Lay of the Land
Molokai is the fifth largest of the Hawaiian Islands. It's long and narrow in shape, about 37 miles long from west to east and 10 miles wide from north to south. The island was created by two large volcanoes and one small one, which combined to form the present landmass. Some say that the shape of the island resembles that of a shark or another fish, with the Kalaupapa peninsula resembling a fin.
The island's environment can be roughly divided into two parts: East Molokai and West Molokai. The eastern part is more mountainous, with its highest peak reaching nearly 5,000 feet. This elevation attracts moisture, and it's a lot wetter on the eastern side. As on Kauai, the north side of eastern Molokai features some incredibly high cliffs interrupted by a few valleys along the coast. Rain forests thrive in the highlands. The southeast side is traversable along the coast all the way to the island's eastern tip, where one reaches the spectacular Halawa Valley.
Two tsunamis (tidal waves) hit the west side of Molokai in the twentieth century, one in 1946 and another in 1957. The waves did a lot of damage to Halawa Valley and drove many of its residents away.
Most people live on the western part of the island, which is much drier. The volcano that formed this section was much lower in elevation and its slopes far gentler. The island's main town, Kaunakakai, lies on the south coast. During its big plantation days, the port here exported sugar and millions of pineapples. Inland and to the west can be found the small town of Maunaloa and the big Molokai Ranch. The western end of the island around Kaluako'i has been developed for resorts in the last couple of decades but is still very quiet. An area of the northwest coast known as Mo'omomi features a unique ecosystem among sand dunes.
On the north side of the island, just west of the great eastern palisades, is the Kalaupapa Peninsula, formed by a smaller volcano. It is surrounded on three sides by water and bordered on its south by steep cliffs. Despite these natural borders, the peninsula was a good place to live in the old days. It has a special history, as described below.