Is Molokai the Real Hawaii?

Is Molokai the Real Hawaii?

Similar to how we felt before we visited the island of Lanai, we weren’t sure what to expect from our time on Molokai. We did some research and learned that the island has the longest fringing reef in all of the United States (a reef that lies close to the shore) and many of the beaches are too dangerous for swimming or snorkeling.

Since we both like to spend most of our time in the ocean, I knew this trip would be different from our past island experiences.

Our flight from Maui to Molokai’s Ho’olehua Airport was breathtaking. As we gazed at the rugged coastline and empty beaches from above, it provided a glimpse into what we were about to experience on this unique Hawaiian island.

Molokai Hawaii Airplane Window View

Immediately upon arrival, we took a drive to West Molokai and stopped at Papohaku Beach. I sunk my toes into the sand and marveled at how we were the only people enjoying this huge expanse of untouched beach. I remember noticing how there were no footprints anywhere along the shore.

As the warm sun grazed my shoulders and Scott wandered off to take photos, I considered cooling off in what appeared to be mellow surf conditions. Luckily, I’ve lived near the ocean long enough to know that it can be deceiving. I sat down for a quiet moment and watched the waves lap against the shore.

My eyes widened as I noticed a 6-8 foot wall of blue-green water begin to rise, right below where the coarse sand sloped towards the ocean. The color of the water against the orange sand was mesmerizing. The wave’s crest began to spill over and created a tumbling rush of white water, which immediately slammed onto the sand. I grabbed my camera and flip flops to save them from the quick surge of salty water and to get ready to capture the next wave in the set.

I could photograph waves for hours, so I got lost in the moment (err… about 15 minutes of moments) until I realized there were far better things to be photographing further down the beach.

Several hundred feet to my left, our friends found an endangered baby monk seal taking a nap on the sand.

Baby Monk Seal Molokai Hawaii

Our little monk seal friend didn’t seem to want company, so we kept our distance, but Mother Nature put on a show long enough for me to snap some photos of this precious scene.

Nearly two hours had passed before we could tear ourselves away from Papohaku Beach. We had barely been on Molokai for three hours and this island had already lured us in.

Hotel Molokai Palm Tree Beach Sunset

Our time on Molokai was unlike our typical Hawaiian vacations. We learned that more than sixty percent of the population are native Hawaiians and these locals are open to telling their stories and preserving their heritage. There are no fast food chains, no elevators, and no traffic signals. The change that has taken place on the other Hawaiian islands has yet to reach Molokai and the locals hope to keep the Aloha Spirit alive for as long as possible.

Making Poi Anakala Molokai

Molokai Hawaii Marina Sunset

Hotel Molokai Sunrise

Kalaupapa Molokai Kitty Cat

From a visit to the isolated Kalaupapa to learning how to make poi with a traditional Hawaiian family, the theme of the trip stayed constant. Instead of searching for our next photo opportunity or something to fill the time, the highlights of our trip really came from those moments where we relinquished control and let Molokai lead us.

Read more: Molokai: It’s All About The Love

Wavecrest Molokai Sunrise


Have you ever visited a destination that surprised you?


Plan Your Trip to Molokai


  • Going is the first place we check when searching for cheap flights. It searches hundreds of sites for the best fare and includes both standard and budget airlines.


  • We stayed at Hotel Molokai during our visit to the island and absolutely loved this hotel. The rooms, outdoor bar, and swimming pool sit right on the water so you won’t miss a single gorgeous Hawaiian sunset.


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  1. Rosemary Fraine says:

    Went to Molokai on my honeymoon 41 years ago. We stayed in a condo. Still the most relaxing, scenic, private vacation we have ever had. Would go back in a heartbeat.

  2. Mike Carlton says:

    Molokai is our favorite island and we go as often as we can (We live on Oahu). I just wanted to say that your photo’s are amazing.

    1. Ordinary Traveler says:

      Thank you, Mike!

  3. Vagabonding Mike says:

    Thanks for the insight and ideas. My brother is getting married and heading to Hawaii in a few months for his honeymoon. I’ll make sure I forward this post to him.

    BTW, I’m totally feeling like the seal in the picture above right now…LAZY!

    1. Ordinary Traveler says:

      Thank you!

  4. Lucia Maya says:

    Beautiful photos! I’m blessed to live and work part-time on Molokai (and part-time on Maui), and I’m glad you were able to take the time to see the extraordinary beauty of this special place.

    1. Ordinary Traveler says:

      That sounds like a pretty great job. I’m glad you enjoyed the post!

  5. The cat looks healthy. Thank you for this nice piece. Seems to becoming more common the monk seals now ending up on those beaches, but no surprise considering how there is no foot traffic, especially at Papohaku where the sand is constantly blowing. But that’s the beauty of it.

    1. Ordinary Traveler says:

      That cat was definitely well fed. There was a plastic container of food for the tourists to feed the cats if they wanted. 🙂 Thanks for reading!

  6. casacaudill says:

    While we’ve been to each of the other Hawaiian islands several times, Molokai has never been on our agenda. I think the thing that worries me the most is not being able to go in the ocean. Did you get any water time in while you were there and if so, where?

    1. Ordinary Traveler says:

      There are definitely some beaches where you can swim. Papohaku is one of them, but it’s not recommended to swim during the winter swells. We did a kayak tour as well and that’s a great way to see the turtles and other marine life — I just recommend going in the morning when it’s calm. There’s also a waterfall in Kalawa Valley that you can hike to and swim in. I think Molokai is a great add on to another island. That way you can get a unique island experience on Molokai and still be able to swim and snorkel on another island.

  7. Elena Janus says:

    Lovely, and you make it all seem so alluring!

    1. Ordinary Traveler says:

      Thank you. I’m glad you enjoyed the post!