Published: May 6th 2010April 11th 2010
The search for a nice beach on Molokai was a frustration. Higher winds and rough seas make all the islands a little more dangerous in the winter time, and you have to pick your places carefully. Since the south shore is the most protected and would be the safest for swimming, we drove all along the south side of the island and stopped at every place that any map made any suggestion of a beach, but none of them were very nice. Little or no sand - mostly rocks. Shallow muddy water, or the alternative, huge crashing waves against rocks. The coconut grove near town had a bit of beach behind it, but it was also narrow, muddy, and worse. While walking along the shore there, I stepped in some black mud that sucked my foot in, and it stank! Once I pulled my foot out and washed it and my sandal in the ocean water, I could smell old stale oil. Someone must have dumped their used oil onto the beach. Yuck!
In fact, there are few nice beaches on Molokai, and after asking around and doing a bit of research on the internet, it turns out that there
is really only one that is safe to swim at in the winter. That beach is in a cove on the far west side of the island, and is called Dixie Maru. It wasn’t easy to find as signs are slim to none, but the map showed that it is at the very end of the road, so we kept going until the road ended and there was a little parking lot off to one side. After having stopped to look at several other beaches along the north and west sides of the island, I really wasn’t expecting to find anything safe for swimming, but there it was! A small protected cove with a crescent of sandy beach in the middle and rocks on either side. And people were actually in the water, swimming and snorkeling! The only downside to this beach was that the only shade to be had is from trees that drop big thorns into the sand, so if you are anywhere near a tree, you are going to get thorns in your feet, hands, bum, and anything else you put down in the sand. So you always have to wear something on your feet here.
Also along the north-west side of the island is Kapuhi beach, by the golf course and a condo development that didn’t catch on and is half-empty. The beach looks pretty from a distance, but once we walked down to the water, we saw the waves crashing onto the rocky shelf just at the edge of the sand, so it didn’t look very safe. Further west, Papahaku beach is said be the longest stretch of white sand in the islands. But the seas here are rough and dangerous, slamming up against rocky shelves on the edge of the beach, making it not a safe place to go in the water - at least in the winter. It is spring now, but nobody was there, and the water looked dangerous. Not only that but the wind here is crazy, and the sand blows all over sandblasting all the exposed skin off your body.
So, we settled for Dixie Maru, and spent a couple of nice beach days there. The water was fairly safe, as long as you didn’t go too far out. We could feel it pulling us out as we floated around, so we didn’t let ourselves get too far
from shore. A few people were snorkeling along the rocks on the sides of the horseshoe shaped cove, but we found that there was very little to see - one or two fish.
The last beach we found was on the far east side of the island, at Hanawa valley. It didn’t look very safe for swimming either, so we just took pictures. The search was a journey in itself, and gave us an excuse to explore the island. Locals know a few other places to go too, but they are also much better swimmers than we are, so are more adventurous. The very westernmost point of the island has a beach, we were told, but you need a 4-wheel drive to get to it. So, for now, Molokai is a low-key, mostly non-touristy island. The people who live there are just fine with that, and we ended up liking it too.
Molokai’s West end is almost desert-like, with roads of red dirt dry grassy rangeland and half-dead trees. Run-down houses are jumbled together into small communities - some on the map and some not - with long stretches of deserted road. Sugarcane was the industry in the
late 1800’s until the water in the wells became saline. Then honeybees in the early 1900’s, until disease wiped out all the hives. Wide scale pineapple plantations flourished from 1920 till 1976 when overseas competition brought an end to commercial pineapple production, bringing hard times and the highest unemployment levels in the state. Cattle had always been raised on the farmlands, until an incidence of bovine TB and a state decision to destroy every head of cattle on Molokai, at which time most of the smaller cattle ranchers called it quits. Molokai Ranch still owns about 40% of the island, but it has lain unused for the last 40 years.
In the 1990’s the Molokai Ranch built several new buildings in the town of Maunaloa, including a hotel, cinema, and restaurants. The idea was to create a tourist town in the dry, windy west end of the island. However, the idea failed, and most of these buildings are closed and boarded up. The town is like driving down the street of a movie set of a ghost town, except for a few streets of houses, a general store, a post office, and the Big Wind Kite Factory. This store
custom makes kites, and has all kinds of kites. The friendly owner of this store also has a little bit of just about everything that the visitor might want - Hawaiian themed arts and crafts, musical instruments, CD’s of music, masks, even collectable stamps. This store is one of the advertised attractions of the island. It isn’t a destination, but it gave us something to do for an afternoon.
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