Kalaupapa National Historical Park

The Sacred Ground of Kalaupapa National Historical Park
Local Expert's Rating:
4.5 / 5
The Bottom Line:

When visiting Kalaupapa National Historical Park, you are walking on sacred ground, a place where many lives were lost through no fault of their own as these individuals succumbed to the deadly disease of leprosy. While there is no danger at this location anymore for present-day visitors, the area still demands a bit of reverence and respect for being the site where thousands lost their lives. That’s to say nothing of the immense beauty and untouched majesty that the area offers with breathtaking sea cliffs and immense foliage and wildlife. 

- The HawaiianIslands.com Local Expert Team

Located on the northern tip of Molokai, in Kalaupapa, HI, the Kalaupapa National Historical Park is a place of education and preservation. It is only accessible via a hiking tour after an airplane ride, or on a mule tour. The area cannot be accessed by vehicle. However, you can view the Kalaupapa Peninsula from Palaau State Park. 

Kalaupapa National Historical Park has an interesting history. It was first utilized as a place of banishment for sufferers of Hansen’s disease, more commonly known as leprosy. At the time when leprosy first made its way to Hawaiian shores, King Kamehameha V banished all the afflicted to this isolated peninsula in an effort to prevent further spreading. 

The special community was the home of Saint Damien, a Belgian missionary, and later Saint Marianne Cope. Father Damien chose to leave the outside world and spend his life in faithful service to the residents who were suffering from Hansen’s disease. After dedicating his life unselfishly to helping these people for 16 years, he also died from the disease that had taken the lives of so many others.

A few months before his death, Mother Marianne Cope showed up to continue his life’s work. Today, you can visit Saint Damien’s and Saint Cope’s graves which are located at St. Philomena Roman Catholic Church located in Kalaupapa. Since it was officially established as a park, in 1980, the physical settings of the historic Hansen’s settlements have been preserved. 

From 1866 through 1969, during the banishment, over 8,000 people, mostly of Hawaiian heritage, died while being isolated at this location. However, today, what was once a community of isolation proudly serves as a place of contemplation and education. It is a place where Hawaiian families are able to reconnect with family members who were once banished to the area. 

In addition to the cultural resources and the historic significance, Kalaupapa National Historical Park is also home to many marine, aquatic, terrestrial and geological resources. These natural resources are especially unique because they are concentrated in one location. 

Within the park, there are nearly 30 plants and animals that are federally listed as endangered and threatened species. These significant marine resources include humpback whales, monk seals, well-preserved coral reef communities, and green sea turtles. 

The park also includes Molokai north shore cliffs and geological resources like immensely high sea cliffs. The valleys, including crater lakes and volcanic craters, feature caves and lava tubes providing numerous habitats from the coastal spray areas to the ohia rainforest to fresh way streams. 

One of the best ways to access the Kalaupapa National Historical Park is to take a guided, scenic mule ride, along a 2.9-mile trail ending at the Kalaupapa Peninsula. Molokai’s North Shore Pali features the tallest sea cliffs in the world as recorded by The Guinness Book of World Records. These amazing geographical cliffs overlooking the Pacific Ocean measure 3,600 to 3,900 feet. 

Your trek down to the location of this historic site features 26 switchbacks and many magnificent views and takes around 90 minutes. When you reach sea level, you will find yourself in one of the most remote settlements in Hawaii. This scenic trek is peaceful, isolated, and unique, making it a must-add to your Hawaiian vacation itinerary. 

Although visiting this culturally and historically significant site isn’t the typical activity you might find yourself enjoying in Hawaii, it is especially neat because of its sad history. The isolation of the area has also added to its beauty and the number of animals and plant species you can enjoy when visiting.

Insider Tips:
-When visiting guests recommend using bug spray if you are particularly vulnerable to bug bites as the area is isolated and the foliage plentiful and tropical in nature making it ideal for bugs. 
-Be sure to call ahead to plan your trip as sometimes mule trips are not accessible due to trails or bridges being washed out. 
-Guests claim a visit to this isolated location is well worth adding to your vacation itinerary if for no other reason than the uniqueness of the site.