a beach tale

The past two days have been full of adventure and connection with the wild beauty of Molokai. I’ve been to the beach three times in 24 hours! Photos coming soon. One of the wonderful perks of being an intern at the Hui is that we get invited along on photography forays with the retreat guests. On Wednesday, we piled into the rental cars and headed to Kepuhi Beach on the western edge of the island. For hours, we snapped photos of the crashing waves, unique lava rock formations, and a delicate sunset. I did yoga in the soft sand. Yesterday we returned to the area for another sunset, this time to Papohaku Beach. The 3-mile stretch is one of the largest beaches in the state. But unlike many of Hawai’i’s beaches, there was hardly a soul to be seen.

There’s a reason why the throngs of tourists were absent. I’ve heard Molokai called by many people “the real Hawai’i.” With a population of only 7,000 and the highest proportion of Indigenous Hawaiians, Molokai has a history of strong resistance to the kind of commercial tourism development that other parts of Hawai’i have succumbed to. The views of the locals about land management and other political issues are starkly visible on colourful painted signs by the roads. Back in 2008, the island’s major employer was partway through building a huge luxury golf resort on the west end when local resistance became so organized that it retaliated by closing all of its operations, including restaurants, hotels, and the island’s only movie theatre. Now, Molokai has Hawai’i’s highest unemployment rate. Although some of the properties we passed on the way to the beach had been converted into condos and sold, many of the buildings are boarded up. Mauna Loa, a name perhaps familiar to those who have never been to Hawai’i, is actually a ghost town. Walking to the beach, we crossed the remnants of a golf fairway being reclaimed by the red clay earth.

It’s not very often you hear a story of small-town success in the face of distant, faceless business interests. But the people have been here at least 1,700 years. I reckon their sense of time has a much wider scope than the fiscal quarter of the investing world, whose language of money just doesn’t translate their connection to the land.

Efforts to restore and protect the native ecosystems of the island have not been without their controversies, either. Yesterday morning, I had the privilege of waking up at 5am to share a spectacular sunrise with the photographers at the Mo’omomi Preserve, on the north side. We passed a sign that read “Mo’omomi to be gated illegally.” We had to go through two locked gates, but as I learned, anyone can access a key most of the year, except when the seabirds are nesting. The problem was that local residents would drive their 4X4’s on the sensitive dunes and leave trash and beer cans behind. And this is not just any beach, either. Twenty-five years ago, the Nature Conservancy acquired the lands from private ranchers. Molokai is overrun with invasive, non-native species, and the western half of the island is highly degraded due to grazing and poor land management practices. Mo’omomi is now the most intact coastal beach strand and sand dune area and one of the last remaining strongholds for native coastal plants and animals in the Hawaiian islands. This breathtaking beach is surrounded on both sides by sharp lava rock and native grasses. The landscape looks more like Scottish highlands than what most people would envision when they think of Hawai’i. It’s being stewarded by Molokai Land Trust, which is also running the major native plant restoration project right here at the Hui (more on that later…)

We drove back along the bumpy dirt road, the staff standing in the box of the Tundra pickup, singing songs from the ‘80s. Grabbing the frame, we ducked quickly as the thorny branches of kiawe (an invasive tree) narrowly missed our heads. Turning at Coffees of Hawai’i, we climbed up the hill for another mile before turning into the Hui to begin another sunny day in the garden.

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One response to this post.

  1. Posted by balancingbear on January 12, 2013 at 1:10 am

    My favorite post so far!

    Reply

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