A Day Trip from Oahu to Molokai Hawaii

Molokai Hawaii

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Inside: Just a quick and easy fight from Oahu, laid back Molokai makes an idyllic day trip to the Hawaii of old.

At just 38 by 10 miles, Molokai Hawaii is located just across the Pailolo Channel from Maui. It’s the fifth-largest of the Hawaiian islands and the least populated, with just over 7,000 residents. That’s just .5 % of Hawaii’s total population.

The swaying palms and empty beaches of Molokai bring to mind the Hawaii of old. Before tourism took hold. Very few of Hawaii’s nearly 10 million annual visitors make the extra effort to visit little-known Molokai each year. And you certainly won’t find any tour groups wandering about.

But, if you ask me, those visitors are missing out on a terrific chance to experience Hawaii in its purely natural state.

Often called the “true Hawaii” and the birthplace of the hula, tiny Molokai has no traffic lights and can easily be seen in a day trip from Oahu or Maui. It can also be done from Kauai but it takes a little longer to get there (more on that in a moment).

What is Molokai famous for?

The island is perhaps best known for the 19th-century settlement of Kalaupapa where sufferers of Hansen’s Disease, also known as leprosy, were once forced into quarantine.

Kaluapapa

Belgian priest, Father Damien de Veuster, and Mother Marianne Cope of the Sisters of St. Francis cared for the residents of the Kalaupapa colony and were both canonized Roman Catholic Saints for their service.

There are no active cases of Hansen’s Disease on the island today. But some patients chose to stay after the quarantine policy was lifted in 1969.

Molokai Hawaii
Swaying palms and empty beaches on the island of Molokai, Hawaii

Are tourists welcome on Molokai?

Though I wholeheartedly recommend visiting Molokai, the locals might disagree. The few residents who call Molokai home aren’t interested in becoming the next Maui or Oahu. In fact, quite the opposite.

The island is notoriously resistant to mass tourism, snubbing both chain hotels and cruise ships (yard signs to that effect are prominent around the island).

Molokai Hawaii Tourism
A popular sign around Molokai

But don’t take it personally. While the island’s residents are not interested in mega-resorts or tour groups, they are quite open to responsible travelers and especially volunteers. Those who simply want to appreciate the island’s history and natural beauty, without leaving a trace of their visit, are welcome.

So, if you go, be respectful, be responsible, and leave everything just as you found it. And for goodness sake do not, under any circumstances, fly your noisy drone.

Tip: Consider volunteering at the Halawa Tropical Flower Farm to get to know the locals and see the authentic side of Molokai. They also offer a guided tour of Halawa Falls and make some pretty epic fruit smoothies.

Can you take a day trip to Molokai?

Absolutely!

Direct flights are available from Oahu and Maui (from Kauai you’ll have to connect). You can easily fly over in the morning and back in the evening, making Molokai a fun day trip from either island.

Just be sure to rent a car for the day well in advance. It’s the only way to get around. But don’t worry, driving on Molokai is easy and the road system around the island is good.

Driving in Molokai

Read More: The Top 5 Best Things to Do in Kauai Hawaii (#1 is a must!)

Read More: 7 Amazing Places in Oahu Hawaii to Make You Forget Traveling Abroad (for now)

Can you stay for a few days on Molokai?

Yes, you can. Though Molokai can be explored in a day, this relaxing bit of Hawaiian paradise offers lots of compelling reasons to stay a little longer. If you do choose to stay a few days, I would highly recommend seeking out volunteering opportunities around the island.

Your hotel can likely make some good suggestions for volunteering options.

Hotels on Molokai

If you decide to spend a night (or a few nights) there’s only one true hotel option on the island, but it’s a good one.

The Hotel Molokai is located directly on Kamiloloa Beach and many rooms have spacious oceanfront terraces. Rooms are clean and spacious and the hotel has all the facilities you need for a beach vacation – beach, pool, restaurant, etc.

Located on Molokai’s south shore, the only other option is the Castle Molokai Shores which is a condo property. The decor is decidedly older but each unit has a full kitchen and the property is located on a lovely beach. If you’re looking for peace and quiet in a no-frills location, this could be right up your alley.

Best Things to See on Molokai

You won’t find true “sightseeing” on Molokai and that’s probably a good thing.

Here are a few things to look out for on a driving tour of Molokai:

1. Kaunakakai Harbor

Kaunakakai is the island’s main harbor and paniolo (Hawaiian cowboy) town on the island. It’s 15 minutes from the airport and a good starting point for your day. Here, you’ll find locals fishing for their dinner and a quiet town that hasn’t changed much since the early 1900’s. There are a few shops and boutiques to visit here. And don’t miss Kanemitsu’s Bakery, a must for fresh baked breads, especially their famous onion and cheese bread.

2. Kapuaiwa Coconut Grove

Located across from Church Row in Kaunakakai, this ancient Hawaiian coconut grove is one of the last royal coconut groves in all of Hawaii. Planted in the 1860’s, these hundreds of swaying palms are easily one of Molokai’s most recognizable images. Not surprisingly, falling coconuts are a real danger here so the grove (which is private property) is best viewed from the grassy area just off Mauna Loa Highway.

Kapuaiwa Coconut Grove Molokai Hawaii
Kapuaiwa Coconut Grove

3. Kaluapapa National Historical Park

The only way to visit the town is via strictly controlled tour. This involves a challenging hike or a 90-minute mule ride down a 3-mile steep winding path. You can make a reservation with Damien Tours at (808) 567-6171 if you must. However, a less intrusive way to appreciate the beauty of the Kaluapapa Peninsula is from the viewpoint at Palaau State Park (my preference).

Papaau State Park viewpoint of Kaluapapa

4. Halawa Valley and Moalua Falls

A guide is required for this rugged hike through one of Hawaii’s most sacred places. Those who make the hike are rewarded with the secluded two-tier Moalua waterfall. The 4 mile hike through the Halawa Valley takes roughly 4-5 hours so this one is best for those with a couple of days to spare.

5. Beautiful Beaches

On the western side of Molokai, don’t miss Papohaku Beach, one of the largest white sand beaches in all of Hawaii. This is one of the few beaches on the island with actual facilities like restrooms and picnic tables. On the east end of Molokai, Kumimi Beach and Kawili Beach are also well worth a visit.

Papohaku Beach Molokai Hawaii
Pophaku Beach, Molokai

6. Ierusalema Hou Church

Built in 1948 by current church members’ grandparents, this tiny building is the only church in the remote Halawa Valley. At one time, members used to travel more than 30 miles for weekly services. Today, the church is in need of structural repairs and services are no longer held there.

Ierusalema Hou church – Halawa Valley

And that pretty much sums it up!

So, are you ready to plan a visit to the charming Hawaiian island of Molokai?

Whether you visit for just a day or decide to spend a few days to appreciate the island on a deeper level, you won’t regret a visit to Molokai. It’s a uniquely Hawaiian cultural experience and a great place to get away from it all in one of the world’s most popular tourism destinations.