Adventure Travel : Molokai an Easy Ride for Bicyclists

<i> Riley is travel columnist for Los Angeles magazine and a regular contributor to this section</i>

My wife, Elfriede, and I rented a tandem bicycle on Maui and brought it by ferry across the 20 miles of the Molokai Channel.

A few moments of pedaling down the main street of Ala Malama showed us why this island, long known as “Friendly Island,” is being rediscovered as the “Bicycle Island.”

It has no stop-and-go signals, the pavement is wide and traffic is light. We cycled slowly past colorful stores and quaint shops, its small civic center and tiny budget-priced cafes and restaurants.

Friendly Smiles

Townspeople waved and smiled. One suggested we stop at Kanemitsu’s Bakery for fresh Molokai bread.

Progressive Travels, Seattle-based under new ownership, is capitalizing on this friendliness by continuing a second year of Molokai bicycle adventures, with 11 tours scheduled through December. Bike tours have options for hiking and riding mules on clifftrails.


The only public transportation on Molokai is three taxis. Rental cars are available at the main airport. Traffic along Kamehameha Highway, east and west of Kaunakakai, is light.

When biking Molokai on your own, the biggest decision is always which way to go each day. The island is about 10 miles wide north to south, and about 60 miles from east to west.

Prime Choice

The Overlook at Palaau State Park on the north coast has one of the most dramatic views in the Pacific, overlooking the vertical rise of the world’s highest sea cliffs, towering 3,300 feet above the crashing surf.

Directly below the Overlook, down 1,600 feet of cliffside, is Kalaupapa Peninsula, site of the former leper colony and the spiritual center during 1989 for what has been declared the Father Damien Centennial Year by Hawaii and Belgium.

Father Damien de Voester came to this isolated colony from Belgium and died after he contracted the then-incurable disease of leprosy while serving its victims from 1873 to 1889.

Asthey have for years, visitors take a mule or hike down the steep trail of 23 switchbacks. Writer Jack London also hiked this trail to pay homage to Father Damien.

Leprosy No Danger

The guided-mule ride down the three-mile trail takes about 1 1/2 hours. Mules have been trained to step carefully and stay close to the inside edge of the narrow trail.

Hiking down or up the trail can take 1 1/2 hours each way, although anyone accustomed to mountaining can make the climb in about 40 minutes. The hike is timed so not to encounter the mules. Trying to edge by could be upsetting to them and dangerous.

The low green growth covering the rocks beside the trail give it the appearance of a lei twisting down the face of the cliff. The trail was carved in 1886 as a supply route.

White Surf, High Cliffs

Kalaupapa Peninsula is framed by white surf and the sea. The high cliffs rising along the north coast seem to block it off from the rest of the world.

St. Philomena Church has been restored for this centennial year; April 15 marks the 100th anniversary of Damien’s death.

There will be special commemorative tributes throughout the islands.

To preserve today’s tranquillity in Kalaupapa village, visits via the small peninsula airport or the mule trail must be scheduled through Damien Hawaii Tours or Rare Adventures. Residents also can sponsor a visitor.

The Rare Adventures Mule-Ride package is $75 and the Hike-In package is $30. Both include the trail trek, community tour and picnic lunch.

Two of four other churches designed and built by Father Damien have been preserved.

Meanwhile, on the bike tour to other areas of the island, stop near the junction of highways 470 and 460 where a hike of little more than an hour along a forest-reserve road leads into the Kamakou Nature Conservancy rain forest.

Largest Landholder

Molokai Ranch, the largest landholder on the island, is the site of Wildlife Park with its giraffes, zebras, East African crowned cranes, antelope, Barbary sheep and Japanese deer. Tour safaris are $12 for adults, $6 for children under 12.

On another day a bicycle ride to the east end of the island reaches the remains of a 7th-Century village, small farms and two big waterfalls.

Progressive Travels bicycle and walking tours are based at the Kaluakoi Hotel and Golf Club Resort, spread over 6,800 acres adjacent to Molokai Ranch. Accommodations are in two-story redwood buildings around the entrance lobby.

The Progressive package for four days on Molokai and three on Maui is $1,495. It includes a room, meals, bicycles, guides and support vehicles. Contact Progressive Travels through your travel agent or call toll-free (800) 245-2229.

On your own a four-day, three-night package at Kaluakoi Resort starts at $399 per person, double occupancy. In addition to meals and accommodations it includes a bicycle and compact rental car. Call (800) 367-6046.

To be centrally based near the town of Kaunakakai, the Hotel Molokai and Pau Hana Inn maintain the Polynesian mood of old Molokai with double rooms beginning at $55 at the hotel and $39 at the inn. Call (808) 553-5347. For the Rare Adventures mule ride and hike, call (800) 843-5978.

To schedule a four-hour Kaulapapa Peninsula tour, phone Damien Tours at (808) 567-6171. For complete information about Molokai and its many possible adventures, contact the Destination Molokai Assn., Travel Sales, 1600 Kapiolani Blvd., Suite 925, Honolulu 96814, phone (800) 367-4753.

The ferry between Maui and Molokai makes two trips daily at $21 per person one way, with no charge for bicycles.