One of the best ways to experience Molokai is to explore on four wheels.
If you plan on exploring Molokai on your own—and are staying near Kaunakakai—here are three different itinerary suggestions for planning your Molokai road trip.
Road Trip 1: Kaunakakai to Halawa (28 miles)
The drive from Kaunakakai all the way to Halawa Valley makes you feel as if you’re adventuring on an entirely separate island. The highway begins with long, straight sections through forested groves of mangoes, and passes by sights like St. Joseph’s Church and beaches perfect for sun tanning. The road eventually becomes a single lane that hugs the wind-whipped coastline. Make sure to stock up on bananas, mangoes, or coconuts from vendors selling fruit from their trucks, or stop for lunch at Manae Goodz and Grindz. This is the last place to grab a snack until the Puu O Hoku Ranch Store.
After weaving past small, crystalline coves and climbing through emerald green pastures, the highway abruptly ends at Halawa beach. If possible, try to arrive by 9:15am for the guided cultural hike, which is the only way to access the waterfalls hidden deep at the back of the valley. Even if you don’t hike, take a minute to wander the shoreline where the black sands of Kaili Bay and the white sands of Kaiwili Bay are joined by a rocky shoreline. You can make out the waterfalls from a roadside pullout once you drive back out of the valley.
If the sun is out and the wind is calm, you can also stop at Kumimi Beach or Waialua to swim, or grab some food from Manae Goodz and Grindz for a picnic at Pukoo Beach. Throughout the drive you’ll see Molokai families enjoying the island lifestyle, where fishing nets dry in the yard, and residents farm their family plots.
Road Trip 2: Kaunakakai to Kapukahehu (Dixie Maru Beach) (24 miles)
The trek to sandy Kapukahehu, more commonly known as “Dixie Maru” beach, is a beautiful and fun-filled adventure to the island’s western coast.
It doesn’t take long for town to fade away as you drive down Maunaloa Highway, and if you want to buy some snacks for the drive, stop at Kumu Farms near the airport to pick up some local, organic produce and fresh strawberry papayas.
From there you’ll drive across the grasslands and plains of Molokai Ranch, before making a right on Kaluakoi Road and choosing which stretch of wide, white sand you want to stroll down first. Western Molokai is packed with beaches—but rarely will you ever find more than a handful of other people when you get there.
Your first stop is Kepuhi Beach by Ke Nani Kai Resort, which can offer good swimming and snorkeling in summer, but is prone to large surf in winter. If you’re looking for a beach all to yourself, drive to Paniolo Hale condos and follow the trail leading down to the sand.
Heading south down Kaluakoi Road, your next stop is Papohaku Beach Park. Just five minutes from Kepuhi Beach, a short trail from the parking lot leads to Papohaku’s three mile stretch of white sand. This is Molokai’s longest and widest beach, and while the currents and waves are too rough for swimming, it’s the perfect spot for a walk down the sand. From here it’s only 15 minutes to the beach at Kapukahehu, which is a bit more protected from surf in winter and offers a quiet, sandy cove for spending a day in the sun.
You can also stop in Maunaloa town for groceries or drinks, or check out the imported gifts and goods inside of Big Wind Kite Factory.
Road Trip 3: Kaunakakai to Kalae (10 miles)
The shortest option for a Molokai road trip is to drive to the uplands in Kalae, where the scenery changes from coastal palms to hilly ironwood groves. At 1,800 feet, the air at Kalae is noticeably cooler than in town. Where the road ends at Palaau State Park, a paved pathway leads to famous Kalaupapa Lookout. If you don’t plan on visiting Kalaupapa (either by mule or by foot), the Kalaupapa Lookout is the closest you’ll get to seeing the isolated peninsula.
After touring Palaau State Park on foot, hop back in the car and drive down the hill to the Molokai Museum and Cultural Center. Here you can tour the sugar mill that operated at the end of the 19th century, and see displays of life in Kalaupapa.
Before heading back to Kaunakakai, stop at Kualapuu Cookhouse for a classic Molokai plate lunch, or pick up some island grown beans at Coffees of Hawaii.
However you choose to spend your day exploring and driving around Molokai, this is probably the only road trip you’ll take where you won’t hit a single stoplight.