MolokaiThe Friendly Isle

Moloka‘i

The Friendly Isle

Overview of Moloka‘i

Land Area: 260 square miles (673.4 sq. km).

Size Comparison: 5th largest Hawaiian Island.

Island Emblem: Pua Kukui—Flower of Kukui (Aleurites moluccana, candlenut).

Highest Elevation: 4,970 feet (1,515 m), at the summit of Kamakou.

Official Nickname: The Friendly Isle.

[Moloka‘i Visitors Bureau, 808-553-3876; 800-800-6367, Ala Malama & KamehamehaV Highway (Hwy. 450), Kaunakakai.]

[Moloka‘i Visitor Association: www.molokai-hawaii.com.]

[Illustration: Map—Moloka‘i]

Moloka‘i is about 38 miles (61 km) long by 10 miles (16 km) wide, and somewhat rectangular in shape. Moloka‘i has no fast food chains, high-rise buildings, shopping centers, movie theaters, or traffic signals.

Moloka‘i is located about 9 miles (14.5 km) northwest of Maui, 9 miles (14.5 km) north of Lāna‘i, and 22 miles (35 km) southeast from Honolulu across the Kaiwi Channel.

The island of Moloka‘i has the highest percentage of native Hawaiians of any of the Hawaiian Islands except Ni‘ihau. Much of Moloka‘i’s relatively small population (less than 8,000 total) still clings largely to a subsistence lifestyle of farming, fishing, hunting, and gathering.

Moloka‘i was formed by Kauhakō and Kamakou Volcanoes, which originally created two separate islands. These two islands were joined when later lava flows formed the Ho‘olehua Plains.

After the main part of Moloka‘i had been formed, Kauhakō Crater offshore erupted, creating the peninsula of Kalaupapa on the island’s northern side, and thus Kauhakō Crater became part of the island of Moloka‘i. The crater rises to 400 feet (122 m) above sea level, and is the highest point on the Kalaupapa peninsula.

Moloka‘i has vast amphitheater valleys and spectacular coral reefs. The sea cliffs along Moloka‘i’s northern shore have an average steepness of more than 55 degrees and rise to more than 3,300 feet (1,006 m), making them among the highest sea cliffs in the world.

Kahiwa Falls cascades 1,750 feet (533 m) down the cliffs over a horizontal distance of 1,000 feet (305 m), and is one of the highest waterfalls in the Hawaiian Islands. Kahiwa means, “The chosen one.”[i]

The western half of Moloka‘i is generally the drier side, and is dominated by the shield-shaped dome of Mauna Loa. The volcano has two peaks, including Pu‘unānā, which is west Moloka‘i’s highest point at 1,381 feet (421 m). The dunes of Mo‘omomi are located on Moloka‘i’s northwest coast, an area that is home to many culturally important sites and also a unique Hawaiian habitat supporting many endangered plant species.

In ancient times, Mauna Loa was the site of adze quarries, where pōhaku pa‘a (basaltic rocks) were chipped into ko‘i (stone adzes) that had important uses in ancient Hawai‘i (see Chapter 1). Mauna Loa was also the site of he‘e hōlua (hōlua sledding), which involved using specially constructed papa hōlua (wooden sleds) to slide down a hillside or a ramp slide constructed of stone.

An area called Kaka‘ako on the eastern side of Mauna Loa, was known in ancient times for particular trees used in kālai-pāhoa sorcery. These trees included nīoi (Eugenia species) and a‘e (Sapindus saponaria, soapberry).

Moloka‘i’s main town, and perhaps its only true “town,” is Kaunakakai on the island’s southern coast. An ancient saying, “Moloka‘i ko‘o lā‘au,” (“Moloka‘i of the canoe-poler,”) is a reference to the island’s shallow southern waters, where “...the people could propel their canoes with poles.”[ii]



[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] p. 238, Pukui, Mary Kawena. ‘Ōlelo No‘eau: Hawaiian Proverbs & Poetical Sayings. Honolulu: Bishop Museum Press, 1983. Proverb 2192.