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“Beautiful Peninsula with a Regrettable History”

Kalaupapa National Historical Park
Ranked #2 of 4 things to do in Kalaupapa
Certificate of Excellence
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Owner description: This historical park was a former leper colony run by Father Damien in the 1930s.
Reviewed January 7, 2013

Kalaupapa National Historic Park is a really amazing park. First, it’s ridiculously beautiful on the Kalaupapa peninsula! Then there is the crazy fact that it is not an easy place to get to. You will either hike down a 1700 foot drop by hitting 26 switchbacks for 3.4 miles or you’re flying in. Last, its history has tragedy & seclusion, but also hope and a demonstration of some people’s compassion & selflessness.

The peninsula had flat, fertile land and fresh water. When King Kamehameha V decided in 1865 that they needed an isolated place to send people who had contracted Hansen’s Disease (leprosy), this was thought to be the perfect place. They moved the current residents and bought up the land and forced patients with leprosy to move there; sometimes forcibly dumped off of boats. It seems Hawaiians had a predisposition to contracting the disease when contact from Europeans essentially created an epidemic. Later when a cure was found, the patients had the right to leave Kalaupapa if they wanted, but many stayed and the US government supports them until death. There are currently 17 patients left along with some family, 40 National Park workers and 40 Health Service workers. Other than that, daily tours are allowed in to learn about the site itself and Saint Damien & Saint Marianne who cared for the people who lived here. It can be very moving.

When you make it down the side of the cliff, whether by hiking or by taking the mule ride down, you wait in a clearing for the old school bus to come and pick you up. If anyone flew down, they’ll be on the bus. No one is allowed in without having a permit. What I had found was you are supposed to get your permit from a tour company, but when my tour company jacked up my tour, we walked down and paid for our tour at the bottom of the cliff as did another guy without a reservation, so it seems like they don’t enforce getting the permit in advance. It may be a good idea to call Damien tours just to pre-arrange that you’ll be on the tour and will pay when you get there, but if you’re willing to take the chance, its $50 per person to go on the tour – note that this is NOT a National Park fee, this is a tour fee, but it’s required. It is illegal to enter the site without being on a tour, hence waiting in the clearing. It is free to hike down and then back up, if you pay for your tour at the bottom. Children under 16 are NOT permitted. If you go through a tour company, it will likely cost more than the $50. The hiking tour through the mule ride company is $69 and includes lunch. If you go on your own, bring your own lunch – especially if you are hiking. You can also hike in and fly out. That’s what we did and I highly recommend it for people who aren’t in that great of shape. I’m in my mid 40s and not in the greatest shape, but like to do active things like hiking. The hike DOWN kicked my butt and took us just under two hours. It was awesome and I wouldn’t have wanted to do it any other way and I completely recommend that you hike in, but hiking in and flying out was PERFECT for us… plus you get the killer views from the plane!

The tour was a little disappointing for me. I do a lot of National Parks and truth is you win some and you lose some. This was in the middle for me. The tour guide was fine. He was knowledgeable, but we basically went on a bus to a stop, got off, he talked, we stood around and then repeated several times. What I found strange was I saw a LOT of National Park information signs around that we drove right past. Why have them if we don’t even get to see them? It was beautiful, well, except for the town, which was run down and just a small town. So, the tour was okay, but not what I had hoped for. The highlights for me on the tour were the churches and the area where we had lunch which was the original colony site. There is a small bookstore that has a National Park’s Passport stamp available for all you National Park geeks like me. What I would love would be more of the park presence as a part of the tour. I’d love to have an audio-visual presentation at an NPS center there and a museum. That would make this five star for me!

For those booking through the mule ride company, the lunches were basically a sandwich, a bag of chips and a bottle of water.

There are tour companies you can use to get to this place. The most common are KALAUPAPA GUIDED MULE TOUR (also do flights and hiking), FATHER DAMIEN TOURS, and MOLOKAI OUTDOOR ACTIVITIES. I personally attempted to use Molokai Outdoor Activities and had a lot of problems. I have heard that the Mule Tour company is good, but I am going to recommend you skip the tour companies and set it up on your own. Flights are easy to get if you go that route, just book far enough in advance and if you're hiking, it's crazy to pay tour fees. The mules, you're pretty much stuck... no way to do that on your own, but OUCH.

