RENTAL CAR DRAMA
The day began with a 4:30am wake-up as we had to catch our 6:20am flight from Honolulu to Ho’olehua, Moloka’i. We pretty much prepared for this morning by pre-packing for our one-day trip as well as sleeping early (9:45pm to be exact) so we were already out of the Ohana Maile Sky Hotel by 5am.
We managed to make it to the Honolulu Airport without incident and caught our Island Air flight on time. The small aircraft touched down by about 6:35am at the Ho’olehua Airport in Moloka’i and we picked up our rental car by 6:45am. It was still dark as the sun still had yet to rise from the east.
As we collected the Dollar rental car, we had trouble finding the correct vehicle as the rental contract had a different license plate number than the car that ended up unlocking. Complicating the issue was the key alarm wasn’t working.
So after a few more minutes of explaining to Dollar the issue with this car (which happened to be brand new), the agent noted the problem on our rental contract and we started to leave the airport finally. By now, it was a little past 7am, the sun had risen, and there was daylight.
As we drove out of the airport, we noticed that the car was sounding kind of strange when we accelerated. It was as if it was constantly on overdrive, and we eventually figured out that it was!
Anyways, I managed to get the automatic car back in normal driving mode and we finally headed east for about 7 miles towards Kaunakakai where we would pick up our vouchers (for our waterfall hike in Halawa Valley) from the Moloka’i Fish and Dive shop in town. When we arrived at the dive shop at 7:28am, the shop hadn’t opened yet (they open at 7:30am). So we waited for the shop to open up, but that was when I figured out that the vehicle was on high beam!
Oops! I hope I didn’t piss off any drivers going the other way…
By 7:40am, we continued on the nearly 90-minute drive further east to Halawa Valley. During the drive, it was immediately apparent that this island had a very laid back feel to it.
There were no traffic lights and there seemed to be a noticeable lack of development. It was quite a refreshing contrast to the asphalt and concrete jungle of southern Oahu.
But one thing we couldn’t help but notice was numerous residences posting signs mentioning something about saving La’au Point. Julie and I speculated that there must be a familiar battle of development versus preservation. And I reckoned this was something we could ask our tour guide when we go onto today’s hike.
The Highway 450 started off as a pretty wide two-lane highway hugging the serene southern shores of the island while passing by pockets of residences strewn along the road. But the further east we went, the narrower the road became. Fittingly, the seas also were noticeably rougher as well.
It was along this stretch of road that we also noticed fish ponds, which were man-made tidepools (from the stacking of lava rocks into walls) created to help locals both catch fish as well as breed them. They were ingenious inventions for their simplicity and effectiveness.
As we started to round the southeastern bend of Moloka’i, the single-lane road seemed very close to the churning ocean and the taller waves. I couldn’t help but feel kind of uneasy as we drove through this stretch of road thinking that any rogue wave could overwhelm us and drag us into the ocean.
Anyhow, the conditions were favorable (maybe we were overreacting) on this morning and we managed to get to an overlook of Halawa Valley by 8:35am. It was here that we could see the 500ft Hipuapua Falls nestled deep in the back of the valley. It was a little harder to see Moa’ula Falls (the falls we were going to hike to) from here though.
Directly below us as we looked partially through the foliage swaying in the trade winds was a picturesque cove.
We continued down the narrow paved road until we eventually got to the Halawa Park at 8:48am. There was a shelter with a bathroom as well as some ruins of an old church to the right. This was where we were supposed to meet our guide.
There were already people waiting here as well and it seemed we were going to be hiking in a pretty big group of about 10 people or so.
At about 9:15am, our tour guide named Josh came by to meet us. After going through the usual introductions while we awaited any more people who might be on the tour, someone beat me to the punch and asked Josh about what was going on with La’au.
That was when Josh summarized the situation to us in about five minutes.
It turns out that La’au Point is a part of southwestern Moloka’i that is slated for the development of some luxury homes or resorts that would support some 200 people.
