana, which rises to 1,381 feet.
The beaches on the western side of Molokai are usually good places to find solitude, although the highway ends in Maunaloa so a four-wheel drive vehicle is your best bet for a safe arrival. South of Maunaloa you'll find Halena Beach, which has a protected reef and good snorkeling and swimming. Hale O Lono Beach is another favorite beach access site for locals lying a short distance west of Halena.
Following the western shoreline northward a number of less crowded beaches can be found. Dixie Maru is the southernmost beach area on the western shore. It is the best protected swimming beach on the island. Traveling north the next beach is Papohaku, which extends two and a half miles along the shore. It has a few access points along Kaluakoi Road and is rarely crowede, due to its size. At the northern end of this beach is a park with facilities and campsites. Kapuhi and Make Horse Beaches lie north of Papohaku and in front of a developed resort area. As with all island beaches water conditions are subject to change and rip currents can be strong even in calm surf.
Recreation - Molokai's shores are excellent places for all types of water sports. Swimming is particularly good in the summer season and at Kawakiu and Moomomi Beaches. Hiking opportunities can be found on the Makanalua Peninsula in the national historical park and within the Molokai Forest Reserve. The southeastern shore of the island is an excellent place to view and interpret historic sites, as well as watch humpback whales during the winter season.
Climate - Molokai has a warm year round temperature that fluctuates little between the seasons. The average yearly temperature is 74 degrees F. Winter months bring more rain and stronger water currents to the island. The eastern portion of Molokai receives notably more rain than the western portion, which lies in the rain shadow of the Kamakou highlands.
Molokai is located in the middle of the Hawaiian archipelago between the islands of Maui, southeast, and Oahu, northwest. The small island of Lanai lies immediately south of eastern Molokai.