Molokai is among the ‘most Hawaiian’ of the Islands of Hawaii

Jul 4, 2021 | General Information

Waves of Polynesians from remote Pacific islands settled on Molokai eons ago. Europeans arrived at least 700 years later. The island began to be developed in the late 1880s. A very large tract of land on Molokai became a sheep ranch owned by the Hawaiian royal family. This land was part of the hundreds of thousands of acres in the royal estate across the Hawaiian islands. When the royal dynasty’s last surviving member died in 1884, the estate sold the land on Molokai to a group of Hawaiian businessmen. After they turned it into a sugar plantation, one of these businessmen, Charles Cooke, bought out his partners and founded Molokai Ranch. The sugar plantation soon became a pineapple plantation and hundreds of workers were imported to work in the fields.

Over the years Molokai Ranch acquired about 35% of the island and built hotels and other attractions for tourists. For many decades, however, residents of Molokai resisted efforts by Molokai Ranch to increase tourism on the island. They engaged in protests against any tourism development that diminished the island’s traditions. In the late 1980s, Cooke sold the ranch to a Singapore-Hong Kong investment company. Finally in 2017 the Singapore owner of Molokai ranch decided to sell- the price was $260 million. The huge property sits on the island’s western end and includes lush pastureland, tropical rainforests, two towns, and more than 20 miles of private beaches. There are two resorts on the ranch, along with an agriculture and cattle business.

Molokai is much better known for its leper colony on Kalaupapa peninsula. Leprosy (also known as Hansen’s disease) was a disease introduced to the Hawaiian islands by traders, sailors, workers and others. Hawaii’s legislature passed an act requiring quarantine of people with leprosy. The government established a settlement on the isolated Kalaupapa peninsula. The population of this settlement reached a peak of 1100 shortly after the beginning of the 20th century. In total over the decades, more than 8500 men, women and children living in the Hawaiian islands and diagnosed with leprosy were exiled to the colony by the Hawaiian government. Patients were not allowed to leave the settlement nor have visitors and had to live out their days there. It was not until 1969 that the century-old laws of forced quarantine were abolished. Former patients living in Kalaupapa today have chosen to remain there.

In 1980 Kalaupapa National Historical Park was established to preserve the memories and experiences of the people forcibly sent there and to commemorate its founders: Belgian missionary Saint Damien and, later, Saint Marianne Cope. In 1873, Father Damien chose to leave the outside world to care for people exiled to the isolated peninsula. After 16 years of faithful service, he too tragically succumbed to the disease and was laid to rest at historic St. Philomena Roman Catholic Church in Kalaupapa. In October 2009, Father Damien was canonized as a saint. A few months before Saint Damien’s death, Mother Marianne Cope and her Franciscan sisters volunteered to live out their lives in the exiled community. She died in 1918 and was canonized as Saint Marianne Cope in 2012.

Near Kalaupapa National Historical Park are the tallest sea cliffs in the world, rising almost 4,000 feet above the ocean. These stunning sea cliffs are a result of the continuous erosion from the seawater pounding away at its base. The sea cliffs are a deep, velvety emerald green and during wet seasons waterfalls cascade down to the ocean. In the past many visitors have seen these cliffs on a mule ride along the 2.9-mile trail to the historic town of Kalaupapa. These days many people take a helicopter or fixed airplane from Maui to see breathtaking views of Molokai’s north coast.

Elsewhere on Molokai visitors rave about their tour of magnificent Halawa Valley and visit to beautiful, 250-foot Mooula Falls. Other visitors take a kayaking charter from Kaunakakai, whale watch in the Kalohi Channel in winter months, visit sprawling Papohaku Beach for a walk and a dip or marvel at the site of Molokai’s famous ancient fish ponds.