Cultural / Historical Sites and Attractions


Cultural / Historical Sites and Attractions


Moloka‘i’s main town is Kaunakakai on the island’s south coast. Kaunakakai’s main street, Ala Malama Street, is lined with false-front stores reminiscent of the Old West. The downtown area is only about three blocks long, and a weekly outdoor market offers fresh fruits and vegetables for sale each Saturday.

Located across the highway from the town of Kaunakakai, the wharf where tug boats, barges, and ferry boats dock to bring goods and people to and from Moloka‘i. Due to the shallow waters, the wharf is nearly ½-mile (.8 km) long.

Across the Kalohi Channel, the islands of Maui, Kaho‘olawe, and Lāna‘i are visible. Behind the nearby canoe club is the stone foundation remains of the thatched-grass summer home of King Kamehameha V (Lot Kapuāiwa Kamehameha). The home was called Malama.

In 1860, Kamehameha V planted more than 1,000 niu (Cocos nucifera, coconut palms) over an area of about 10 acres (4 ha) along the coast at the site now known as Kapuāiwa Royal Coconut Grove. His reign as King Kamehameha V extended from Nov. 30, 1863 to Dec. 11, 1872.

On the other side of the highway is Church Row, where the town’s several places of worship are lined up side by side.

About 3 miles (4 km) east of Kaunakakai is One-ali‘i Beach Park, which includes two memorials commemorating Japanese immigrants. One-ali‘i means “Royal sands.”[i]

[Kaunakakai, Maunaloa Highway (Hwy. 460), 5½ miles (9 km) southwest of airport.

Southeast Moloka‘i—Kaunakakai to Hālawa

About 28 miles (45 km) east of Kaunakakai along the Kamehameha V Highway (Highway 450) is scenic Hālawa Valley. The road follows the ocean for much of the way, and the terrain gradually becomes more lush and tropical as it nears Hālawa. On the way from Kaunakakai to Hālawa are the towns of Kawela, Kamalō, ‘Ualapu‘e, and Kalua‘aha.

Moloka‘i has some of the most extensive aquaculture complexes in all of Polynesia. The largest concentration of loko i‘a (fishponds) in the Hawaiian Islands is located on Moloka‘i’s southeast coast. Some of these ancient fishponds have been restored.

Just east of Kaunakakai is Kaloko‘eli Fishpond, located behind the Moloka‘i Shores condominiums. Kaloko‘eli means “The dug pond,”[ii] and is just one of more than 60 ancient fishponds once in use along Moloka‘i’s eastern shores. Just past Mile Marker 4 is the Nēnē o Moloka‘i Bird Propagation Facility, which offers tours of the nēnē propagation site.

[Kaloko‘eli Fishpond, Kamehameha V Highway (Highway 450), about 6 miles (9.7 km) east of Kaunakakai.]

[Nēnē o Moloka‘i, 808-553-5992, just past Mile Marker 4.]


At Kawela is Kakahai‘a Beach Park, part of the Kakahai‘a National Wildlife Refuge, which is mostly closed to the public. Inland at Kawela, high on a ridge, is Kawela Pu‘uhonua, a sacred place of refuge in ancient times.

Kawela was also the site of a 1736 battle in which warriors of the islands of Hawai‘i and Moloka‘i, led by Alapa‘inui [Alapa‘i], fought against the forces of O‘ahu.

Five days of fighting resulted in the defeat of O‘ahu’s forces and the death of thousands (based on archaeological studies), including O‘ahu’s chief Kapi‘ioho-o-kalani (“The head curls of the royal chief”). (See Chapter 11, Timeline: 1736.) Kamehameha also landed his forces at Kawela in 1794 as he rose to power as King Kamehameha I.

[Kawela Pu‘uhonua, off Kamehameha V Highway (Hwy. 450), east of Kaunakakai near Kawela. Kawela Battlefield extends from Mile Markers 6 to 13.]

Kamalō / St. Joseph’s Church

St. Joseph’s Church is located in Kamalō, east of Kaunakakai. Built in 1876 by Father Damien (see below). A bronze statue of Father Damien is on display outside of the church.

[Kamalō—St. Joseph’s Church, about 10 miles (16 km) east of Kaunakakai.]

