Hawaii 2011

Molokai to Honolulu - Molokai-Kaunakakai

I’ll back up and tell you about Molokai, the last island we visited. It was different from any of the other Hawaiian Islands, primarily because there are very few tourists. Other than one big, remote golfing resort, there seem to be no big hotels. Most people who want to stay there have to find a rental house or condominium. Of course that wasn’t a problem for us – we anchored in Kaunakakai Harbor, and dinghied ashore.

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Getting anchored in Kaunakakai Harbor was not an easy thing. Adjacent to the town of Kaunakakai, the reef extends out half a mile, and is mostly exposed at low tide. When they created the harbor, they dredged a 20-foot-deep rectangular space out of the reef, built a wharf in the middle, and built a causeway out to the wharf. The whole affair sticks out into the trade winds, and on the leeward side of the wharf, you still experience the 25 knot winds, even though the waves are knocked down to nothing. In 25 knot winds, it is quite difficult to anchor. Not only that, but as far as the State is concerned, the dredged area is a turning basin for the ferry, the tugs and the barges that come into the harbor. The only consideration for visiting yachts is that they stay out of the way. So the available anchoring area is limited to one small corner, and you’d better not swing out into the turning basin when the wind changes. (And of course, you’d better not swing the other way, or you’ll be onto the reef.) To make a long story short, we ended up putting out three anchors – two forward and one to the stern. It’s a long process, and pulling them all up when you get ready to leave is a drawn-out, messy job. There’s all sorts of garbage on the bottom of the harbor, and the mud is sticky. Each anchor pulled up at least its own weight in garbage and mud, which then had to be removed and washed off.

But anchoring difficulties aside, Molokai was an interesting and charming place. We went ashore and rented an elderly, beat up, but expensive Toyota from the only rental agency on the island. We drove from end to end and top to bottom of the island in the 24 hours we had the car. The little town of Kaunakakai (commercial center of the island) has a middle America look about it – little stores with false fronts, dusty shops, and no traffic lights. We found the Laundromat, the natural foods store, the grocery store, and we poked our heads in a souvenir shop and an art gallery. We had an expensive but mediocre plate lunch, and shook our heads at the prices of things. Tomatoes, $4 a pound; gasoline, $5.21 a gallon. Rental car with 104,000 miles on the odometer: $60 a day.

First we drove north, to the windward side of the island. At Palaau State Park, we looked off a 2000 foot cliff, down at Father Damien’s leprosy colony at Kalaupapa. Hawaiian leprosy victims were banished and isolated there for a century before a drug was found to prevent the progression and transmission of the disease. Now it’s a national historical park, but some of the residents (now very elderly) still live there by choice. Escorted tours are possible but expensive, and there is no road to reach there. The only access is by trail, boat or airplane. Father Damien (now Saint Damien) ministered to the residents there in the nineteenth century, before he caught the disease himself and died. The view from the Palaau cliffs is gorgeous and astonishing. Big whitecaps out in the Pacific Ocean reminded us why we didn’t choose to sail the windward side of the island. (Reportedly, though, it’s a spectacular sail).