Kalaupapa: how to get there today

The view of Kalawao cove and Okala, Mokapu and Huelo islands as seen from the picnic area in Kalawao. (HCH photo | Anna Weaver)

Kalaupapa: How to get there today

By Anna Weaver
Hawaii Catholic Herald

You may know about St. Damien and St. Marianne. And you may know about Kalaupapa and its Hansen’s disease settlement where they dedicated their lives to serving those forcibly sent into isolation because of their disease.

But do you know how to get to this holy and historic place?

“Many, many people dream of coming here. But few make it,” said John McBride, who co-owns Saints Damien and Marianne Cope Molokai Tours.

As of May 2019, the only way to visit Kalaupapa, the isolated peninsula on the north side of Molokai in the Hawaiian islands, is to fly there. A landslide in December 2018 took out one of the essential pedestrian bridges that allowed people to hike or ride mules up and down the steep cliffside trail that connects “topside” Molokai with the peninsula.

The path is indefinitely closed while the National Park Service, which operates Kalaupapa National Historical Park, figures out a repair. The last park service estimate was that it could be about a year until the pedestrian bridge is reinstalled and the trail reopens.

In the meantime, if you’re over 16 years old and in good health (there are no public medical facilities in Kalaupapa) you can fly in and tour the peninsula with permission. The easiest way to do that is to go with a sponsored tour company.

That’s because even if you’ve arranged your own flights to Kalaupapa, you need to be the guest of a current patient or resident in order to visit the national park.

Official tour companies

The two official tour companies operating in Kalaupapa today are co-owned by two different resident-patients.

Clarence “Boogie” Kahilihiwa owns Kekaula Tours and works with Molokai Mule Ride. There aren’t any mules going to Kalaupapa right now what with the trail closure, but you can still book a flight and tour package through them. Fly in day tours cost $249 from topside and $349 from Honolulu and Kahului.

If you’re booking flights separately, the tour alone is $79 a person plus tax, which includes ground transportation and a light lunch. More information is at muleride.com or by contacting 808-567-6088 and themuleride@gmail.com.

After Damien Tours’ owner Gloria Marks retired a few years ago, one of the main ways to tour Kalaupapa ceased. In its place, Saints Damien and Marianne Cope Molokai Tours started operation in January 2019.

Mele Watanuki co-owns the company with John McBride, who also acts as the group tour guide and bus driver, and Paul Meyer, the former president of R.W. Meyer, Ltd. Topside to Kalaupapa tour prices are $329 for individuals and $310 for group bookings, which includes the flight, tour, transportation and lunch. For more information call 808-895-1673 or email molokaidaytour@hawaii.rr.com.

Other options

Several times a year, Bishop Larry Silva leads a Kalaupapa pilgrimage trip arranged by Seawind Tours and operated by Saints Damien and Marianne Cope Molokai Tours. There are two pilgrimages remaining in 2019, on Aug. 10 and Oct. 27, both costing $399 per person including flights, transportation, a guided tour led by the bishop and lunch. Read more about the March 2019 pilgrimage experience below.

Sacred Hearts Father Patrick Killilea, pastor of St. Francis Parish in Kalaupapa, also takes small groups of 6 or less around from time to time but not as part of an official tour company.

Make sure to check with your tour hosts about whether meals are provided during your Kalaupapa trip. Those with food allergies should bring in their own food. Tours without food provided mean you’ll need to bring in your own sustenance as there are no public restaurants or stores on the peninsula. You might also want to pack a snack and bring a reusable water bottle either way. The one small grocery store on the peninsula is for residents only.

Available flights

Mokulele Air was picked in March 2018 as the designated airline to provide essential air service to Kalaupapa. It operates regular daily flights to and from the peninsula with the average roundtrip cost of a flight from Oahu at around $120. Call 808-495-4188 for more details and current pricing or visit mokuleleairlines.com.

Got a small group that wants to go to Kalaupapa? The following charter flight companies offer private flights for between 4 to 9 people per plane to and from Kalaupapa. Some of them have flights with a stopover in Kaunakakai on topside Molokai before heading down to the peninsula. After Mokulele Airlines, Makani Kai operates the most regular flights to Kalaupapa. Call for pricing and details.

Makani Kai Air: 808-834-1111
George’s Aviation Services: 808-834-2120
Pacific Air Charters: 808-839-3559
Royal Pacific Air Charter: 808-838-7788

A tour van and its passengers, including Bishop Larry Silva at right, outside St. Philomena Church in Kalawao. (HCH photo | Anna Weaver)