Watched over by mountains, rustic Kaunakakai (pronounced cow-nah-cock-eye) is where visitors find what little action exists on the island.

There are no traffic lights on Ala Malama Street, the main drag, which is barely two blocks long. Downtown buildings are low wooden general stores, restaurants, a post office, a library, and a courthouse in a former church.

Few people pass through town without stopping at Kanemitsu Bakery, a Molokai institution. Get there early before the best goodies are snapped up. Deep-sea fishing boats leave from nearby Kaunakakai Wharf, which is often piled with watermelons, honey, and other goods ready for export.

West of town along the main road is Kapuaiwa Grove. These neat rows of coconut palms were planted in the mid-1800s for Prince Lot, a Molokai resident who became King Kamehameha V. This is one of Hawaii's few remaining royal coconut groves. Across the street, a handful of late 19th-century houses of worship stand along picturesque Church Row. Their simple architecture reflects the plain lifestyle of Hawaii's early missionaries.

Kalaupapa National Historic Park

While this area is generally referred to as Kalaupapa, in fact, Makanalua Peninsula is divided into three districts: The Kalawao district on the eastern edge; Kalaupapa and the settlement of Kalaupapa to the west; with Makanalua in the center.

Today, the trail from Topside Moloka'i to Kalaupapa is traveled by mule, by hikers, and on foot by some of the workers at the settlement. Hugging the nearly perpendicular cliffs, the trail is over three miles (5km) long and descends 1,600 feet (488m) to the peninsula. Along its course are 26 switchbacks that corkscrew in and out of canyons and ravines. There is also a small airstrip at the northern edge of the peninsula, used daily to bring in food, supplies and visitors. Once a year in the summer, when the seas are calm, a barge from Honolulu anchors at Kalaupapa, delivering thousands of pounds of rice, cases of beer, drums of gasoline and supplies to stock the grocery store and hospital.

Kalaupapa's reputation as a leprosy colony is well-known. Hansen's disease, the proper term for leprosy, is believed to have spread to Hawaii from China. The first documented case of leprosy occurred in 1848. Its rapid spread and unknown cure precipitated the urgent need for complete and total isolation. Surrounded on three sides by the Pacific ocean and cut off from the rest of Moloka'i by 1600-foot (488m) sea cliffs, Kalaupapa provided the environment. In early 1866, the first leprosy victims were shipped to Kalaupapa and existed for 7 years before Father Damien arrived. The area was void of all amenities. No buildings, shelters nor potable water were available. These first arrivals dwelled in rock enclosures, caves, and in the most rudimentary shacks, built of sticks and dried leaves.

In 1873, Father Damien deVeuster, aged 33, arrived at Kalaupapa. A Catholic missionary priest from Belgium, he served the leprosy patients at Kalaupapa until his death. A most dedicated and driven man, Father Damien did more than simply administer the faith: he built homes, churches and coffins; arranged for medical services and funding from Honolulu, and became a parent to his diseased wards. In 1886, Brother Joseph Dutton arrived at Kalaupapa to assist Father Damien. Dutton, an energetic and dedicated missionary priest, assumed many of the duties Damien was unable to perform as his leprosy progressed. Mother Marianne, another revered servant, devoted 29 years on the peninsula as an administrator, nurse and educator. She spent her life on the go, even as her age climbed well into the seventies. She died in 1918. In 1977, Pope Paul VI declared Father Damien to be venerable, the first of three steps that lead to sainthood. Pope John Paul II declared Damien blessed in 1995, the second step before canonization as a saint.

With the advent of sulfone drugs in the 1940s, the disease was put in remission and the sufferers are no longer contagious. The fewer than 100 former patients remaining on the peninsula are free to travel or relocate elsewhere, but most have chosen to remain where they have lived for so long.

While Kalaupapa is now a National Historic Site, it is also the home of the few former patients who chose to remain there. So access, is by law, strictly regulated. Unless you are invited by one of the residents, you must take the tour offered by Damien Tours of Kalaupapa (about $40.00). The peninsula can be reached by air or by way of the trail from upper Moloka'i. Visitors can hike in and out or ride one of the Moloka'i mules. Visitors must be at least 16 years old.

Molokai Ranch

In 1897, a group of prominent businessmen formed what is now Molokai Ranch, Ltd. They purchased 70,000 acres of land, mostly on the western half of Molokai, leased another 30,000 acres of government land and began raising cattle and other livestock. Today Molokai Ranch encompasses about 53,000 acres which is roughly one third of the island. From the beginning, the rich paniolo (Hawaiian cowboy) heritage has been an integral part of the ranch. This is a working cattle ranch with real life cowboys doing real life cowboy chores on a daily basis.

For the past 100 years, the ranch has played a major role in the evolution of the island's agriculture-based economy and in the development of the necessary water resources. In the early days the focus was on raising beef cattle for market, plus horses and mules for use here and for sales elsewhere. Over time, other ventures were tried with varying degrees of success. Some of these included raising sheep for market, honey production, a small dairy, and various grains and row crops.

Between 1923 and 1985 several thousand acres were leased to Libby and to Del Monte for pineapple cultivation. During those years, pineapple was an economic mainstay for Moloka'i. More recently, activities have been introduced that allow Moloka'i visitors the opportunity to experience authentic ranch life first-hand. If you'd like to spend a night or two, you can camp in style and comfort at one of their new wilderness camps and optionally participate in some terrific horseback activities. There's the Paniolo Roundup, where ranch cowboys patiently teach even the greenest tenderfoot horsemanship and rodeo skills. Or venture out with the paniolos along the Great Molokai Ranch Trail.

Halawa Falls

Let nature and a beautiful place on earth astound you as you learn of Halawa's sacredness. Hike to the famous Moaula Falls with cultural guides.

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