Smith and Bronte Landing

On the makai side of the road after Mile Marker 11 is a sign marking the site of the crash landing of the plane of navigator Emily Bronte and airmail pilot Ernest Smith. Bronte and Smith were the first civilians to fly to the Hawaiian Islands from the United States Mainland (Oakland, California).

Bronte and Smith’s July 14, 1927 journey, the first trans-Pacific flight by civilians, covered about 2,200 miles (3,541 km) and took 26 hours and 36 minutes. They originally intended to fly to Honolulu, but a fuel shortage led to the crash landing on Moloka‘i in their 27-foot (8-m) monoplane named The City of Oakland.

[Smith and Bronte Landing, Highway 450, just past Mile Marker 11.]

‘Ualapu‘e Fishpond / Ah Ping Store

The town of ‘Ualapu‘e is the site of ‘Ualapu‘e Fishpond. Located on the ocean side of the road, ‘Ualapu‘e Fishpond was one of many ancient loko ‘ia (fishponds) along Moloka‘i’s eastern shore.

‘Ualapu‘e is now restored, and is used to raise ‘ama ‘ama (Mugil cephalus, mullet). Just past the fishpond is the shell of the old Ah Ping Store, a Chinese-owned store built in the 1930s.

Kalua‘aha Church / Our Lady of Sorrows Church

East of Kaunakakai, just inland about 2 miles (3.2 km) past Kalua‘aha (“The gathering pit”[iii]), is the remains of Moloka‘i’s first Church, Kalua‘aha Church.

The church was built in 1874 by the Reverend Harvey R. Hitchcock, the island’s first missionary, who established Moloka‘i’s first mission in 1832 (see Chapter 11, Timeline: 1832), when the missionaries estimated Moloka‘i’s population at 6,000 people (about the same as today).

Kalua‘aha Church was one of the largest Western-style buildings in the Hawaiian Islands, and remained in use until the 1940s. To the east of the site is a marble headstone marking Reverend Hitchcock’s grave.

About 200 yards (183 m) past Kalua‘aha Church is Our Lady of Sorrows Church, a Catholic church built in 1966, reconstructing the original church built there by Father Damien in 1874. (See Chapter 11, Timeline: 1832.)]

Our Lady of Sorrows was the second church built by Father Damien. When he was on his way from Kalaupapa to St. Josephs he would say Mass at Our Lady of Sorrows Church. He did this even during the years before his death when he was very ill with leprosy (Hansen’s disease).

[Kalua‘aha Church / Our Lady of Sorrows Church, inland about 2 miles (3.2 km) past Kalua‘aha town, between Mile Markers 14 and 15, on Kamehameha V Highway (Hwy. 450.)]

‘Ili‘ili‘ōpae Heiau / Pūko‘o

‘Ili‘ili‘ōpae Heiau, located just past Mile Marker 11 in southeast Moloka‘i, is a platform-type heiau, and the biggest of such sacred sites on Moloka‘i. It also may be Moloka‘i’s oldest heiau.

‘Ili‘ili‘ōpae Heiau is about 286 feet (87 m) long by 87 feet (27 m) wide, and ranges from about 11 to 22 feet (3.3 to 6.7 m) high. This heiau’s current size, about 3,000 square feet (279 sq. m), may be only about one third of the heiau’s original size.

In ancient times, ‘Ili‘ili‘ōpae Heiau was a place where human sacrifices took place. According to legend, this heiau was also built by the legendary race of ancient people known as menehune who passed stones (‘ili‘ili) from hand-to-hand all the way from Wailau Valley to the site of the heiau. The workers were apparently paid with ‘ōpae (shrimp). (See Menehune, Chapter 3.)

Past Ili‘ili‘ōpae Heiau is Pūko‘o, a small village that used to be Moloka‘i’s center of government.

[‘Ili‘ili‘ōpae Heiau, just past Mile Marker 11 on Kamehameha V Highway (Hwy. 450.) east of Kaunakakai.]

Kalanikāula—Sacred Kukui Grove of Lanikāula

Atop a hill on lands of the Pu‘u-o-Hoku Ranch is a 5-acre (2-ha) grove of kukui trees known as Kalanikāula (“The royal prophet”),[iv] a sacred burial ground of the important 16th century kahuna (priest) named Lanikāula. This site is not accessible to the general public.


