TOP 10 MOLOKAI ACTIVITIES
Molokai— a thinly populated, 38-mile-long island off Maui’s north coast— is unlike anywhere else in Hawaii. Here there are no stoplights, no major resorts, no chain stores, and virtually no crowds. The island remains largely untouched by the influences of tourism and development. Instead, the authentic Hawaiian way of life prevails. Hawaiian language, customs, and religious traditions are woven into the fabric of everyday life on Molokai— giving visitors the sense of stepping back in time to Old Hawaii.
A note on visiting Molokai: Visiting Molokai can be a moving experience. The island is home to a myriad of natural wonders, like the longest fringing reef in Hawaii and some of the tallest sea cliffs in the world. Many historic sites are beautifully preserved, and Hawaiian culture flourishes. However, if you’re interested in a quintessential vacation— one that involves sipping pina colada’s by the resort pool, mingling with other tourists, and hitting the town at night— Molokai might not be for you. Rather, come to Molokai as a visitor, not a tourist. Come to learn about the culture, talk story with the residents, and experience the true essence of Hawaii. Here are ten activities that showcase the best of Molokai’s natural beauty and rich culture.
Halawa Valley, on the eastern tip of Molokai, is one of Hawaii’s most important cultural sites. The valley is believed to be one of the first Polynesian settlements in Hawaii— inhabited since 650 AD— and once housed thousands of residents. Sadly, the Halawa community was leveled by two tsunamis in the mid-20th century, and today only a few families remain in the valley.
To learn about the valley’s rich history and delve into Hawaiian customs, take a guided tour with the Solatorio ohana, born and raised in Halawa Valley. You’ll crisscross several miles of jungle— past ancient heiaus, rock terraces, and cultural landmarks— to reach the two-tiered Moʻoula Falls. Along the way, you’ll witness traditional Hawaiian protocols, learn about native species, and hear the legends and history of Halawa Valley from your guide.
Just a few miles outside Kaunakakai sits a fragrant paradise: Molokai Plumerias, a vast plumeria orchard. The farm is operated by the Wheeler Family, who welcome visitors to tour the farm and learn to make lei. On your visit, you’ll explore the orchard and learn about the history of the farm and Molokai— usually from Mr. Wheeler himself. He’ll help you correctly identify the best flowers for lei-making. Then you’ll be let loose in the orchard to fill a bag with blossoming plumeria. When you’re ready, sit down for a lei-making demonstration. You’ll practice stringing your own lei and, the best part, take it home with you as a souvenir.
The Molokai Plumeria Farm is open from 8 am to 12 pm daily. To book a visit, be sure to email Molokai Plumerias in advance. Keep in mind plumerias produce fewer flowers in the winter months.
If you can’t make it to Molokai for an overnight stay, you can still experience the island’s phenomenal natural beauty on a helicopter tour. Most Molokai helicopter tours depart from Kahului Airport on Maui.
This hour-long flight takes you across the breezy Pailolo Channel to Molokai’s remote northern coast, where towering sea cliffs rise out of the deep blue and waterfalls spill thousands of feet down vertical rock faces. You’ll learn about Molokai’s geology and history as you soar over Kalaupapa Peninsula— the former settlement for patients with Hansen’s Disease. Then, peer down at ancient fishponds along Molokai’s 25-mile fringing reef as you return to Maui. The flight concludes with a visit to the heart of the West Maui Mountains.
Who needs coffee when you can wake up with a sunrise kayak adventure? Early mornings are the best time to be on the water: you’ll beat the howling tradewinds and will most likely be rewarded with cloudless views of Molokai’s peaks and the West Maui Mountains.
This kayak excursion hosted by Molokai Outdoors takes you several miles down Molokai’s south coast. The length of the trip varies based on your experience level. You’ll cruise inside or outside Molokai’s fringing reefs, depending on the conditions. Your expert guide will help you navigate the shallower sections and share stories and the history of Molokai along the way. You’ll likely spot an abundance of sea life, like turtles, fish, and even whales in the winter season.
