North Shore of Molokai

The Hawaii Visitors and convention Bureau estimates almost seven million vacationers visited our islands in 1997, and of those visitors, 1.2 percent or roughly 84,000, visited Molokai. Most either arrived by small plane or ferry and spent their vacation at the Kaluakoi resort on the West end. The statistics get pretty thin estimating the rest of what vacationers did on Molokai, however, one thing is certain; only a handful of those who visited left the island with the knowledge that they were within a few miles of the world’s tallest and most amazing sea cliffs. Even fewer actually saw them.

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From Cape Halawa on the East end to Kalaupapa in the middle, the stretch of the Northeastern coast of Molokai is arguably the most beautiful place on Earth. What makes it so beautiful is its sheer majesty and natural glamour juxtaposed with its difficult access. Like the Olympic Games, it’s special because it’s only witnessed in person by a few lucky souls. However, unlike the Olympics, most of the world doesn’t even know it exists.

The expansive valleys and tall, flowing waterfalls accentuate a coastline as rugged as any on earth, while viewing the vertical cliffs with a supined neck can be afforded thanks to deep water immediately offshore. The North shore of Molokai, or "the back side" as the locals call it, is almost completely inaccessible by land, and even a helicopter would have difficulty finding a place to set down for a peek. For the most part, it can only be accessed by boat, and even then, the mariner needs to keep a watchful eye on the weather. A sudden increase in the winds and seas can lay a boat into trouble in short order, and with no harbors or facilities for miles, any vessel venturing into the area should be prepared for self-sufficiency for at least a few days. But, the views and the fishing leading to memories of a lifetime are worth it.

Kalaupapa, the small, mid-island peninsula, has a nice ledge to the East side that consistently produces Ono and Mahi Mahi. Only a few miles further out, the water drops off to a thousand fathoms where the great Marlin swim in search of their next meal. The fishing here is as good or better than anywhere in the islands, but because of its remote location and difficult, seasonal access, the back side doesn’t receive the notoriety of a fishery such as Kona. In fact, it was off the weather buoy about nine miles out that Honolulu fisherman Al Bento caught his 1,207 pound Pacific Blue Marlin, taking several hours and proper management of his piano-string tight line. With only one other crew on board and the fish dead after about half way through the fight, Al had to manipulate the fish by driving up current and getting the fish to plane to the surface on its pectoral fins, then drive down current to gain line on the mighty creature. It was a tedious and arduous task that tested the nerves of the normally cool angler, but when the fight was won, Al smiled for a good couple of years. He’s actually still good for a smile when you talk with him about this fish.
What is nice about this area is there are things to do besides big game fishing. A little further to the east of Kalaupapa, there are a couple of caves which are large enough for a dinghy to explore. One, which we affectionately call the bat cave because of its single entry, dark, partially hidden entrance, and many birds that live in it, measures about ten feet wide by about sixty feet long and thirty feet high. We always enjoy going into the cave which scares out some of the birds for a moment, then shutting down the motor and allowing nature to restore its natural order. The sound of the roaring lion can be heard as the swells surge in and out of the back end of the cave, forcing the water and air in and out of the openings. Opihi and Limu grow abundantly here on the rocks right at the water line, and other sealife can be observed in the crystal clear water.

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The other cave, just a short whizz in the skiff across the bay, has two entrances and a deep recess which stirs up the water more than in the bat cave. The same lion roars can be heard over here, but the special feature in this cave is a water level overhang right near the Eastern entrance. This overhang, when combined with the sunlight in the afternoon, creates a color of aquamarine/topaz/indigo in the water that simply must be witnessed to be believed. No writer could even begin to describe the brilliance of this color, but then again, no writer should. It’s just a sight for the beholder to stare at in wide wonder.
The two caves are located near an anchorage known as Keawenui. There are also a couple of smaller waterfalls nearby which are handy for showering and filling up the water tanks on an extended trip. Keawenui is the most protected anchorage to the East of Kalaupapa, as Pahu Point extends out a couple hundred feet to the North and acts as a little breakwater. The water is crystal clear, and it’s very deep close to shore. Once anchored, it’s always fun to break out the light tackle and see what will bite a squid-baited hook as the day turns to evening. The anchorage itself is hardpan and cracked boulders the size of houses, and a skipper should have good local knowledge prior to taking anyone in to spend a night.

Continuing East towards Halawa, the next little anchorage of note is Haka’ano, which is out at the mouth of Pelekunu Valley. Pelekunu is a worthy name to mention, for it literally means "smelly from dampness." Of course, the smell is of the natural forest in behind, and is a sweet aroma that will be remembered forever. A fishing camp has been set up here at Haka’ano, and it gets used sporadically in the summertime by Molokai resident and fisherman Junior Dudoit. Sometimes a party or a boat will be at the camp, but for the most part, it’s empty and is a great place near which to anchor just offshore. There is no breakwater at this bay, but the East side of the bight extends far enough around to provide some refuge in light trade wind weather.

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There are no other places to anchor until Halawa, but the cliffs ranging from Haka’ano to Lamaloa Head just to the West of Halawa Valley are the reason no person’s life is complete until they have seen them. It is here that most people, whether of religious faith or stout atheist, will come to realize the origination of the phrase "God’s Country." It is here that the same people will realize they have been using the phrase incorrectly in other places they have been, because the cliffs and waterfalls rise vertically to about three thousand feet straight out of the ocean. Were it not for the ocean, these cliffs would extend some six thousand feet, and because of the sheer drop, boats can almost scrape their hulls along the cliff walls while still dragging their trolling lures across the Uluas’ home.

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Visitors to this island paradise rarely see this unspoiled beauty from the sea, which truly is the best way to view it. Tour companies don’t run people up here on a regular basis because of its distance from the harbors and the access is so difficult. Perhaps that’s how God wanted it: a place where only a privileged few can spend time soaking up the sun, the scenery, and catch a mighty fish and/or a bunch of fish all in the span of a few days. This is one trip that nobody could ever forget. Of course, since anyone who has gone here is in the significant minority, that alone makes it special.
Going To The "Back Side"

Visitors choosing to visit this scenic and essentially unfished wonderland about fifty miles from Honolulu can start their trip from Oahu or Maui, and must absolutely choose a skipper who has both a worthy boat and experience with the local conditions. We’d recommend at least a four day trip, and we’d also recommend an extremely flexible schedule while visiting Hawaii to provide the best window of weather. A helicopter ride either before or after the trip should also be taken in order to fully appreciate the ruggedness of this coast.

The fishing is excellent for Marlin and other species all year, but in order to fully enjoy the scenery, the anchorages should only be attempted in the lighter winded summer months. The winter months are out because the swells generated from the North Pacific storms slam into the coastline on a daily basis. Most of the spring and late fall months are out because the steady trade winds lead to a wind chop on the water that makes safe passage and refuge difficult.

If you are looking for an adventure of a lifetime that will be complete with remote access, few (if any) other boats, great fishing (both deep sea and near shore), and a story to tell when you get home, then consider the North Shore of Molokai. It’s beauty and majesty will live in your mind forever.

 

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