When formulating a plan to visit some of the Hawaiian Islands, I felt a desire to step in a different direction than that of heavily developed areas and perhaps also gain a glimpse of Hawaii’s indigenous population in a more laid back locale while resting muscles that were shredded from our first stop, a backpacking trek into Maui’s Haleakala Crater. With a land mass of two hundred and sixty square miles, Moloka’i boasts a tiny population of seven thousand, four hundred and claims the largest native population of the Hawaiian islands that are open to visitors. After researching the island as well as being given a heads-up by friends and family that the place has a reputation for being occasionally resistant to visitors especially crass tourists, we packed our manners, a sarong, and beach hats  and set out with a teeny bit of trepidation.

This was what was waiting for us

Upon landing and renting a car, we headed to our campsite  at Papohaku only to be completely surprised when we discovered we were the only campers in the large, very clean campground. Save for a number of  frog families occupying the cold water showers starting every day at dusk, we did not have any fellow campers for the entire three nights we spent in this beautiful area.

We had our choice of sites
Picnic tables were plentiful

Matching the zen campground was the beach, a mere hundred yards from our tent. Papohaku Beach  – at about three miles in length, is one of the longest stretches of sand on all of the islands and we found it to be completely deserted a great deal of the time and only scantily visited during peak hours.

Often, we practically had the beach to ourselves
Sunset on the deserted beach

The fee for this campground came in at about a hundred dollars total for three nights as we combined two higher weekend nights at $20 per night/per adult with one lower fee weeknight at $10 per adult/per night but we also added in a rent car in order to be able to travel the island with ease and this upped the overall budget. My guy enjoys eating out when given the opportunity so we did a little research and indulged in some local fare. To say we were pleased would be an understatement, the Kualapu’u Cookhouse was about as casual as you can get which worked fine for us and the food was delicious. We grabbed a picnic table on the patio and dove in to homemade corned beef and eggs as well as the sublime blueberry cream cheese french toast. Food on the Hawaiian islands can be pricey and we certainly did not encounter anything cheap but we did completely skip any resort food as well as five star establishments. I’m not asserting that there aren’t good higher-end restaurants, however, a trip years earlier to Maui had left me very wary of resort food; on that visit I’d  found it outrageously over-priced and not at all worth the inflated prices. This time around we asked locals for suggestions and followed my guy’s star ratings app and never once were disappointed. To the contrary, we were wowed time and again.

Casual, rustic and oh so good
The bacon and blueberry cream cheese french toast, SUBLIME

In addition to our breakfast at the Kualapu’u Cookhouse, we also took the advice of Teri Waros, local owner of  Kalele Book Store & Divine Expressions and embarked on an scenic drive to the Mana’e Goods & Grinds for the best mushroom burger I’ve had in a decade. This was pretty much the extent of our eating out in Moloka’i as we hit the town’s grocer for our other meals in order to stay on budget and went in search of local fare.

Once again, kick back atmosphere and great food
Local fare
Teri hat:view
Top rated activity: grab picnic food, a Hawaiian beer, and just sit and take in the view or perhaps read a good book

Also on our local purchase success list was a book recommended by Teri.

MOLOKA’I    Publishers Weekly:

Compellingly original in its conceit, Brennert’s sweeping debut novel tracks the grim struggle of a Hawaiian woman who contracts leprosy as a child in Honolulu during the 1890s and is deported to the island of Moloka’i, where she grows to adulthood at the quarantined settlement of Kalaupapa.

Visit Teri’s book store for a great selection of books (new and used) as well as a myriad of stunning local treasures that make for great souvenirs and if you want to send a beautifully decorated coconut postcard, Teri’s artistic coconuts are available for purchase. Connect with her on Facebook also!

Don’t miss this great book store and shop

And speaking of art, we did set aside one evening to score some fresh baked bread that could be considered palate-art. Kanemitsu Bakery‘s ten pm bread sale in the back alley should not to be missed (yes, ten pm). Quick note that we were lucky to be forewarned that the time had changed and was currently closer to nine pm and this proved to be the case, also note that they are closed on Mondays. This place can be pretty popular so get there early or risk them running out of favorites like cream cheese; by the time we ordered ours this was sadly the case so we went with cinnamon butter. Yes, the bread was still warm and delicious.

The best fresh bread can be found in a dark alley after 9pm

Overall, the main center of Moloka’i turned out to be pretty much what photos had portrayed it be, a sleepy little town that has not succumbed to chain restaurants and strip malls and an additional throwback to an earlier time is the post office which is housed in a tiny building where the spirit of “hands on” is literal.

Throwback Thursday Post Office

We lucked out and not only thoroughly enjoyed snagging a coconut decorated by a high school student as part of a fundraiser to send as a postcard but we also met Gary, the postmaster who takes immense care in choosing stamps to compliment the intended recipient of the coconut.

Gary’s diplomacy was apparent as he dealt with a group of tourists that wandered in and, having heard about the coconut postcards, impulsively charged toward a display of daintily and professionally painted coconuts that was clearly marked “For Display Only”. As they snatched up a coconut and seemed about ready start addressing it with one of the permanent markers supplied by the post office, Gary swiftly yet very politely reclaimed said coconut and pointed out the free coconuts. This pushy tourist behavior could have been chalked up to perhaps a language barrier (inability to read the sign) except the tourists were American and I only point out this experience for one reason; Moloka’i has been criticized for an apparent lack of welcoming spirit yet we never once encountered anything other than polite, helpful locales that seemed pleased to have us on their island and I have to wonder if any negative exchanges between natives and visitors might be chalked up more to ill-mannered tourists than to unfriendly locals. This was certainly the case in the situation we saw in the post office.

As for other activities, a thing to know about Moloka’i is that a fair amount of exploring is limited to tours and one that we did not partake in but would urge others to look into was the Father Damien Leper Colony Tour. The history behind the Leper Colony is a powerful part of the island’s past as well as present as we came to realize upon visiting the Moloka’i Museum and Cultural Center and viewing both a short film and photographic exhibit.

A fee-free walk is available that offers breathtaking views of the ocean and island as well as a long distance sight of the leper colony  and it is wheelchair accessible.

Hike above leper colony
Leper Colony

Within the parking lot of this walk, is also a very short short hike to Phallic Rock, known in the past as an answer to infertility.

Father Damien’s contribution is also honored in the, tiny in size but lush in simple beauty, Saint Joseph Church and this is located along the east end scenic drive. *The drive is a freebie but be forewarned that the mule tour of the leper colony is about $200 per person/all inclusive – they provide lunch and the mule 😉

We also found the still-standing and lovingly renovated sugar mill to be an interesting part of Moloka’i’s history and this is located on the grounds of the Moloka’i Museum.

The one do-over I would claim if given the chance would’ve been to load the car with a picnic and towels and explore another beach as our short stop at Halawa Beach Park  revealed a quiet, tucked away oasis. The only beach goers we encountered was a family of Hawaiians with several adorable kids frolicking while the parents and grandparents relaxed in the shade. They smiled in a welcoming manner so after inquiring if they called Moloka’i “home” and receiving a “yes”, Scott raised his hand and said  “Mahalo for allowing visitors to experience their island”. As with all of our moments with locals, this was a relaxed exchange in which we again were made aware of the deeper meaning of “aloha”.


Our stay on Moloka’i delivered exactly what we went in search of, an ability to quietly partake in a local community, a chance to unwind while attempting to sit side by side in our camp chairs (see humorous essay here), and a reminder that sometimes the real trinket from a vacation is not found in a gift shop but rather it’s held the memories you carry back with you.

Mahalo Moloka’i


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