The owner of the land, which was a company based in New Zealand, was said to be losing some $40 million a year and they saw this avenue as a way to make their investment worth their while.
In return for the development, it was promised that some 26,000 acres of land would be allocated strictly for the local community to do what they wished.
It sounded like a sweet deal, but here was the catch…
To the locals, La’au Point has religious and ancestral significance. There were also good places to fish. Josh had personal memories of the place and we could tell that he hated to see it go.
The development would make Moloka’i commercialized, which it had largely escaped up to this point.
In addition, the 26,000 acres of land promised to the locals were practically unusable. Furthermore, supporting resorts in the dry southwest also meant water diversion from the existing wells (which were supporting the local population) in the practically untouched eastern side of the island.
There were also concerns that the 200 visitors in the resort could easily multiply as land would get further subdivided. This was already observed in other islands such as Oahu, Maui, Big Island, and Kaua’i.
Many residents of Moloka’i are employed by the New Zealand owner so they are trying to find another way for the owner to recoup their investment without sacrificing the way of life here.
Anyways, Josh closed off the discussion by saying the fight to save La’au Point had unified the Moloka’i community in much the same way that they banded together to keep the Navy from continuing their bombing of the island Kaho’olawe (as target practice).
By 9:30am, it was clear no one else was on the tour so we got back in our cars and followd Josh into a private residence past a green church. That was where we all parked our cars.
Then, we began the hike at about 9:45am.
The hike was at a relaxed pace and involved lots of stopping as Josh explained various aspects of the land and the culture along the way. Unfortunately it was during the times we weren’t moving that the swarms of mosquitos got their free shots at us.
And unfortunately for Julie, the bites she got swelled up. It got to the point where she was starting to feel a pain in her right arm as the swelling seemed to constrict some of the circulation. It was reminiscent of her swollen arm episode in Fiji.
At least we now know that it wasn’t spiders or bees. It was merely her allergic reaction to mosquito bites…
One of the more interesting things Josh pointed out was a type of Hawaiian Olympics (I don’t know how it’s really called) that Moloka’i had been hosting for some 26 consecutive years that involved all the Hawaiian Islands. It was clear that the people of this island was trying real hard to maintain the Hawaiian ways even in the face of inevitable change (not necessarily for the better).
Anyways the trail crossed the river a couple of times, but they were manageable without getting any feet wet. In hindsight, we probably could’ve worn hiking boots instead of Chacos for this hike (since mosquitos managed to get parts of my feet).
A little past the half way point, we were able to get partial views of both Moa’ula Falls and Hipuapua Falls together. Still, the best views of Hipuapua Falls were way back at the head of the valley as the road started to make its descent.
By about 11:30am, we arrived at the base of Moa’ula Falls. The hike was much easier than we had anticipated as the trail was quite easy to follow and it was pretty flat. There were only a few fallen tree obstacles that required ducking under.
It was really the mosquitos that were the most annoying aspect of this hike. But the helicopters from Maui weren’t much better as they kind of created some noise pollution. Josh lamented that many of them are flying lower than the 500ft buffer. I could see how these “motorized mosquitos” could be very annoying if you live here and have to hear them eight times a day.
On a related note, Josh told us that Hipuapua Falls tours weren’t offered in the winter because of the flash flood danger and the likelihood of falling rocks especially when choppers would fly too close and possibly pry some of the rocks loose (let alone the ones that drop naturally due to erosion). They do however offer them in the summer but he said that experience is much more “intense” than the Moa’ula Falls hike we were on. Perhaps I might be up for that challenge when the opportunity presents itself one of these summers.
At our stopping point, we could see the lowest tier of Moa’ula Falls in its entirety. There was another tall upper tier immediately above the lowest tier, but it was mostly obstructed by trees and a cliff as the upper falls faced a different direction.
The water looked quite cold for the couple of folks who actually swam in the plunge pool. Josh volunteered himself to go for a swim and he did a little cliff dive into the deep plunge pool. I don’t think any of us were able to capture him in mid-air on our photographs.
