where to eat
Molokai is in no way a gourmet destination. There are few restaurants, and even fewer with tablecloths. Good food is available, however, with enough variety for a few days' stay.
Kualapuu Cook House Farrington Ave. off Hwy. 470, Kualapuu; 808/567-6185; lunch for two $15, no credit cards. A former Del Monte plantation cafeteria, now serving some of the best food on the island, the Cook House is open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner— though one meal can easily blend into the next (the restaurant calls itself the world's only slow-food chain). The menu ranges from burgers to vegetarian saimin (Hawaiian noodle soup).
Outpost Natural Foods 70 Makaena Place, Kaunakakai; 808/553-3377; lunch for two $10. This health-food store sells the usual hippie leftovers (carob-covered raisins, herbal tinctures) as well as take-out lunches. The bean burrito is surprisingly piquant.
Kanemitsu Bakery 73 Ala Malama St., Kaunakakai; 808/553-5855; breakfast for two $10. An island institution that's been baking its famous bread since 1925. The round airy white loaves sell out fast, so you may have to settle for the delicious pineapple or mango loaves. Breakfast here is a local tradition. Spam, anyone?
Ohia Lodge Kaluakoi Hotel & Golf Club, Kepuhi Beach, Maunaloa; 808/552-2555; dinner for two $40. Popular with the older set, the restaurant at Molokai's only major resort has a terrific view and the best breakfast around. Come early and grab a table near the open doors so you can enjoy the crashing surf— it's a sublime way to start the day. Order the French toast, made with Kanemitsu's bread. Dinner books up fast on weekends, thanks to the musicians in the bar. Entrées might include rack of lamb with a macadamia crust and mint-guava jelly.
Molokai Ice House Kaunakakai Wharf; 808/553-3054; lunch for two $15. Next to quiet docks with excellent views of the south shore, the Ice House serves the freshest fish. Choose one of the generous take-out lunch plates— lomilomi salmon or squid (diced raw with tomatoes and onions), tangy poke (raw fish in soy sauce, oil, and chiles), or octopus (with cucumbers, onions, and kimchi sauce). All come with poi, a pale, gray, gelatinous starch that looks and tastes like nothing so much as the papier-mâché paste used in fourth-grade art class.
the night is very young
Molokai's relaxed pace is evident in its nightlife— almost everything quiets down by 11. On Fridays and Saturdays, bands perform at the Ohia Lodge (Kaluakoi Hotel & Golf Club, Kaluakoi Rd.; 808/552-2555); expect a mix of traditional Hawaiian and modern folk music. If you're staying at the hotel, plant yourself in a poolside chaise; you can see and hear the musicians perfectly.
Pau hana means "end of work," and the atmosphere at Pau Hana Inn's indoor-outdoor bar and restaurant (Oki Place off Kaunakakai Place, Kaunakakai; 808/553-5342) is appropriately casual. Don't let the karaoke crooners scare you away— the inn usually has island-music and reggae bands later on (dancing, too). Come early to "talk story" (gossip) with the locals.
Like most of the other Hawaiian islands, Molokai was developed primarily for agriculture. At the following sites, you can see how crops were grown for export— and you can sample as you go.
Ever wonder where all those macadamia nuts come from?Take a tour of Purdy's Natural Macadamia Nut Farm (Lihipali Ave., Hoolehua; 808/567-6601), usually led by burly Harry "Tuddie" Purdy himself. When you arrive, just follow the path strewn with macadamia shells toward the grove of 50 trees and the visitors' tasting booth. You'll learn, among other things, that one tree can have several stages of nut growth— flowers, buds, and full-grown fruit— going on simultaneously. At the tour's end, taste Purdy's all-natural, pesticide-free macadamias, which he insists have no cholesterol. And pick up a jar of deliciously aromatic macadamia-blossom honey.
Caffeine addicts will want to check out the Coffees of Hawaii gift shop (Farrington Ave. at Hwy. 470, Kualapuu; 808/567-9023). Try the strong, dark Muleskinner roast, named for the brave souls who used to run supplies to Kalaupapa before steps were built into the trail. The shop also has an extensive collection of Hawaiian music, jewelry, crafts, ties made from burlap coffee sacks, and books on cultural history. You can take a wagon tour through the lush coffee fields and wander through the processing plant.
Sugarcane is no longer widely grown on the island, but you can learn about it at the restored, still operable R. W. Meyer Sugar Mill (Hwy. 470, Kalae; 808/567-6436), built in 1878. Guides take you through the plant, explaining step-by-step how the cane is turned into sugar and molasses. The site also houses the Molokai Museum & Cultural Center, a trove of local artifacts— hula instruments, 18th-century fishing-net weights, antique stone weapons, and games. The "Now and Then" exhibition of Molokai photographs will prove your suspicions right: Kaunakakai's main drag looks exactly as it did in the 1940's.
shop to it
Big Wind Kite Factory & Plantation Gallery (120 Maunaloa Hwy., Maunaloa; 808/552-2364; www.molokai.com/kites) has hundreds of colorful handmade nylon kites for fliers of all ages and abilities, from small gecko-emblazoned wind socks to elaborate styles with 30-foot-long rainbow tails. Best of all, you can watch the craftsmen cutting out and assembling the patterns in the workroom behind the shop. The factory will ship anywhere in the world.
the five best beaches
1. Papohaku Beach Park Off Kaluakoi Rd. Hawaii's longest stretch of white sand— 21/2 miles of pounding 15-foot-high waves, all of it blissfully deserted. Until sunset, that is. A half-hour before the day ends, dozens of tourists arrive loaded down with cameras, tripods, and film bags, speaking German, Japanese, or French. As the sun descends, the whirring shutters are unnaturally loud amid the silent crowd. Everyone is so busy squinting through tiny viewfinders that they completely lose the majesty of the sight.
2. Moomomi North shore, off Hwy. 480. You'll need a four-wheel-drive to negotiate the orange dirt road, but it's worth the trip. Park at the end and hike west along the coast for about 30 minutes to reach the beautiful Kawaaloa Bay, rimmed by a broad expanse of white sand. Once a month, the Nature Conservancy leads hikes in the area, pointing out endangered plant species and sea turtle nesting grounds.
3. Kepuhi At the Kaluakoi Hotel & Golf Club. The surf is too powerful for swimming, so this is one you'll have to appreciate from the sand (but what views of the cliffs!). Don't go barefoot: the lava rocks just below the sand are sharp.
4. Dixie-Maru North of Kepuhi. A small west-shore beach popular with families. Its protective cove keeps the waters calm enough for swimming.
5. Rock Point Mile 21, Hwy. 450. This rocky outcropping is the place to surf. Locals come before and after work, park off the side of the road, and head down to the water. It's where you'll find the hip kids— yes, even on Molokai— with their tattoos, vermilion hair, and nose rings.