The Best Hawaiian Experience is Moloka'i
Authentic, uncrowded, and budget-priced
It once housed the dreaded leper colony of Hawaii, which obviously caused tourists to shun and avoid it. But though leprosy was essentially eliminated as a health threat by the development of sulfa drugs in the 1940s, the once-isolated island was slow to overcome its former reputation. In fact, it is still blissfully undeveloped and totally without hotel towers or gaudy shopping malls. On rural, remote Moloka'i, you enjoy a Hawaiian vacation filled with the culture of the islands, moderately priced, and rich with outdoor activities that are either free or cost next to nothing.
Less than 70,000 travelers a year make the 20-minute flight from Honolulu to this tiny isle, slightly less than 38 miles by 10 miles in size. In an age of rental jeeps, helicopter tours, and submarine rides, Moloka'i retains the lifestyle and culture of the past. When you step off the plane at Moloka'i's tiny airport, a sign greets you, saying, "Slow down, you're on Moloka'i now." To each other, the population speaks Hawaiian. Not everything on the island is bargain-priced, but with a bit of planning and a decision to focus on free outdoor activities, you can have both a rewarding and affordable vacation. You will spend your days in such noncommercial activities as floating in the warm tropical waters above a rainbow array of exotic fish, or walking through the mist of low-lying clouds into a primeval forest, or venturing back in time at a sacred Hawaiian temple, once used for human sacrifice.
Your nonstandard lodgings
The most expensive item (outside of your airfare to Hawaii) will be accommodations. But the cost can be less than on any other island if you simply make the decision to stay in nonhotel lodgings. The easiest and quickest way to book accommodations on Moloka'i is to call Karen Buhr, of The Travel Shoppe, 800/657-9112 or 808/553-3671, fax 808/553-3672, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. Her one-stop booking agency handles nearly all the accommodations on Moloka'i (some 400 plus), including all of the budget accommodations. Rates range from privately owned studios in condominiums for $50 a day to bed-and-breakfast units for $75 or two-bedroom vacation homes for $85. Most of the units are at least near the ocean (with a good many right on it) at prices that would be 30 to 50 percent higher on any other Hawaiian island.
B&Bs are generally cheapest. A typical example is Ka Hale Mala (808/553-9009, molokai-bnb.com), with four large rooms, private entrance through the garden, and a fully equipped kitchen. The owners generously share pickings from their organic garden and can direct you to all the sights on the island. Ka Hale Mala is priced at just $70 per double (without breakfast) or $80 (with breakfast).
There are also low-priced vacation cottages in the scenic East End of Moloka'i. Families looking to get away from it all can escape to a 14,000-acre ranch of pastures and forests, plus a private beach minutes away, at the Country Cottage at Pu'u O Hoku Ranch (808/558-8109, puuohoku.com).
The two-bedroom cottage ($125 for two guests, $20 more for each additional person) is surrounded by a tropical landscape and has breathtaking views of rolling hills and the Pacific Ocean, comfortable country furniture, a fully equipped kitchen, two baths, a big living area, and a separate dining room on the enclosed lanai (porch).
If you must have the amenities of a hotel, the rustic 45-room Hotel Moloka'i (800/367-5004 or 808/545-3510, castleresorts.com), located on the ocean, just a mile-and-a-half from the main town of Kaunakakai, offers comfortable rooms in a cluster of Polynesian-like huts, with a restaurant, swimming pool, and lounge on site. Rooms start at $78 for two, $58 with an Internet booking.
Your second major cost will be transportation. Unfortunately, since there's no public transportation on the island, bicycling, hiking, or renting a car are the way to go. Car rentals start at $35 a day, from either Island Kine Auto Rental (808/553-5242, e-mail email@example.com, Budget (808/567-6877), or Dollar (866/434-2226). Bicycles run from $27 a day ($140 a week), from Moloka'i Outdoor Activities, in the lobby of the Hotel Moloka'i, toll-free 877/553-4477, or molokai-outdoors.com.
And off you go
The best place to begin an island tour is in the main town of Kaunakakai, once an ancient canoe landing, now the main commercial, financial, and recreational center of the island -- all three blocks of it. Kaunakakai looks like something out of an old Hollywood B movie: Western-style storefronts, complete with dusty streets, somnolent dogs, and talkative storekeepers who stop to ask you where you are from and give their opinion on the best places to see.