Having long ago discovered my secret ingredient for making a good travel plan better is touring by bicycle in researching my Maui trip and reading about the ferry across to the neighboring island of Molokai the thought of experiencing it from behind the handlebars formed not long after the thought of a visiting for a day-trip. Not only is Molokai a sparsely populated island with relatively few vehicles and boasting a super scenic southern coastal highway that for much of the way hugs the shoreline it’s as if the slower pace of life cherished and defended by the locals deserves to be seen at a slower pace than motorized means.
Molokai postcard; All other photos by author
My online research connected me with Molokai native and educator Phillip Kikukawa who rents bikes through his company Molokai Bicycle and after a few emails arranged to meet at the long pier in Kaunakakai when the Maui ferry arrived.
The bike is an upright cruiser that was very comfortable to sit up and soak in the scenery and at USD$25 per day a very good value.
I began the hot day with a quick detour to downtown Kaunakakai to invest in a light long-sleeved t-shirt and bandana to take cover from the sunshine in my 6 hour ride which I’d hadn’t thought to bring with me on my island holiday. Kaunakakai – small enough you can see the edge of town from the center of town – has a main street with a nostalgic 1950’s feel that’s home to Kanemitsu’s Bakery where visitors and locals alike flock for its piping hot freshly-baked bread.
The highway out of Kaunakakai was busy enough with traffic, or busy for Molokai which counts only 7,400 residents with almost half of that number living in Kaunakakai. No worries about traffic lights as there are none on Molokai and the road is smooth and wide with shoulders good for cyclists and the helpful mile markers measure your journey .
There were scenic detours appear around every corner with each seemingly more stunning than the last. Countless beaches without a soul in sight dot the southern shoreline.
Also dotting the coast are examples of early Hawaiian aquaculture engineering as some well preserved fishponds, some of which date back 700 – 800 years, can be seen.
These fishponds had coral and lava boulder semicircular walls and were designed to allow sea water in and out but trap the fish inside. Only the Hawaiian alii (chiefs) ate the fish harvested from the fishponds with a few reserved exclusively for island royalty.
The hills that rise on the from the ocean offer a contrast to the sea views and during the ride noted their variety of colour from a lush green hue to a desert sparse brown.
Ten miles east of Kaunakakai in Kamalo is the small wooden St. Joseph’s Church, one of two churches built outside the leper colony on Molokai’s northern Kalaupapa Peninsula by Father Damien, a Dutch priest who tended to those outcast to the windswept place of exile before eventually contracting the disease and dying in 1889. This dedication to others saw Father Damien beatified as a saint by Pope John Paul II in 1995.
The church built in 1876 features a statue dedicated to Father Damien and a cool, quiet sanctuary in which to pause for a short rest.
Molokai board meeting.
In a very visible display against mass tourism I noted several handwritten signs on fence posts protesting cruise ships calling on sleepy Molokai with others offering a little more positive ‘Keep Molokai Molokai’ message. There’s only one hotel on the island, the aptly named Hotel Molokai , and some condo rentals so there is a small tourism industry but nowhere near the scale of neighboring Maui or Oahu which suits local residents just fine.
That active desire to preserve Molokai’s way of life however shouldn’t be mistaken for unfriendliness toward visitors as quite the opposite is true as I found returning waves from passing motorists throughout the day and interacting with locals who warmly greeted me while stopped for lunch at a mile sixteen oasis Mana’e Goods & Grindz.
As the consensus from staff & other diners was to try the mahi burger I thought ‘when in Rome’ and was glad I went with the flow as the fish sandwich and Powerade chaser was a really filling lunch after a morning ride.
Another fellow rider whose name I didn’t catch was like me stopping for a break in the shade at the pit stop but his small, compact bike had taken him around the world whereas by comparison mine had only come a relatively few miles.
A few residents who’d stopped by the food counter & convenience store for lunch or supplies said hello and asked about my visit and seemed pleased to hear I was exploring their island home by bicycle. To have two such travelers cross paths did seem serendipitous. Enjoying the respite and hospitality but knowing I had to resume my ride I jumped on my rented bike feeling a little foolish for having I’d locked it to a post during my pit stop.
The further the highway ran east the narrower it became until it was a one lane road without shoulders winding its way around some stunning coastline curves.
I stopped a number of times just to soak in the scenery and feel the pounding surf without another soul in sight and it was a humbling reminder of the power of nature. Very few cars greeted me in this part of the ride which was fine with me given the tighter confines and blind corners.
The turn around point came somewhere around mile twenty two when a quick check of the time found I better turn back and return from where I came to reluctantly catch the ferry back Maui but not before I made a small detour to visit Kapuaiwa Coconut Beach Park, an ancient Hawaiian coconut grove planted in the 1860s during the reign of King Kamehameha V.
Sitting on the Maui-bound ferry and watching the Molokai coastline recede I reflected on what had been a truly awesome day trip and bike ride overflowing with stunning natural beauty I felt fortunate to have experienced in person at a leisurely pace. As memorable as the views were the warmth of the islanders is what will bring me back as one day just isn’t enough so will definitely return to spend several days happily unplugged and relaxed on my Molokai.