One of the main draws of the Hawaiian island of Molokai is that you can get a taste of what Hawaii looked like in years past. There are no stoplights on Molokai, no chain stores, and the island is relatively undeveloped. Still, one of the best opportunities to step back in time and learn about Hawaiian culture and history is by paying a visit to the scenic Halawa Valley, Molokai’s oldest community.
The Halawa Valley was one of the first places in all of Hawaii settled by Polynesians, somewhere around 650 AD. At its peak, the valley had several thousand people living in it though the population has declined over the years due to its remote location and a history of natural disasters–tsunamis washed through the valley in both 1946 and 1957. Today, the hiking trail passes by ancient Hawaiian places of worship, irrigation systems, and historic taro ponds and ends at a 250-foot waterfall called Moa’ula Falls.
Today, only a few families remain on the land. To hike the Halawa Valley, you need to reserve a guided tour from a member of the last remaining families. The elder of the family, Pilipo Solatario, is the last living Hawaiian descendent born and raised in the valley who still lives there. His family owns the land and gives guided tours to visitors. When we were there, Pilipo had to attend a family funeral so we were guided by his grandson, Gabriel.
Gabriel lived on Oahu and Kauai growing up, but recently moved to Molokai to learn more about the culture and history of the land from his grandfather. He walked us through a few rocky streams and onto the trail pointing out native plants and their uses, stone walls from ancient temples, mixed in with stories of the valley’s history.
The trail ends at the gorgeous Moa’lua Falls. Local legend says that a giant lizard lives in the pool at the bottom of the water. Gabriel instructed me to drop a native ti leaf into the water to see if it floats. When it did, he knew the lizard was okay with our presence and it was safe for us to take a swim in the water. Sadly, even with the lizard’s permission, the water was cold, so I could only stay in for a few minutes.
After the hike we explored the coast of the valley passing by a tiny church with signage in Hawaiian.
A short walk down from the church, we found the beach where we saw a few local kids surfing and bodyboarding in the winter waves between the jagged rocks.
We wandered the rocks along the beach, taking in the impressive and rugged landscape before getting back on the road.
How to visit the Halawa Valley, Molokai:
To reserve this hike, contact Greg or Pilipo Solatorio, here.