The Magic of Molokai

Story by Barbara Beckley; Photos by Barbara Beckley and Lesley Lundgren

The poignant view from Kalaupapa Lookout.

Buying bread in a dark alley. Playing the ukulele. Being given leis by a perfect stranger. Experiencing three miles of untouched beach. As one of Hawaii’s smallest islands with few touristy attractions, it’s the locals who make Molokai a magical destination.  

“Try the Cookhouse.” My friend Lesley and I had just landed, and the airport car rental agency woman was eager for us to enjoy her favorite restaurant. Driving across the emerald landscape, beautifully devoid of manmade structures, the Kualapuu Cookhouse was a perfect introduction to island life — casual, and filled with friendly locals.

Sitting on the porch of this home-turned-restaurant, we lunched on amazing house-made teriyaki pork and fried rice and met a newly relocated couple from Burbank! What were the odds? Lesley lives in neighboring Glendale.

“What should we do?” we asked. This turned out to be the best question wherever we went. “The Kalaupapa Lookout,” they recommended.

But first, we checked into the ocean-front Hotel Molokai. It’s the island’s only hotel, with 47 accommodations of which 35 have air conditioning. Proof Molokai truly is the state’s “most Hawaiian island.” We had a second-floor island-style Garden View Deluxe, sans air conditioning, cooled perfectly by sea breezes. Luxury lovers may prefer the new Oceanfront Deluxe Suites with air conditioning. Going downstairs, we grabbed waterfront seats at Hiro’s Ohana Grill, ordered mai tais, and enjoyed the ukulele music of islander “Uncle Mango.” A perfect first day.    

In the morning, we followed the locals to the Saturday farmers market in Kaunakakai, the island’s only town. The stalls overflowed with island-made art, jewelry, food, T-shirts, ukuleles, and other temptations. I bought a necklace from a woman — again, what were the odds — who moved to Molokai 30 years ago from Glendale!

“Go around the corner to the Kalele Bookstore and Devine Expressions,” she told us. “It’s the unofficial visitor center. Everyone stops in to say hello.” We did, and it made our day. Sitting on a chair, among the Hawaiian artwork, books, clothing, and souvenirs, a silver-haired woman was holding plumeria blossom leis. “They’re so beautiful and fragrant,” Lesley gushed. “Put them on,” she said, handing one to each of us. “How much?” I asked. “Nothing. I made them, and they’re my gift — a welcome to Molokai.”    

We wore the leis all day, and smiled, as we drove to Papohaku Beach and its three miles of golden sands — occupied by only one other couple. And trekked through dense forest to the Kalaupapa Lookout and views of Makanalua Peninsula, home to Father Damien’s leper colony, now Kalaupapa National Historic Park.

And to the R.W. Meyer Sugar Mill Molokai Museum and Cultural, where we saw poignant photos of early leper colony residents and marveled at the mills’ original 19h century processing equipment.

Nighttime found us back in town standing in line in a dark alley, waiting to buy Molokai’s unique “Hot Bread.” The mouthwatering loaves, fresh baked French bread split open and slathered with your choice of toppings (cinnamon, sugar, melted butter, blueberry, strawberry jam, cream cheese), are sold only at night from the back door of the Kanemitsu Bakery & Coffee Shop. The young Molokai man in front of us bought eight loaves. We bought one with cinnamon, strawberry jam, and cream cheese. Delicious.

The ukulele jam session by Molokai kapuna (elders), held each Tuesday at the Coffees of Hawaii coffee boutique and restaurant, was a fitting finale to our adventure. Sitting at a table with local enthusiasts, we sipped 100% Molokai coffee (grown, roasted, and packaged here) and enjoyed the free, 100% Molokai entertainment.

I couldn’t believe it when one of our tablemates handed me her ukulele. Gingerly, I strummed the strings. “OMG. I’m playing the ukulele!”

To learn more, visit www.gohawaii.com/islands/molokai.


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Aug 2020


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