Mo`omomi Dunes, Moloka`i
The northern coast of Moloka´i offers some of the most breathtaking scenery in the Hawaiian Islands. Traveling west from Hälawa Bay on the island’s northeastern corner (Photo 1), one finds some of the highest sea cliffs in the world, some more than 3,000 ft (900 m) high (Photo 2); the Kalaupapa Peninsula about midway along the coast (Photo 3), which was the site of the Hansen’s disease (leprosy) colony; the beach and headland area which includes Mo‘omomi and Kawa`aloa Bays (Photo 4); and the Mo`omomi Dunes, which we will visit in more detail below. Continuing along the coast from the dunes, one encounters additional headlands and finally `Ïlio Point, the northwestern most point of land on the island. And, all of this occurs within a distance of about 35 miles (ca. 50 km)!
Before getting on with our visit to the dunes, it is timely to pause for a moment and look at two of the island’s plant species that occur on these virtually inaccessible cliffs. The first of these is the rare and endangered Brighamia rockii (Campanulaceae), the plant called pua `ala (literally, fragrant plant or flower) by the Hawaiians.
The only specimens of this plant that I have seen were in the National Tropical Botanical Garden collection at Lawa`i on Kaua`i, and were in poor condition. A very close relative—and the only other member of the genus—is B. insignis, native to steep cliffs on Kaua`i’s northwestern coast, and at one time on Ni`ihau’s cliffs. Brighamia insignis is easily maintained in cultivation and is on display in the Limahuli Garden on Kaua`i (Photo 5).
A second species that makes the windward cliffs of Moloka`i home is Peucedanum sandwicense, makou in Hawaiian, which is shown in Photo 6. This species belongs to the Apiaceae (or Umbelliferae, the carrot family). Although I have seen this species in its natural habitat, it was intermixed with other vegetation making it difficult to recognize. Instead, the photograph I have chosen to show is of a specimen also being grown at the Limahuli Garden.
After having described the cliffs of Moloka`i as very difficult of access, I must confess that having seen makou in its native habitat was possible, not by my mastery of mountain climbing skills, but rather by pure chance. We observed this plant on the cliff side along the famous Mule Trail which takes tourists and others to the community on the Kalaupapa Peninsula.
Contrary to the sign that prohibits hiking on the trail, we did go down a few switchbacks before returning to the trailhead. And, yes, we did meet a group of mules carrying their touristy loads down the stepped trail. A few of the riders said that they would gladly trade places with us! I’d swear a mule winked after hearing that remark.
Although the mountainous eastern portion of the island is difficult to get to from the ocean, it is possible to visit the area and enjoy the Kamakou Preserve (Kamakou is literally, the Peucedanum plant, see above; ka is a Hawaiian word for ‘the’). A rough and often very wet track, the Maunahui Road, takes visitors from Rt. 460 into the rain forest passing the Sandalwood Boat (click here for more on the sandalwoods ), the Waikolu Valley overlook (Photo 7), planted eucalypt and conifer forests, and eventually ending at the trailhead for the Pepe`opae Bog Trail.
A boardwalk aides the visitor through dense forest and boggy fern gardens to the open bog itself (Photo 8). The trail continues beyond the bog to the Pelekunu Valley overlook (Photo 9). The Kamakou Preserve consists of 2,774 acres that are home to over 200 species of flowering plants and ferns. It’s a rough trip but few rain forests in the islands are as pristine and (comparatively) easy of access.
Staff of the Nature Conservancy office on Moloka`i lead regularly scheduled hikes into the bog (call 808-553-5236 or use their e-mail address hike@Molokai@tnc.org for information).
Having completed our all too brief visit to the high elevation preserve, it is time now to continue our trip. Getting to the dunes involves driving west to the end of the paved road (Farrington Avenue, left off Rt. 470) and continuing along the red earth track (Photo 10) for several miles until one reaches a right turn. The road straight ahead is gated a little farther along requiring special permission. The right hand road, along which the visitor will be greeted by a sign that says “Hawaiian Lands in Hawaiian Hands” (Photo 11), leads to the Hawaiian Home Lands Recreation Center. This building and surrounding lawn has picnic tables, a barbeque pit, and running water and is open to anyone who wishes to use it, but as the sign says, keep it clean. The trail to the dunes follows the coastline westward passing Mo`omomi and Kawa`aloa Bays along the way. Photos 12 and 13 illustrate the spectacular scenes along this trail. Winter storms produce high surf along this coast making for very dangerous swimming. During summer months the surf is more forgiving. Even during times of moderately rough water, however, some locals will fish and collect other edible creatures from the rocks (Photo 14).