Halawa Valley on the island of Molokai isn’t one of Hawaii’s most famous landmarks, but that doesn’t make it any less stunning. It’s a beautiful, off-the-beaten-path location that supported the traditional Hawaiian way of life well into the ‘50s.
To get to Halawa Valley, you have to put some rubber onto the Kamehameha V Highway. Also designated SR 450, this road packs a lot of tropical riding fun into its 28 miles.
Motoring east out of Molokai’s largest town Kaunakakai, Kamehameha V Hwy begins as a quiet two-lane road lazily following the curves of the island’s coastline. Made up of long straight sections, it’s a relaxing, laid-back ride through the tropics.
I wholeheartedly recommend taking your time and riding at the speed limit. Take in the surrounding verdant jungle, tall cliffs, craggy coast, and deserted beaches and have a good time. That’s the Hawaiian way.
After you pass mile marker 10, the road gets a little bit snakier and the few cars practically disappear. Yet, the real turns are waiting another 10 miles down the road.
Around mile marker 20, just before George Murphy Beach Park, Kamehameha V Hwy changes. The road turns into a one-laner, the speed limit drops to 20 mph, and the curves reveal themselves.
For the last eight miles, Kamehameha V Hwy meanders along the rocky coastline mere feet from the ocean before climbing up into the mountains. At times very tight switchbacks take you up through thickets and bushes to Waialapal and Kukummaalu gulches.
Finally, the two beaches of Halawa Bay open up in front of you. Descend through the last series of turns and get ready to kick off your riding boots.
The Kamehameha V Hwy might seem short, but I’d advise you to allocate at least two hours for riding it in one direction. The speed limits are low, but more than that, it’s the abundance of scenic pullouts, beaches, and picnic spots that can (and should) eat up some of your time.
All of the highway from Kaunakakai to Halawa is paved, so this ride is doable with any kind of bike you prefer. That said, the road does get very narrow and the turns really tight up in the mountains, so you may want to opt for something nimbler than a massive road barge.
You should also exercise healthy caution, as forest debris may pile onto both sides of the road on the mountain stretch. Some of the initial seaside turns on the one-lane section also don’t have guardrails, so take care to not go for an unplanned swim.
It’s good manners to pull aside and let locals pass you on the narrow roads if you can safely do so. Also, there are no gas stations between Kaunakakai and Halawa, so fill up before you ride.
Should you find yourself on Molokai, go ride the Kamehameha V Hwy. It makes for a laid-back one-day tropical ride that has something in store for you, no matter what kind of riding you prefer.
Points of Interest
Halawa Valley is a beautiful jungle-filled haven, stretching some two miles inland from Halawa Bay. It’s no wonder this is believed to be the site of one of the earliest settlements in Hawaii.
The valley’s jungle hides the remains of 17 heiau temples, the original places of worship of the Hawaiian people. Within the trees, you’ll also find ruined terraces, stone walls, and irrigation channels.
Those channels once carried water to extensive fields where the locals farmed taro all the way to 1957, preserving their traditional way of life. Sadly, two consecutive tsunamis flooded and destroyed the fields, leading to their abandonment.
At the western end of the Halawa Valley, Moaula Falls cascade down from a 250-foot-tall cliff into the Halawa Steam. The falls are easily accessible with a two-mile hike, so you should definitely stretch your legs after the ride and go see this beauty spot (and perhaps take a dip in the plunge pool).
Note, though, that although parts of the Halawa Valley are publicly accessible, Moaula Falls is on private property. You must book a guided tour to legally visit the waterfall.
The tours are well worth the price, though, as the local guides give you fascinating insights into the natural and cultural significance of the falls and Halawa Valley. Profits from the tours also help reestablish the tsunami-ravaged taro farms, so you’ll be supporting a good cause.
Halawa Beach Park
If you’d rather not hike into the jungle, why not wade into the ocean instead? Halawa Bay Beach Park has two beaches where you can go wash off the dust of the road.
Kama’alaea Beach is to the north of Halawa Stream, while Kawili Beach sits to the south. Don’t worry about the distance— the black-sand beaches are right next to each other, separated only by a rocky bulge in the shoreline.
Kama’alaea Beach is more guarded from ocean currents and waves, so it’s a better choice if you’d like to go for a swim. Kawili Beach is also suitable for swimming on calm days, but if you’re seeing waves, it’s best to stick to wading.
As you ride along the Kamehameha V Hwy, you’ll pass the site of the Kaluaaha Church. This structure was the first Christian church on the island of Molokai.
Built in 1833, the church’s walls are made out of fieldstone, being nearly 40 inches thick and 20 feet high. It’s a fascinating example of local architecture due to its unusual construction and features.
The church is no longer active and has fallen into disrepair—its steeple, for example, came crashing down in 1967. However, the ruins are still there and make for a fascinating historical stop on the way to Halawa Valley.
Facts & Info
Recommended Lodging: Hotel Molokai
Hotel Molokai in Kaunakakai really puts you in a Hawaiian mood. The buildings of this oceanfront hotel are appropriately modeled after a traditional Polynesian village.
You can park near the entrance and the large rooms have plenty of space for spreading out your gear. Thanks to the on-site laundry facilities, you can also wash your clothes before the next day’s ride. The on-site Hiro’s Ohana Grill ensures dinner is only a few steps away.
Of course, the hotel also has a swimming pool and you can also traipse down to the beach. Hotel Molokai is an ideal starting point for your ride to Halawa Valley, or anywhere else on the island.
Best Time to Travel
The generally recommended time to travel to Molokai is around August and September, which are the sunniest months and the water is at its warmest. That said, the heat can get intense and the timing coincides with the hurricane season.
If you’d prefer a bit milder weather, head to Molokai in May or June. The weather is still warm, there’s little rain, and the largest tourist crowds haven’t yet arrived.