Waialua is located near Mile Marker 19 on the Kamehameha V Highway (Hwy. 450). In the center of town is Waialua Congregational Church, which was constructed of stone in 1855. Just past town, on the inland side of the road, are the remains of the stone chimney of the Moanui Sugar Mill, which was destroyed by fire in the late 1800s.

Waialua Beach (also called Twenty-Mile Beach), is located at the 20 Mile Marker, and provides good swimming and snorkeling. Nearby is a good surfing spot for kids, especially when the ocean is rough elsewhere. Caution is still advised, however, as strong currents sometimes make swimming dangerous.

Just beyond is Rock Point, a popular surfing spot. From here the road winds upward into the lands of Pu‘u-o-Hoku Ranch. Offshore is a small islet called Mokuho‘oniki, which means “Pinch island (as a lover pinches)”[v]

Mokuho‘oniki is a seabird sanctuary, and can be seen from near Mile Marker 24. Just after Mile Marker 25 there is a sweeping view of Hālawa Valley.

Hālawa Valley / Hālawa Bay

Hālawa Valley is the easternmost of the amphitheater-like valleys on Moloka‘i’s north coast, and the only one easily accessible (by guided hikes). Considered by many to be one of the most scenic spots on Moloka‘i, the lush, steep-walled Hālawa Valley is about 3½ miles (5.6 km) deep and ½-mile (.8 km) wide, and includes two prominent waterfalls.

At the head of the valley is Moa‘ula Falls, plunging about 250 feet (76 m) down the mountain. About ¼-mile (.4 km) north of Moa‘ula Falls is Hīpuapua Falls, which plunges some 500 feet (152 m) down the mountain. Hīpuapua means “Tail flowing.”[vi] Both falls can be seen from (Hwy. 450), and are accessible only through a guided permitted hike of about 4½ miles (7.2 km).

Once a main farming area, Hālawa Valley was hit hard by the 1946 and 1957 tsunamis, and many of the residents were relocated. The two coves of the double-scalloped Hālawa Bay provide good swimming and surfing. The south side of the bay is generally more protected, but currents along the coast still require swimmers to always exercise caution.

[Hālawa Valley / Hālawa Bay, northeast Moloka‘i.]

[Photograph: Moloka‘i scene]

Kamakou Preserve 

The 2,774-acre (1,123-ha) Kamakou Preserve includes the 4,961-foot (1,512-m) peak of Kamakou, Moloka‘i’s highest point.

The Preserve also supports various types of native Hawaiian ecosystems, including cloud forests, bogs, and shrublands that provide habitat for endangered forest birds and other native species.

Central and Northern Moloka‘i

Moloka‘i Coffee Plantation

Moloka‘i Coffee Plantation is located just a few miles northwest of Kaunakakai. Coffees of Hawai‘i runs tours of the coffee plantation store grown on their own 500-acre (202-ha) plantation and roasted there. Dozens of local artisans sell their wares at the store.

[Coffees of Hawai‘i, 808-567-9241,, 10-1, Mon.-Sat.; Directions: Farrington Hawai‘i, off Kala‘e Highway (Hwy. 470), Hawai‘i 480, Kualapu‘u.]

Moloka‘i Museum & Cultural Center / R. W. Meyer Sugar Mill Museum

The Moloka‘i Museum & Cultural Center is located in the restored R. W. Meyer Sugar Mill, a very small sugar mill originally constructed in 1878, making it the oldest existing mill in the Hawaiian Islands that is now restored to operating condition. The structure is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

The mill was built by German immigrant Rudolph Meyer, a Moloka‘i surveyor in 1848. Meyer married Kalama, a high chiefess, and managed the ranch lands that later became part of Moloka‘i Ranch.

When Meyer constructed the sugar mill in 1878, he used mules and a steam engine to run the machinery that crushed and processed the sugarcane. The Meyer’s family home, still owned by descendants, is located just up the hill but is not open to the public.

[Moloka‘i Museum & Cultural Center / R. W. Meyer Sugar Mill Museum, 808-567-6436, Kala‘e Highway (Hwy. 470), Kala‘e, open 10-2, Mon.-Sat. Directions: Take Kala‘e Highway (Hwy. 470) up from its intersection with Maunaloa Highway (Hwy. 460) toward central Moloka‘i. The museum is located between Kualapu‘u and the Kalaupapa Lookout.]