By noon, we headed back to the start of the hike. We practically didn’t stop at all on our way back so the mosquitos didn’t really get in any more shots at us. We ended up back at our cars by 1pm, which was much earlier than the anticipated return time of 2pm.
All in all, it was a fun hike and quite an educational experience as we now could get a better sense of why Moloka’i resists becoming like the other islands. We could also appreciate the effort of some of the people of Moloka’i in trying to revive the old ways of Hawai’i.
As it came time to say good-bye to Josh, I asked him one last question.
Since the back of his shirt said, “A’ole La’au,” I inquired what it meant.
He said something to the effect that it meant “no La’au” or that it was opposing the coming development of the southwest of Moloka’i at La’au Point.
“Fight for the cause,” I said, nodding my head approvingly.
And with that, we gave each other the shaka symbol as we parted ways.
We left Halawa Valley at around 1:15pm and both Julie and I fought off a little bit of sleepiness along the way back towards Central Moloka’i. Obviously since I was behind the wheel, this was not good.
Anyhow, we determined to get to the Kalaupapa Overlook just to hopefully get a glimpse of the sea cliffs on the north shore (apparently the tallest ones in the world) as well as the Kalaupapa Peninsula which once housed a colony of those afflicted with Hansen’s Disease (also known as leprosy).
We did the best we could taking photos from here, but we spent more time walking over to the Phallic Rock, which was basically believed to be a fertility rock for reasons that are obvious once you get a look at it.
At 3:25pm, we returned to the car and headed back to the town of Kaunakakai. While we were there, we picked up some smoothies and pastries before filling up on gas for our drive back to the Ho’olehua Airport.
“You’re going to the airport, right?” she asked.
“Yeah,” I replied.
“Can I get a ride with you to my mom’s office? It’s on the way,” she said.
“Sure,” said I not wanting to be rude and being in a generous mood. I knew this went against conventional wisdom of hitching strangers. Anyways, I felt like I couldn’t say no.
The car ride back to the girl’s mom’s office was very awkward. It was basically silence broken by the reggae music on the car stereo and the girl chewing on her food loudly. No words were spoken except for when the girl told me when to make turns and when to stop.
We managed to drop her off successfully and headed back to the Hoolehua Airport.
After returning the Dollar rental car, we checked my bags in the back seat to make sure the girl didn’t put any drugs or anything else that would get us in trouble. You never know about these things, and we weren’t going to take any chances.
So with that, we checked in and waited at the crowded Gate 2 at 4:36pm. We couldn’t recall the Island Air clerk putting a sticker on my checked baggage before handing it over to TSA. So we worried about our luggage getting lost, but we had no way of knowing now if our bag was going to get lost or not – at least not until we return to Honolulu Airport.
Complicating matters was that a 5:05pm flight was severely delayed (which was why Gate 2 was crowded). It was about 6:30pm when the plane arrived to pick up that flight. But both Julie and I knew that our 6:40pm flight would be delayed by at least the same amount of time – if not more!
It wasn’t until about 6:45pm when the intercom announced that our flight would be delayed until about 8:30pm.
So much for our dinner plans in Waikiki.
As expected, the last plane arrived in Ho’olehua at 8:20pm and ten minutes later, we took off for Honolulu. When we landed, we waited for our checked baggage and noticed ours wasn’t on the conveyor belt.
This didn’t surprise us one bit.
Fortunately, there was an employee who eventually came from the baggage handling area and asked if our bags were not on the conveyor belt. Another guy as well as us were the unlucky ones, but after the employee opened up the closed baggage service office, our bags were sitting there.
As we kind of anticipated, our bag arrived on that earlier flights to Honolulu.
We would eventually have a late dinner at the nearby Keo’s Restaurant just downstairs and a block away from our room at the Ohana Maile Sky Hotel and be back at our room at 10:45pm.
Julie’s swollen arm continued to hurt her but she was eventually too tired from our long day’s excursion and four hours at the Ho’olehua Airport. I think she was able to sleep despite her pain…