By Michele Bigley
With no resorts and minimal tourist services, most visitors to Hawaii bypass Molokai. But you don't have to be an adventurer to appreciate the allure of this modest isle; with quiet beaches, friendly locals, and a dash of innovation, you can tailor a getaway that will have you telling stories about Molokai long after you get back.
Where to Stay
While the Hotel Molokai has its appeal—especially for adventurers wanting to find a destination that evokes old-school Hawaii—many visitors overlook the wealth of vacation rentals around the island. A choice option is the Dunbar Vacation Cottages: two island-style two-bedroom cottages perched on a private beach on Molokai's lush east side. Both offer free WiFi, tropical interiors like quilt bedspreads and hardwood furniture, plus views of Lanai and Maui for $175 a night.
Where to Eat
Let's be frank, dining on Molokai is nothing to write home about. However, the back-to-the-earth types have not left Molokai without a fair share of organic veggies. Grab fruit and veggies, yummy pesto, homemade pasta, and plenty of red meat from Kumu Farms as you explore their farm and meet the friendly owners. And if being on vacation means not lifting a finger, then call up chef Don Hill to prepare dinner in your cottage. He'll whip up local delicacies like somen noodle salad, or traditional favorites like spaghetti and meatballs with tropical fruit pie for dessert.
What to Do
Instead of paying for a luau (though there are no tourist ones on this isle), don't miss a trip to Hotel Molokai on Friday night for their kupuna night. Kupuna means elder and this collection of local elders have been gathering for years to play Hawaiian music, saying that this experience literally keeps them going as they reach their winter years. Sitting around a large card-table as the sun sets, the local aunties and uncles strum ukuleles and laugh, sip wine, and talk as their friends dance hula, and make plans for their beach outings the next day. This event evokes the spirit of community and shows off what Molokai is all about.
Hit the Beach
Dixie Maru Beach, out on the west side, might be known for its waves that draw surfers (though the break can be intense and should only be braved by adept surfers), but the white sand shore, shaded by kiawe trees (watch your feet, these trees drop sharp needles) makes a lovely destination for a picnic and a swim. If you have energy and time, hike south along the shore to explore private beaches and ultimately reach the southernmost point of the island. Be sure to bring plenty of sunscreen and water, the closest market is the Maunaloa General Store, which happens to stock Ben and Jerry's ice cream for your post beach cravings.
When in need of a break and some local aloha, head into Kalele Bookshop and Divine Expressions in Kaunakakai for water, coffee (it's always brewing), and plenty of tips about safe hikes and beaches from Auntie Teri. The store also sells locally made jewelry, and kids like to come in to post-a-nut to their buddies back home.
Thinking of a trip to Hawaii?
For up-to-the-minute hotel and restaurant recommendations, as well as the best planning advice, check out our Hawaii Travel Guide.
Photo credits: All photos courtesy of the Hawaii Visitors and Convention Bureau