Overall, I’m glad I did this. If you can’t do the hike and have no desire to ride down on a mule… I DIDN’T! Take the flight! This is worth learning about and seeing. With only 17 patients left on the peninsula, who knows what will happen when they die? There is talk of developers trying to buy the land for resorts. I think that would be a really bad idea. There is also talk of creating a memorial like the Vietnam memorial with the names of all of the patients who died there… and there were many thousands. I hope they keep it a National Park and don’t let big business spoil this piece of history.

11  Thank ladyjadegd
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
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132 - 136 of 159 reviews

Reviewed November 6, 2012

Have been reading about Father (now Saint) Damien and his work with Hanson's disease patients for many years. Never imagined I would have the opportunity to actually see this place. It was the highlight of a recent Hawaiian tour. We flew down to the park, a five minute jump over the cliffs to the tiny airport. The trip takes most of the day. We were driven around the park in an old school bus with an excellent commentary from a close friend of a long time Kalaupapa resident. What a moving experience. On one hand it is probably the most beautiful scenery we saw on our Hawaiian tour. On the other we were in tears a number of times as stories of the men, women and children exiled here were told. One has to make an effort to visit this park, but it is so worth it.

3  Thank PasCaLady
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
Reviewed November 5, 2012

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.

6  Thank Barbara946
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
Reviewed October 20, 2012

After reading Alan Brennert's moving novel "Moloka'i" I was inspired to visit Kalaupapa Historical Park. Because the young girl in the story, Rachel, made the journey by foot (in the dark no less) inspiration led me to have the experience by foot as well (as compared to taking the mules down the mountain). Arriving in Molokai, from the moment we landed at the small airstrip, one is overcome with an indescribable sense of peace and strong spirit.
The morning begins at 8 am for hikers. The trip is open ONLY to those over the age of 16. The hike down consists of a wide trail with no open cliff to the sea. So if one has a fear of heights I don't see this trail being a problem. The descent is steep however and one must maneuver across rocks roots and mud. Not a problem tho, but not for the casual hiker. The trek UP I found more challenging. Bring water and I would also maybe suggest Aleve or Motrin.
I purchased my permit to the park and lunch through the mule outfitter for $ 69 which provides also the bus tour and lunch. The lunch was good, sandwich, chips, water and granola bar. However one couple hiked down without a permit, paid $ 50 for the tour and brought their own lunch. Since I flew in late the day before, the package was great for me. However maybe purchasing the permit at the bottom of the trail is more cost effective.
The Tour. Norman was our tour guide. I loved the experience with Norman and when I go again I will ONLY go if I can go with Norman. Norman is a beautiful, gentle teacher. I realize he is far too young to have known Father Damien or the sisters, yet as he shared the story of the people of this valley, all of us on the tour were transported to the 1800's and the life these special people lived. It is no surprise, after listening to the story of Father Damien, that he was an inspiration to Gandhi himself.
A trip to Moloka'i should be viewed as a pilgrimage. Having neither a sense of religious affiliation nor an orientation to one God or one church, I still maintain this experience will touch you in such a manner that it will never be forgotten. Alan Bennert begins his novel describing Kalthe valley as the "Blue Vault of Heaven".
Travel down the Pali Coast Trail and experience this once in a lifetime trip back in time.

6  Thank Rebecca C
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
Reviewed October 15, 2012

We rode the mules down the Pali Coast Trail, and were able to both experience the Cliffs themselves as well as the Kalaupapa Settlement. You can't appreciate Molokai's unique way of living without understanding Kalaupapa and the remote Pali Coast.
We felt it to be profound. The mules were easy to ride and there never seemed to be any danger as they made their way down the Pali Cliffs Trail.

2  Thank cecilia_elise_12
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.

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