From everything I’d read, the Kalaupapa Leper Colony was the main thing to be certain to see on Moloka’i. For the better part of several decades, lepers from all the Hawaiian islands were sent here to live out their lives. There are actually still a few “cured” survivors living there. You can only enter the colony with a permit from the Hawaii department of health, which you can only get by booking a sanctioned tour.
The tours operate in conjunction with the two forms of transport to get to the colony: either you can ride a mule a couple of hours down the sides of the sheer cliffs through several switchbacks, or take a short 10 minute flight. We opted for the flight, partially because I wanted to take the shortest flight I’d ever taken, and partially because I was in no mood to ride a mule down the side of a cliff!
While we were waiting to board the Makani Kai agent told us there were some gifts being transported down to the colony for Valentines Day, and would we mind carrying them? I was given two large vases of flowers, while Matt got…a puppy! NO FAIR!
When boarding was called, our pilot Britney came to grab the passengers herself. She roughly allocated us to the seats on the plane (four rows of 1 by 1 seating) and we would be full on the “ride down” to Kalaupapa….and thus someone got the copilot seat! I might have done a little begging, but in the end I got it 🙂 To top it off, Britney relieved me of the flowers, so I would have a flower-free ride.
Makani Kai Airlines
Moloka’i (Topside) Hawaii (MKK) to Kalaupapa, Hawaii (LUP)
Depart 9:20, Arrive 9:35, Flight Time 15 minutes
Piper PA-31 Chieftan, Registration N135PB, Manufactured ???, Seat: CoPilot
To said I was a little bit excited…well, that’s an understatement. I finally managed to climb all 6’3 of myself into the seat, along with the small laptop bag I was carrying. There was absolutely not an inch of spare room! While we waited for the pilot, I sat anxiously!
Matt was a BIT excited to be carrying the puppy! Oh, so THAT is what happened to the flowers I had to carry to the plane – the pilot stuck another passenger with them, lolz:
I was even more excited, I think, to be in the copilot seat:
Short taxi, and we were off!
After maybe a minute in the air we were over the edge of the island, and headed down:
We made a right turn, and you can see the flat land straight ahead. That’s Kalaupapa:
Total flight time: 6 minutes and 18 seconds. The puppy decided to pose for a picture upon landing:
Our fabulous pilot Britney helping some passengers down:
I think she sensed my excitement…she told me to climb out the pilot’s entrance and over the wing:
Our ride down to Kalaupapa:
The bustling Kalaupapa Airport…with a sign advising there are no medical services here. This room is pretty much the WHOLE airport:
Our tour guide met us here, complete with an old retired school bus. Turns out, he’s also the mechanic for the bus. He was a rather charming character with an unusual sense of humour and a great knowledge of Kalaupapa. He’d been there over 10 years, and really knew the history of the place. It was unclear what had brought him there, but he definitely loved his job! A photo as we headed out to meet the folks riding the mules down to begin our tour:
We were left in a big field to wait for the mules:
Amazing views of the ocean, and the cliffs leading up to topside Moloka’i:
Soon, the mules arrived and we all loaded back onto the school bus to begin our tour:
Driving down the road:
First stop was the information centre / bookshop / visitor centre. Aka where you could have postcards postmarked from, buy souvenirs including t-shirts and books, etc:
Back on the bus, and headed to our next stop, the grave of Mother Marianne Cope, also known as Saint Marianne of Moloka’i. Mother Marianne and some other nuns headed to Kalaupapa in 1888. from Syracuse, New York to care for the lepers. She originally came to care not only for the lepers, but also to care for Father Damien who was in poor health at this point. She spent nearly 30 years at the colony caring for the patients, eventually dying of natural causes. Along with Father Damien, she is one of the two caretakers who spent the longest caring for the lapers here. Recently in the fall of 2012 the Catholic Church made her a saint, becoming only the 11th American saint:
Next stop, the main church of Kalaupapa:
After the church, it was time to drive a bit more. The low clouds were starting to set in over the cliffs at this point, creating a surreal atmosphere, and largely obscuring topside Moloka’i:
At this point, we arrived at the far side of the colony, which was the original part of Kalaupapa. This is where the lepers were brought by ships and unloaded, often forcibly because they refused to leave. Not much remained on this part of the island, but a small picnic area was set up, and we had some time to eat the box lunches the tour company had given us. After 20 or so minutes, we loaded back up, and drove to what I remember to be the first church that Father Damien built here:
One final shot of the cliffs from this part of the island:
By this time it was already 1:30, and time to head back to the airport for our flight back to the topside. We waited around for around 20 minutes, and soon Britney landed our Piper and it was time to board. Unfortunately, she’d acquired a copilot in the meantime, so I was relegated to row 1.
Makani Kai Airlines
Kalaupapa, Hawaii (LUP) to Moloka’i (Topside) Hawaii (MKK)
Depart 14:00, Arrive 14:15, Flight Time 15 minutes
Piper PA-31 Chieftan, Registration N135PB, Manufactured ???, Seat: Row 1 Portside
I was a bit more nervous about the flight back up to the topside. We had 2,000 feet of elevation to gain so we didn’t crash into the cliffs, and not a lot of time to do it:
I didn’t have to worry though, we cleared the cliff by what seemed to be about 200 feet, and headed straight for the airport. We passed it at about 200 feet elevation, and did a wicked bumpy 180 turn before landing. When we landed, I noticed this gem on the tarmac. I wanted a ride! A DC-3 would be such a treat!
I asked Brittney, and she seemed excited I knew what it was. Unfortunately, it was a cargo plane, and there was no way I was going to get a ride on it 🙁 It left about 10 minutes later to bring cargo to Honolulu, and I was left a sad panda.
We had about three hours to kill before our flight to Honolulu, and no car. Eventually, we called a taxi and decided to take a small tour:
We stopped at the Post Office, which has the Post a Nut attraction. You can pick a coconut out of the bin, draw all over it with markers they provide, and then mail it to friends and family. It’s a hoot!
One nut that I decorated and sent to a friend:
Soon, we took our taxi back to the airport, and it was time to fly back to Honolulu. So long Moloka’i!