Pālā‘au State Park / Kalaupapa Overlook

Pālā‘au State Park is located about 10 miles (16 km) from Kaunakakai, and about 2 miles (3.2 km) past the Moloka‘i Museum & Cultural Center. Pālā‘au State Park encompasses 234 acres (95 ha) at an elevation of about 1,000 feet (305 m) above sea level.

A short trail in the park leads to the legendary phallic rock known as Ka-ule-o-Nānāhoa, which is said to increase the fertility of women. Nearby are ancient petroglyphs.

Kalaupapa Overlook, located at the end of a short trail through the pine forest, provides outstanding views of the Kalaupapa Peninsula and the town of Kalaupapa. Also at Pālā‘au State Park is the trailhead that leads down to Kalaupapa Peninsula (see below).

[Pālā‘au State Park / Kalaupapa Overlook, 808-567-6923, end of Kala‘e Highway (Hwy. 470), 3 miles (4.8 km) north of Kualapu‘u, open dawn to dusk daily. Directions: Take Maunaloa Highway (Hwy. 460) to Kala‘e Highway (Hwy. 470), then go north to past the town of Kualapu‘u to the end of the road.]


Along Moloka‘i’s north-central coast is Kalaupapa National Historic Park, on the Kalaupapa Peninsula, which is accessible only by boat, airplane, foot, or mule. Kalaupapa Peninsula is surrounded on three sides by ocean. On the fourth side, cliffs rise up 2,000 to 3,000 feet (610 to 914 m).

Mule ride tours down into Kalaupapa from Pālā‘au State Park are offered by Moloka‘i Mule Rides and Damien Tours (see below). The trail into Kalaupapa descends about 1,600 feet (488 m) and includes 26 switchback turns.

Many archaeological sites attest to the fact that Kalaupapa was an important place in ancient Hawai‘i, and was well-populated before Captain Cook arrived in 1778 establishing Western contact. Beginning in 1865, the isolated valley was used to segregate victims of Hansen’s disease (also called leprosy), which is caused by Mycobacterium leprae, a slow-growing bacterium.

A Belgian priest known as Father Damien (Joseph Damien DeVeuster), volunteered to minister to the victims of the disease at the Kalaupapa leper colony in 1873. Father Damien served tirelessly to help the residents of Kalaupapa, and he died there of leprosy 16 years later. Eventually nearly 9,000 people were quarantined at Kalaupapa.

Today Father Damien’s spirit lives on as one of Hawai‘i’s beloved heroes. Referred to as the “Martyr of Moloka‘i,” Father Damien is immortalized in a statue that faces Beretania St. on O‘ahu, in front of the State Capitol Building. There is also a statue of Father Damien outside St. Joseph’s Church in Kamalō (see below).

A selfless servant to those in need, Father Damien was beatified by Pope John Paul II on June 4, 1995 in Brussels, Belgium. (For more information about Father Damien, see Damien Museum in O‘ahu section, Chapter 2; and Chapter 11, Timeline: 1865; 1873; 1889; 1969; 1995.)

Another selfless and dedicated servant ministering to the leprosy patients of Kalaupapa was Roman Catholic nun Mother Marianne Cope. Born in Germany as Barbara Koob [variations: Kopp; Koop], she took the name Marianne upon joining the Sisters of the Third Order of St. Francis in 1862 in New York.

Mother Marianne later volunteered to minister to leprosy patients in Honolulu, arriving on November 7, 1883 and moving to Kalaupapa five years later to supervise a new girls’ home for Hansen’s disease patients, eventually also running a home for boys.

Mother Marianne first worked alongside Father Damien, and then continued working at Kalaupapa for decades after Damien’s passing. Mother Marianne ministered to the patients for a total of 30 years (1888-1918), until she passed away in 1918 at the age of 80.

Mother Marianne was known for her uplifting attitude, helping the patients in many small but extremely meaningful ways, such as planting flowers and trees, and organizing picnics. She also sewed clothes for the Kalaupapa residents and played piano so they could sing along.

King Kalākaua [David La‘amea Kalākaua] honored Mother Marianne with royal decorations, and Robert Louis Stevenson (1850—1894) also wrote of her. One of the most notable women in the history of the Hawaiian Islands, Mother Marianne also founded Maui’s first hospital, now known as Maui Memorial Hospital.

