Visiting Kalaupapa National Historical Park was for me a complex experience. The peninsula is spectacularly beautiful and wonderfully serene. But the tragic history of the settlement is so regrettable that I felt saddened even as I delighted in the views. We hiked down and back, and joined the mule-riders for the bus tour, guided by Norman. The hike is rather strenuous, and although the trail is wide, folks who are bothered by heights might be a bit uncomfortable in some spots. It is always muddy, and, as other reviewers have mentioned, the rocks and tree roots provide quite a challenge. There are steps almost the entire length of the trail, but they weren't made with short people in mind! I am 5' 2" and found many steps to be almost too high. Nevertheless, dedicated hikers will surely prefer this to riding the mules. One should carry water and allow at least 75 minutes to hike down, in order to join the bus tour on time. Be sure to make reservations ahead of time with Damien Tours, even if you are going in on foot; admission to the Park requires a permit, and no one is allowed to simply tour the Park on their own. Pack a lunch as well. Plan about 2 hours for the hike back up.
The bus tour is really enjoyable. Our driver was Norman, and he is a perfect guide. He seems to embody the gentleness and compassion of Father Damien and Mother Maryann. He did not merely inform us, he helped us understand on a spiritual level the meaning of the place.
It is an inspirational, beautiful, sad experience unlike the more typical Hawaiian attractions, well worth doing.