Tastes of tradition at Hotel Molokai

Hotel Molokai is made up of 12 Polynesian-style bungalow buildings with private patios and balconies steps away from a reef-lined beach.
Hotel Molokai is made up of 12 Polynesian-style bungalow buildings with private patios and balconies steps away from a reef-lined beach.
Molokai, a rugged, largely undeveloped island is home to 7,000 people, the majority native Hawaiian, and while welcoming, the residents fiercely guard their piece of the tropics from over development and large resorts that would be more at home on Waikiki.

There are vacation rentals and condominiums, including some situated near Papohaku Beach, the longest continuous stretch of sand in the Aloha State, but there is only one hotel, Hotel Molokai.

The hotel is made up 12 Polynesian-style bungalows featuring personal balconies and patios, neatly manicured grounds and a pool a few steps away from a reef-lined beach. There is also a gift shop and concierge service for booking activities, such as hikes, snorkeling and hunting.

Over the summer the hotel, in partnership with a local family, renovated its restaurant space and launched a new concept, Hiro's Ohana Grill. The dining room was refurbished with new flooring, furniture and decor, and stage was put in for hosting regular entertainment. The menu highlights local collaborations with farmers and fisherman while focusing on steaks and seafood, offering panko-crusted calamari strips, two varieties of poke, pastas and some vegetarian options.

On a recent visit sponsored by the Molokai Visitors Bureau, locals, who make up a good portion of the clientele at the restaurant on an island with only a handful of options, openly commented that Hiro's was a welcome addition to the limited dining scene.

Molokai has no traffic lights and fewer tourist amenities than the more-visited islands, but offers a relaxed pace of life and a greater chance of interacting with residents in their daily lives. Some of the native population on the island strive to practice a traditional Hawaiian manner of life, tending to taro patches, fishing and hunting in a sustainable fashion. Molokai is believed to be the birthplace of hula, and "the Friendly Island" hosts the Molokai Ka Hula Piko festival in June.

A few minutes' drive from Hotel Molokai is the island's only town, Kaunakakai, which has a collection of restaurants, convenience stores and local shops along Ala Malama Avenue and Mohala Street selling mostly products, crafts and art made by island residents. A popular time to visit the town is during the Saturday market from 8 a.m. to noon, when a variety of foods, crafts and other items are for sale.

While staying in Molokai, one of the top foodie spots is Kanemitsu Bakery. The restaurant is open for food service during the day, but the real scene is at night in an alley behind the bakery where they sell their famous filled hot breads. When Anthony Bourdain visited Molokai for a 2015 episode of his show "Parts Unknown," he spotlighted the late-night treat served fresh and hot with the flavor or flavors of your choice, such as cinnamon, strawberry, blueberry, butter and cream cheese. The bread is soft and spongy, and the cinnamon/cream cheese combination is like a fluffier cinnamon roll. While there, also be sure to sample the taro glazed donuts. The late-night hot bread operation at Kanemitsu is closed on Mondays, open 7:30 p.m. to 11 p.m. on Sundays, Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays, and 7:30 p.m. to midnight Fridays and Saturdays.  

General manager Michael Drew took over more than a decade ago at Hotel Molokai, and his passion for the island and its community is evident when he discusses future plans. Owner Beachtree Properties has invested in incremental improvements, Drew said, and now that the restaurant has been revamped they are looking to the grounds and room enhancements.

A limited number of the accommodations have air conditioning, and they recently put in ceiling fans in other rooms. Some units have kitchenettes, and there are a couple oceanfront spots available with views across the straight to Lanai. Cellphone service is spotty on the island including at Hotel Molokai, and the property offers free WiFi for guests and in-room landlines.

For more information, visit www.hotelmolokai.com.
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