If you’re looking for posh resorts with five-star service and umbrella-topped cocktails, don’t come to the Hawaiian island of Moloka’i. But if you want to learn more about Hawaiian culture and history, chow down on two-scoops-rice plate lunches, and explore one of Hawaii’s least touristed isles, then Moloka’i is your place. And the laid-back Hotel Moloka’i should be your place to stay.
Although it’s the island’s only hotel (other accommodations include condos and rental cottages), this 54-room property doesn’t take advantage of its lodging monopoly. All the staff my husband and I encountered during our recent stay were friendly and helpful, taking time to chat and suggest things to do. Nothing happens quickly here (or on the island as a whole, where signs advise, “Slow down, you’re on Moloka’i”), but if you adjust to the island’s leisurely pace, you’ll always be greeted with a smile.
The fan-cooled guest rooms, which are scattered around the oceanside property in two-story units that resemble the love child of a Polynesian hut and a roadside motel, are simple but comfortable. Decorated in traditional Hawaiian style, all have have been updated with flat-screen TVs, DVD players (the front desk stocks a small movie library), and Wi-Fi. We found the Wi-Fi signal somewhat variable; in our 1st-floor unit at the end of a block of rooms, the signal was strongest out on our lanai (patio) — fortunately, the lanai is where you want to be if you need to be online anyway.
Request a unit on the second floor — they’re larger and have vaulted ceilings. The upper floor rooms are also quieter; one morning, we could clearly hear our early-bird neighbors walking around upstairs at 5:30am. If you’re sensitive to noise, also ask for a room away from the road. While there’s little traffic, cars do start passing by early in the morning. The hotel thoughtfully supplies earplugs for light sleepers, although we found them unnecessary.
Hotel Moloka’i overlooks the ocean next to a narrow strip of sand. The pool and Hula Shores Bar are oceanside, and there’s live music on Friday nights.
The hotel’s restaurant suffered a fire last year and currently serves only drinks, along with a limited menu of burgers and sandwiches. Hopefully, when they fully reopen, the Continental breakfast (served daily in the lobby) will improve, too, from the pre-packaged muffins and fruit cocktail. The freshly-brewed coffee is delicious, though, as are the slices of fresh papaya from a local farm. All guest rooms have mini-fridges and microwaves (the larger units have kitchen facilities), and the hotel is only a five-minute drive east of Kaunakakai, Moloka’i’s main town, so it’s easy to pick up supplies for do-it-yourself meals.
Hotel staff will arrange a variety of activities around the island, from a mule ride (or steep hike) down to remote Kalaupapa, where sufferers of Hansen’s Disease (more commonly known as leprosy) were formerly isolated, to a highly-recommended cultural tour and hike in the remote Halawa Valley on the island’s east end. Kayaking, snorkel trips, and whale-watching excursions are also available.
Rates range from $169-269. The hotel charges a nominal $2.50/day resort fee that includes Continental breakfast, Internet access, local phone calls, and use of beach chairs and snorkel gear. Visit the Hotel Moloka’i website for details.
If you arrive from somewhere urban, or even from more developed Hawaiian destinations like Maui or Oahu, Moloka’i may feel somewhat sleepy. Yet the longer you stay on the island, the more you find to do. And the laid-back Hotel Moloka’i suits the area’s relaxed pace just fine.
Hotel review by Vancouver-based travel, food, and feature writer Carolyn B. Heller, author of the new travel guide, Moon Handbooks: Ontario. Photos © Carolyn B. Heller. Destination Moloka’i Visitors Bureau, in partnership with the Maui Visitors Bureau, arranged my stay at the Hotel Moloka’i.