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A few weeks ago I had the incredible opportunity to spend 2.5 days on the island of Molokai, the fifth largest of the 8 main Hawaiian islands and located about 7.5 miles northwest of Maui. It was my first time to visit Molokai and while it is completely different than the typical tourist-filled Hawaiian resort destination, it is an island that is a pure gem if you’re looking for an authentic Hawaiian experience (read my Top 5 Reasons To Visit Molokai).
Hawaiians have a deep connection to their history, and it’s a story of being connected with the island. The land and sea have always been providers to the Hawaiian people and in return, there is a responsibility to take care of the environment. Molokai is not an island where you’ll find sprawling high-rise resorts, but instead, you’ll find one of the most authentic Hawaiian experiences. The island is filled with opportunities to learn more about ways to give back to the land, to lend a hand to conservation efforts that are already making a dramatic impact, and to experience a Hawaii from an ecotourism perspective that is whole-heartedly enriching and fulfilling!
Ecotourism in Hawaii
Conserving Nature at Mokio Preserve
If you only have time to visit one place while on Molokai, make it the Mokio Land Trust! This was hands-down the highlight of my Molokai trip and it was an incredibly eye-opening experience when it came to learning about plants and wildlife. The conservation efforts that are being done here are making such a huge impact and you can’t help but leave feeling inspired and fulfilled!
Before coming to Molokai, I actually had no idea that so much of the island was overrun by non-native plant and wildlife that were brought by visitors to the island years ago. These new introductions have since become dangerously invasive to the environment, have caused erosion of the land, and in some cases have even resulted in the extinction of entire species that have only been found in Hawaii.
Part of the work done on the Mokio Land Trust includes removing the invasive vegetation, replacing it with native plants, and even creating a nesting sanctuary for the rare Laysan albatross. It’s impressive to drive through the 1,718 acres and see large plots that are flourishing with native trees and grasses. Getting my hands in the dirt, pulling weeds and planting trees was surprisingly therapeutic but seeing all the progress that had been made was truly an inspiration! I spent a brief 3 hours at the Mokio Preserve but could have easily spent all day — you can just feel the energy from the crew and seeing their vision come to fruition is incredible.
Restoring Fish Ponds at Ka Honua Momona
I didn’t know the first thing about Hawaiian aquaculture and visiting the Ali’i Fish Pond was a mini history lesson in itself for me! As someone who kinda geeks out over technology, it was incredibly interesting to see first-hand a system of fishing developed in ancient times that was a kind of engineering marvel. These Hawaiian “fish ponds” are essentially a walled-in section of shallow water that is abundant with reef life; the inner “pond” is separated from the outer ocean with a low-level wall consisting of various rocks stacked high. A gate is then placed at a particular location where currents occur and thus fish are known to gather. The natural ebb and flow of water then result in small fish entering into the fish pond through the small slats in these gates while the larger fish are now too big to escape!
Molokai has some of the last fish ponds still actively in use, and it is very much a preservation of Hawaiian history and culture. A large part of the efforts being done at Ka Honua Momona involves restoring the fish pond, being an example of sustainability, and bringing multiple generations of people together understand the connections between the people and the land. Every time a harvest is made from the fish pond, the community comes together for a celebration — the elders (kupuna) come and share stories while the younger generation cook, hula, and eat!
If you’re ever on Molokai, be sure to look up a community workday at Ka Honua Momona and get involved with the amazing group of people working to keep this part of Hawaiian history and culture alive!
Experiencing Hawaiian Outrigger Canoeing
There is no doubt that a huge part of Hawaiian culture and history is intertwined with the ocean. To live in Hawaii is to know and respect the water, and for this reason, ancient Hawaiians regarded canoe building as a spiritual process. The outrigger canoe still carries the symbolism of connecting the Hawaiian people with the water and today, outrigger canoeing has become the official state team sport!
I went out with the Wa‘akapaemua Canoe Club ([email protected] / (808) 553-1742) and it was so much fun to learn how to paddle one of these large canoes (can you see me as the last speck on the very far left in the photo above? 😄). It was so much fun getting out onto the water on one of these 45-ft long canoes and had a mini tour of some incredibly scenic spots just offshore. There were even a few green sea turtles that came right up to our boat to give us a visit!
There is so much to experience on Molokai, and the island gives you the opportunity to really learn as well as give back. If you’ve never tried an ecotourism vacation before, definitely give it a try the next time you’re thinking about a beach vacation to Hawaii! Molokai is often dubbed the “The Friendly Island,” and it truly does live up to its name. There is no better place to understand the connection between the people, culture, and the land than on Molokai!
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Written on behalf of Maui Visitors Burearu. All opinions are honest and my own. Thank you for supporting this blog and making trips like these possible!