Sunday, February 8, 2015

Day Trip to Molokai - The Real Hawaii

In August 2014, while I was in Honolulu for a few days, I had the opportunity to go to the island of Molokai for the day. Because my family is from Hawaii, I have been there a ton of times and spent a lot of my childhood there. However, I had never been to Molokai. I learned about the island after doing some research and talking with someone who had lived there for many years. So I ended up buying 2 one-way tickets so that I could try out both airline options to the island. The flight there was operated by Mokulele Airlines on a tiny Cessna 208 Caravan single-engine 9-seater prop job. 

The flight left from the commuter terminal next to the inter-island terminal at the Honolulu airport. When I checked in at the counter I was the only person there. They made me step on a scale with all of my carry-on luggage to get the entire weight of everything because the plane is so small. There were 6 people on this flight including me. They called the flight about 30 minutes ahead of departure time and corralled us in a small area together by the door. Then a few minutes later we were escorted to our plane that was parked far away from the terminal.  The flight ended up departing about 15 minutes early since everyone was present.

This is a view of the cabin. The co-pilot gave the safety demonstration while turning around in his seat. The plane was crazy small, but it was a very neat experience.

This is a shot of us banking right after take off. The entire flight might have been about 20-23 minutes long.

Within about 15 minutes, we had reached the west coast of Molokai. The airport is about in the center of the island, so the last 10 or so minutes of the flight was over land.

The western part of the island is quite desolate and is reminiscent of plains. Actually it is just farm/grazing land. There are barely any trees at all, but there is red dirt everywhere.

From west to east the elevation of the island gradually increases until you reach the mountains. The diversity of the various environments of the island is incredible.

The Ho'olehua airport is located in a sort of valley so the descent into the airport is quite picturesque. From the pilot's radar you can see that we are just about to land.

This is the tiny little parking lot for the small regional airport. The airport is just a single small building and the baggage claim consists of a low metal table where the bags are placed.

This is the sign in the baggage claim area.

From the airport, I first visited the Kalaupapa lookout, which is a park high above Kalaupapa, which is the former leper colony where Father Damien looked after people with leprosy. The park is full of really tall trees and it feels cool and it looks like you are in northern California like Muir Woods or something. It was so strange. I walked down to the edge of the cliff and saw the most amazing view.

From what I understand, the only way to get down to the Kalaupapa peninsula is to take a trail and you go either on foot or by mule. It's a whole-day affair, so I didn't do it. The peninsula is protected by huge cliffs that jut right up.

I walked back up the trail to the parking lot and headed over to what is called phallic rock. It is exactly what it sounds like. I passed this sign that I thought was very cool that it tells people not to destroy the land because it is sacred to the Hawaiian people.

At the top of a hill is the rock. It looks more like a turtle, but I guess you could say it is phallic. My first thought was that it looked like a sort of alter and I wondered if there could have been Hawaiian ceremonies that took place there.

After lunch in a local restaurant, I toured more of the island and headed down to Kaunakakai, which is the main town on the island. Some of the pictures below are from an ancient fishpond just outside Kaunakakai.

The island in the distance is Lanai. 

I made it all the way to the east coast of Molokai and again the plants changed and became more tropical. The island in the distance is Maui. It is so close to Molokai that you can actually see the buildings on the coast. Apparently many people take a ferry boat from Molokai daily in order to work on Maui where there is more of an economy. Molokai has no large hotels or any chains of any kind. There are only about 5000 people that live on the island. It is quaint and remote just the way the locals want it.

On the eastern side of the island, the mountains are very high and reach several thousand feet. Unlike Oahu where there are houses that go up many of the valley sides, houses on Molokai pretty much stay near the coast.

My return flight back to Honolulu was booked on Hawaiian Airlines' regional partner called O'hana, which means family in Hawaiian. The plane was much larger than my earlier Mokulele flight. It was an ATR-42, which can hold 48 passengers.

My flight was about half full and they passed out a tiny cup of fruit juice for the extremely short flight. I think it was less than 20 minutes long.

This is a picture of the reef runway at Honolulu. We made the turn in soon after this and landed on the main runway. My day on Molokai was incredible. The constant change of scenery of the entire island is just so unusual and really unexpected. I had no idea of the ecological diversity on the island. I'm very excited to be sending a group of my students to this island to learn about Hawaiian culture and to help restore some of the ancient fishponds. If you want a true Hawaiian experience that is completely off the beaten path, then Molokai is the place for you.

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