5. Post-A-Nut at Hoʻolehua Post Office
Forget sending postcards— did you know you can mail a coconut from Hawaii? The Hoʻolehua Post Office capitalizes on this unique shipping method with its Post-A-Nut program.
Each morning, the Hoʻolehua postmaster stocks the office with fallen coconuts from nearby groves and then sets out permanent markers so visitors can decorate them. People come from far and wide to send their decorated coconuts to friends and family back home. In fact, Hoʻolehua Post Office ships out about 3,000 coconuts a year! What’s more, the coconuts are free— you just need to pay for shipping, which will run you between $12 and $20.
6. Scuba Dive
Molokai offers some of the best scuba diving in Hawaii. Twenty-five miles of coastline is bordered by the largest fringing reef in the state, and the island’s isolation keeps the reef in pristine condition.
Molokai Fish and Dive has the low-down on over 40 amazing dive sites— from the reef wall off Palaʻau to one of the island’s seven blue holes. Wherever you end up, you’ll explore reefs blooming with cauliflower and finger corals and swarming with marine life. Turtle, ray, and shark sightings are frequent.
7. Kalaupapa Lookout
The isolated and scenic Kalaupapa Peninsula is one of Hawaii’s most historically compelling sites. When Hansen’s Disease began appearing in Hawaii in the mid-1800s, King Kamehameha V moved to relocate those afflicted to Molokai’s remote Kalaupapa Peninsula to live in isolation. In 1873, Father Damien— a Catholic priest from Belgium— moved to the peninsula to help care for the ill who lived in exile. Unfortunately, after 16 years of service, he succumbed to the disease and was later canonized as a Saint for his noble efforts.
Today, Kalaupapa is home to about ten permanent residents— remaining patients from the former colony. Due to the covid-19 pandemic, the peninsula is again off-limits to the public. But you can still glimpse the peninsula’s panoramic beauty and learn about the history from a safe distance at the Kalaupapa Lookout. Perched at 1,600 feet, the overlook provides sweeping views of the vertiginous sea cliffs and the peninsula below. The lookout is located in Palaʻau State Park, also home to Ka Ule o Nanahoa, a sacred Hawaiian fertility rock.
8. Molokai Hot Bread
Typically, on Molokai, all activities cease after the sun slips past the horizon. The only ‘nightlife’ to speak of can be found down a dark alley behind Kanemitsu Bakery. This is the home of Molokai Hot Bread— fresh, handmade loaves smeared with fillings like cream cheese, ube, cinnamon, strawberry, and guava. Molokai Hot Bread is best served fresh, and those in-the-know flock to the bakery from 7:30 pm to stock up. During daylight hours, the century-old bakery and coffee shop serves breakfast and local cuisine, but the exclusive hot bread makes Kanemitsu Bakery a famous Molokai attraction.
9. Molokai Farmers Market
The Molokai Farmers Market is held every Saturday in Kaunakakai. This weekly market is a fantastic place for visitors to connect with members of the Molokai community and explore the island’s bounty of fruits and vegetables. In addition to succulent crops, browse works by Molokai artisans, baked goods, and yummy eats, and pick up a one-of-a-kind Molokai-made souvenir. The Molokai Farmers Market takes place weekly from 7 am to 1 pm on Ala Malama Street.
10. Molokai Museum and Cultural Center
Located on the site of a former sugar mill, the Molokai Museum and Cultural Center features a varied collection of exhibits— from ancient petroglyphs to plantation-era heirlooms. Explore over a century of well-preserved Molokai history through newspapers, videos, photos, and personal accounts from island residents. This quaint museum also sheds light on Molokai’s agricultural past and the former Leprosy colony at Kalaupapa Peninsula. Before leaving, stop by the gift shop to browse locally-made arts and crafts.