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Destination: Hawaii : The Most Hawaiian Island

POSTCARDS FROM PARADISE. The Paget family explores Hawaii on a budget. Their reports appear weekly.

July 17, 1994|DALE PAGET and SUSAN PAGET

KAUNAKAKAI, Molokai — This is where I was born,

Molokai.

The island of Hina.

I greet you with love . . . .

The enchanting voices of a dozen teen-age girls rehearsing a hula drifts into the still Molokai night.

I greet you with love . . ., they sing in Hawaiian.

Molokai, wondrous is Molokai.

On this hot and steamy evening on the island where, according to Hawaiian legend, the hula was born, we watch the torch being passed to a new generation in a recreation hall under whirring ceiling fans.

We pinch ourselves.

Matilda, 5, is spellbound by the shaking hips and intense faces of the young girls.

The drums, pahu, beat fiercely.

Presley, 1, is being unusually quiet and Henri, 7, whispers, "I can feel the vibrations."

It's hard to believe that this is the place travel agents told us not to bother visiting because "there is nothing to do."

From the moment we ferried across the channel from Maui, our journey onto Molokai, the Friendly Island, has taken us to the Hawaii of days gone by, where people still live off the land, leave their doors unlocked and have time to give a sincere smile to strangers in town.

"Take a deep breath," the captain of the Maui Princess told us over a loud speaker a week ago. "You're leaving the bright lights; the pace is slow in Molokai."

The one-hour, 45-minute ferry ride costs $25 one-way ($12.50 kids)--about half the price of a discount airline ticket.

Dolphins ride alongside as the friendly staff serves a continental breakfast on board. Some folks don't feel like eating much though--the channel between the islands is notoriously rough and although this is considered a "calm day," the gyrostabilized Princess rocks and rolls in a surging swell. Matilda's breakfast plate goes flying . . . muffins overboard!

A couple of trusty Dramamine, popped before we left, are just the ticket for us . . . the children don't seem to be bothered.

A rental agent for our prearranged car meets us at the dock at Kaunakakai, Molokai's largest town. We take the car, toss it in drive and hang a left on Hawaii 460 to our campground at Papohaku Beach and its dirt parking lot on the island's west coast.

It's a great setting, but nature has the upper hand. "If I lived here I would have an awesome bug collection," Henri concludes, after a couple minutes of catching green inchworms and black slugs around our tents.

The campground's beach saves the day. Ours are the only footprints on miles of fine white sand.

This western region, with its dry grasses and red terrain, looks more like the plains of Africa than the tropics.

In nearby Maunaloa, population 250, residents take a carefree approach to life. One home is fenced in by surfboards. The town is so small that the local kids are allowed to play hide-and-seek using the perimeters of the town as the boundary. Big Wind Kite Factory--the town's center of commerce--offers free tours and lessons, "no strings attached."

At the Maunaloa Dolly Hale (house), where dolls are made out of coconuts, we met Lori Cavanaugh, a 15-year resident and mother of three who said she has no plans to return to the mainland. "You don't get lost in a crowd and the kids can go anywhere. They're safe."

Children under 16 aren't allowed on tours of the most visited Molokai attraction, the former leper colony at Kalaupapa. We settle for a powerful view of the peninsular community from the top of a tall cliff in a rain forest at Palaau State Park.

We enjoyed the family run Purdy Macadamia Nut Farm behind Molokai High, where everyone gets a crack at shelling macadamia nuts with a hammer.

Our island routine of exploring beach coves and snorkeling shallow reefs continues in Molokai, but it's a much smaller place. After traversing the 38-mile-long, 10-mile-wide island we feel like we know everyone. We keep on bumping into people, or relatives of people, we've already met.

"Everyone knows everyone's business," one local tells us with a laugh.

It seems like a good time for a shower and a little comfort, so we move into Molokai Shores, a comfy $65-a-night condo booked through Friendly Isle Realty in Kaunakakai.

All paved roads seem to lead to this town where there are no traffic lights, movie theaters or fast-food chains. Many locals supplement supplies from the Friendly Market with regular trips to the coast to catch crayfish, octopus and fish.

King Kamehameha V left his gastronomical mark on the island more than a century ago with a regal plantation of coconut trees, just outside Kaunakakai. He released deer into the wild and built a series of fish ponds to supply his royal feasts. The ponds run like stone necklaces along the coast almost as far east as Honouli Wai Bay, where we stop to ask Eddie Tanaka directions to the nearest pay phone.

"Use mine," offers the fishing guide, construction worker and taro farmer.

Before we know it, Eddie is knee-deep in the middle of his thriving taro patch at the back of the house.

"This is the life of the Hawaiians," Eddie says, pulling up a 12-month-old root. "Today, Hawaiians like me are trying to find an identity, and growing taro has brought me close to what it's all about, close to the land and the water."

Developers have their eye on the pristine beaches of Molokai. With only one resort and seven hotels and condos, there is plenty of potential to turn this secret place into an island that travel agents recommend.

"Right now, to find the true Hawaii you've got to catch a plane to go to Molokai," Eddie says, climbing out of his taro patch. "And if this disappears, forget Hawaii. It will be all Waikiki."

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