A‘ole Nā Malihini ‘Āina - ‘Elua
On Wednesday we took a tour of the island by car, to get our bearings. We headed back through Kaunakakai town and then north to Pala‘au State Park for the Kalaupapa lookout and Phallic Rock. As we turned off the main road and started heading northeast through Kualapu‘u, the road started to steadily rise out of the dry lowlands into mid-altitude woodland, and finally into a higher-altitude ironwood forest a good 1500 feet above the ocean. The spine of the island is located well north of center, so that the south-facing slopes are relatively gentle scrubland. But the north-facing slopes are steep, forbidding, and completely lush from the ocean moisture driven in by the trade winds.
The road dead-ends at the state park - which isn't the kind we're used to in Minnesota. It's more of a wayside rest. We walked out a couple hundred meters to the Kalaupapa lookout for a gorgeous view of the eponymous peninsula.
The cliffs above the peninsula are a good 1500 feet high and too steep to traverse except for the one trail hacked out in the early part of the 20th century. The rock in the background is out at the base of the Waikolu valley - which we would end up visiting a few days later. Here's a closer look.
The trail extends another 200 meters past the lookout, passing through an ironwood forest before dead ending at a steep section not much different from the above photo!
The trade winds constantly push warm, moist air up this steep north-facing exposure. The air adiabatically cools as much as 10 degrees and the water condenses out as fog, mist, and occasionally a little heavier rain. All the vegetation up here is adapted to the constantly wet conditions.
After we spent some time at the lookout (knowing that four days later we'd ride down the steep trail on a couple of mules), we headed out to the West End. This area of the island is quite dry and scrubby. Most of the land is owned by an Asian conglomerate doing business as "Molokai Ranch, LTD".
As we explored more of the island, especially near town and along the south shore, we saw sign after sign posted up in people's yards. Almost all of them were handwritten, hand decorated, and said things like:
Save La‘au Point!
No water on La‘au!
Beware missionaries wearing green!
La‘au for locals!
A couple of the recent Lonely Planet-type guides had referenced this debate in passing, but we talked to Carol a bit later and she filled us in on things. Most of the residents are dead set against aggressive tourist-oriented development. They want to keep Moloka‘i a "local" island, and would prefer those who visit to appreciate the island for what it is, not what it could be under the profit-driven vision of a big multinational. Although Molokai Ranch owns a large amount of property on the island, it's been involved in a battle with the local residents for at least the past decade.
Recently the Ranch has given up some of its more grandiose plans due to local opposition, and finally offered up a bargain - if they would be permitted to develop a high-priced resort on the southwestern tip of the island (the La‘au Point in question), they would give up attempts to develop the rest of the land they owned. From the signs we saw, I guess you can tell how well that went over. Moloka‘i residents have a great sense of pride in their island, their land, and their lifestyle, and I can totally understand the resentment engendered by the foreign influence - bolstered by a century or more of external meddling and profiteering at the expense of the native population. Did I mention that over 50% of Moloka‘i's population has native Hawai‘ian heritage?
Anyway, we headed west towards the town of Maunaloa and the resort at Kaluakoi. Just past the resort is the three-mile-long Popohaku Beach, with a public park and shelter at the north end. Today, the winds were coming in from the northwest and driving big waves all the way up onshore. We sat on the beach for a while and listened, looked, smelled - but neither of us dared to get too close to the water.
Both my glasses and my camera lens were all covered with a film of dried salt by the time we left and headed back for dinner.
Next up - getting to see something I've never seen before.