Molokai: The House of Mankind and Once the Center of Hawai’i

Halelona Beach, Molokai.
Halelona Beach, Molokai.

I drove out to the far western tip of Molokai yesterday, to the village of Maunaloa, which was once a company town for the esteemed Molokai Ranch. Many of the houses look identical, they have the look of housing built for workers. It’s a bit sad out there now because the life has been drained out of the place. There was a gas station, and a movie theater, and Kaupoa Beach Village, and both shut down after the owner of the ranch and most of the property was rejected in his plans to build 200 luxury homes.  The Kaluakui hotel that lost a million a year closed down here in 2001.

I found a story in the Maui News that gave a good general background to a complex story of locals who fight most new ideas and a company that’s not doing well any more. When the Singapore company  started the negotiations for the big housing project their stock was at $1.75. Now it’s at about 60 cents. Quek Leng Chan is the chairman, the faceless man at Guocoleisure behind the curtain pulling so many strings that affect people in Molokai all the way from Singapore.

Incredibly, the story said that the owners of the 60,000 acre property offered to build not only the 200 luxury homes but 1100 affordable housing units and to also reopen the Kaluakui Hotel, closed since 2001, which would have brought many jobs.  They also threw in preserving 51,000 of the acres as farmland forever. Still, it was turned down and so now, it’s all just vacant land. Much rancor was evident in the relationship between the l

Kilani of Molokai Outdoor, my kayaking guide.
Kalani of Molokai Outdoor, my kayaking guide.

ocals and the outsiders.

The drive to the far tip of Molokai took me to Halelona Beach, where there was once a pier for tying up ships, and a man-made breakwater and nice little beach.  Only a few people were there, I met a couple from Denver who lounged by the water, and then took a tip into the cove. It was shallow and the wind whipping but it felt great to get into water at such an agreeable temperature.

The real treat of the day was meeting Kalani, the local guide who took me out on a 15-foot kayak into the blue water.  For first 300 yards of so, the water as only about a foot or two deep. Then as we hit the dark blue, it plunges down to forty then eighty feet. The waves picked up, and a stiff wind behind me pushed us toward our destination…a sliver of beach five miles down the coast.

It’s exhilarating to surf down the backs of waves, and at one point a shadow passed below the boat…a turtle gliding underneath us. “He thinks we’re a shark,” Kalani said, “so he’s swimming away fast!”  He showed me the fish houses, of which there are 73 on this island. They were built by the world’s original fish farmers, and are designed to attract herbivorous fish into a circular rock pen and then let them fatten up eating the grasses, protected from the predator fish outside of the house.

Then they’d emerge to attract more predator fish like barracuda and some would be caught…but the rule is to keep one fish and throw back three, sustaining them for the future. Kilani told me a lot about his Hawaiian beliefs and how his island, Molokai, is the house of mankind. It was once the island that fed Hawaii, with an abundance of dried fish and so many fish houses where they could catch them. Today he thinks the future is in

Former Molokai ranch building.
Former Molokai ranch building.

agriculture, not tourism, unlike the other islands. He approved whole heartedly in rejecting the Molokai Ranch developments.

“The biggest crops here now are Monsanto genetically modified corn, and the Molokai purple potatoes,” he said. He is also working on growing hedges that resist a wasp that’s killed many of the hedges on the island. “I’m the superstar here, “he said, “I’m the guy people come here to see.”

I like his style.