Island of Molokai – Land of Father Damien

Categorized as Molokai Vacation Info

Molokai is Steeped In Culture and Beauty

I have been quite excited that the beloved Father Damien will soon be declared a Saint, and so I thought I would visit the island where he helped so many people, and indeed gave his own life so that others could be more comfortable in their time of need.

After checking into  a great Molokai Vacation Rental near the main town of Kaunakakai on the south coast I took a walk down the town’s main street, Ala Malama Street.  It is quite charming with many false-front stores that reminded me of the Old West.

Nearby is the town’s wharf where the Molokai Ferry and barges bring the Molokai people food and other products, and also a steady stream of tourists.

Royal Coconut Grove and Church Row

Also check out the many hundreds of coconut palms along the coast.  These coconut palms were planted in 1860 by King Kamehameha V, and are now known as Kapuāiwa Royal Coconut Grove. Church Row is on the other side of the highway, with several places of worship side by side.

Ancient Fishponds

I first headed east from Kaunakakai, and after about three miles I came to One-ali‘i Beach Park where I enjoyed seeing the two memorials commemorating Japanese immigrants.

Heading to the southeast part of the island I soon came to the spectacular valley of Hālawa. Moloka‘i has the largest concentration of ancient fishponds in the Hawaiian Islands along the southeast coast.  Some of these beautiful fishponds have been restored to their former glory.

Hālawa Valley

The steep-walled Hālawa Valley is one of the most scenic spots on Moloka‘i.  The valley is about 3½ miles deep and ½-mile wide with two prominent waterfalls.

Moa‘ula Falls at the head of the valley plunges about 250 feet down the mountain, and just north is Hīpuapua Falls cascading 500 feet down the mountain.

Hālawa Bay is nice for swimming, particularly on the south side of the bay which is more protected from the open sea.

St. Joseph’s Church

To the east of Kaunakakai I visted St. Joseph’s Church in Kamalō. This church was built by Father Damien in 1876, and a bronze statue of the benevolent priest is on display outside of the church.

Smith and Bronte Landing

The next place I visited was the Smith and Bronte Landing on the makai (seaward) side of the road just after Mile Marker 11.  There is a sign marking the site of the crash landing of the plane of navigator Emily Bronte and airmail pilot Ernest Smith. They were the first civilians to fly to Hawaii from the United States Mainland, covering the 2,200 miles in 26 hours.

Smith and Bronte wanted to fly to Honolulu but ran out of fuel and so they had to crash land their 27-foot plane, The City of Oakland, on Moloka‘i.

Our Lady of Sorrows Church

East of Kaunakakai is Our Lady of Sorrows Church.  This Catholic church was built in 1966, reconstructing the original church that had been built there in 1874 by Father Damien.

When Father Damien was on his way from the Hansen’s disease (leprosy) colony at Kalaupapa to St. Josephs Church he would say Mass at Our Lady of Sorrows Church.  Father Damien did this even when he was very ill with the disease.

Next I went for a swim at Waialua Beach (also called Twenty-Mile Beach), which is near the 20 Mile Marker.  I also did some nice snokeling and enjoyed watching the kids surfing at the nearby surf break and also seeing the offshore islet of Mokuho‘oniki, a seabird sanctuary.  The best view of Mokuho‘oniki is from near Mile Marker 24.

Moloka‘i Coffee Plantation

Just northwest of Kaunakakai is the Molokai Coffee Plantation.  Check out the great store there where many artisans sell their wares.  They have a great self-guided tour that gets you to ponder the history of coffe and also introduces you to the inner workings of the plantation.

Pālā‘au State Park and the Kalaupapa Overlook
About 10 miles from Kaunakakai and just past the Molokai Museum and Cultural Center is Pālā‘au State Park.  At an elevation of about 1,000 feet, the park has a short trail that leads to, dare I say, a renown phallic rock called Ka-ule-o-Nānāhoa. This rock, according to legend, increases the fertility of women.

A short walk through a pine forest leads to the Kalaupapa Overlook with wonderful views of the town of Kalaupapa on the Kalaupapa Peninsula far below.  This is also where the trail down to Kalaupapa begins.

Kalaupapa – Where Father Damien Did His Good Works

Kalaupapa National Historic Park is accessible by hiking down the trail or riding a mule, or by boat or plane.

On the island’s north-central coast, Kalaupapa Peninsula is surrounded by the Pacific Ocean on three sides and the other side is steep cliffs rising up thousands of feet.

Mule ride tours down into Kalaupapa from Pālā‘au State Park are offered by Moloka‘i Mule Rides and Damien Tours, providing guided trips down the switchback trail into Kalaupapa from Pālā‘au State Park.  The remote and largely inaccessible valley was the site of a Hansen’s disease (leprosy) colony beginning in 1865 – in all some 9,000 people were quarantined there.

In 1873 is when the Belgian priest known as Father Damien (Joseph Damien DeVeuster) first volunteered to help the victims of the dreaded disease. Father Damien then served the residents of Kalaupapa until he he died there of Hansen’s disease 16 years later.


After that wonderful journey into Hawaii’s history I visited Pāpōhaku where a 3-mile long beach – one of Hawaii’s longest, stretches along the western coast.

Dunes of Mo‘omomi

Next I visted the dunes of Mo‘omomi on the northwest coast.  This is a rare coastal sand dune system where many endangered plant species thrive.  It is also an important Hawaiian cultural area and a nesting site for honu, or sea turtles.  Hikes here are guided by the Nature Conservancy.

Well, that was a whirlwind visit of Molokai, one of the most beautiful Hawaiian Islands and the site of the good works of Father Damien who did so much for the people of Hawaii. I am going to spend a few more days relaxing and thinking about all of these great sights I have seen on this pristine and culturally enlightening Hawaiian Island.