Mother Marianne’s canonization cause began decades ago, and in 1996 the accuracy of her documented life story was verified by Vatican historians. In October of 2003, Rome theologians gave their approval, and then in January of 2004, the Vatican’s Congregation for the Causes of Saints affirmed Mother Marianne’s “heroic virtue,” which was a step toward canonization and sainthood.

The next step would be for the pope to declare her “venerable.” The next steps are beatification and then sainthood. A possible miracle attributed to Mother Marianne involved the unexpected recovery of an extremely ill teen-age girl. (See Heroes of Kalaupapa—Father Damien and Mother Marianne, Chapter 12.)

[Kalaupapa National Historic Park, 808-567-6802, Kalaupapa Settlement, Kalaupapa. Visits allowed only by invitation or on guided tour: 808-567-6171.]

[Moloka‘i Mule Ride, 567-6088, 800-567-7550,, Mon.-Sat.]

[Damien Tours, 808-567-6171, land tours of Kalaupapa Peninsula.]


Western Moloka‘i


Spanning more than 3 miles (4.8 km) along Moloka‘i’s western coast, Pāpōhaku is one of the largest white sand beaches in the Hawaiian Islands. Warm, white sand and uncrowded conditions make Pāpōhaku a great place to visit. Be extremely cautious about swimming, however, as conditions may be unsafe.

Three access points off Kaluako‘i Road lead to Pāpōhaku Beach. The first access point leads to Pāpōhaku Beach Park, which has restrooms, campsites, and other facilities making the spot a great picnic area.

[Pāpōhaku Beach, Kaluako‘i Road, West Moloka‘i.]


Mauna Loa / Pu‘unānā

Atop the shield-shaped dome of Mauna Loa is a peak that lives up to its name, Pu‘unānā, which means “Observation hill.”[vii]

The view from atop Pu‘unānā, at an elevation of 1,381 feet (421 m), looks across eastern Moloka‘i’s Ho‘olehua plain and also provides a great view of Maui and Lāna‘i. Depending on visibility, Hawai‘i Island may also be seen.

Dunes of Mo‘omomi

The dunes of Mo‘omomi are located on Moloka‘i’s northwest coast. Mo‘omomi is the most undisturbed coastal sand dune system in the Hawaiian Islands, providing a unique Hawaiian habitat that supports many endangered plant species.

Mo‘omomi is also an important Hawaiian cultural area with numerous sites considered of high value for studies regarding Hawaiian geology and paleontology.

Honu (Chelonia mydas, Hawaiian green sea turtles) nest on the shores of Mo‘omomi. Monthly guided hikes are offered by the Nature Conservancy (808-553-5236).

Kepuhi Beach

Rough ocean conditions may make swimming dangerous at Kepuhi Beach, located to the west of Kaunakakai in front of the Kaluako‘i Hotel.

Kepuhi Beach is part of the resort destination called Kaluako‘i, which includes the Kaluako‘i Resort.

[i] Pukui, Mary Kawena, Elbert, Samuel H., and Mookini, Esther T. Mookini. Place Names of Hawaii: Revised & Expanded Edition. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1974.

[ii] Pukui, Mary Kawena, Elbert, Samuel H., and Mookini, Esther T. Mookini. Place Names of Hawaii: Revised & Expanded Edition. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1974.

[iii] Pukui, Mary Kawena, Elbert, Samuel H., and Mookini, Esther T. Mookini. Place Names of Hawaii: Revised & Expanded Edition. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1974.

[iv] p. 75, Pukui, Mary Kawena, Elbert, Samuel H., and Mookini, Esther T. Mookini. Place Names of Hawaii: Revised & Expanded Edition. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1974.

[v] Pukui, Mary Kawena, Elbert, Samuel H., and Mookini, Esther T. Mookini. Place Names of Hawaii: Revised & Expanded Edition. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1974.

[vi] Pukui, Mary Kawena, Elbert, Samuel H., and Mookini, Esther T. Mookini. Place Names of Hawaii: Revised & Expanded Edition. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1974.

[vii] Pukui, Mary Kawena, Elbert, Samuel H., and Mookini, Esther T. Mookini. Place Names of Hawaii: Revised & Expanded Edition. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1974.