Photo of the Week: A Hawaiian Sacred Spot

Shielded by the highest sea cliffs in the world, Molokai’s Kalaupapa peninsula has shed its dark past but retained its natural beauty.

Kalaupapa National Historic Park wandermelon

View of cemetery at St. Philomena Church founded by Father Damien. Image: Eric Hiss

Wandermelon’s Eric Hiss recently had the opportunity to visit Kalaupapa National Historic Park on the island of Molokai’s north shore. Called “the most Hawaiian island” for its ability to avoid much of the modern malaise that affects other Hawaiian islands, namely traffic, strip malls and hordes of tourists, Molokai remains authentic and apart. One of Molokai’s most striking attractions is this isolated region shielded from the rest of the island by the highest sea cliffs in the world. These jagged green palisades soaring 1,800 feet into the sky were the reason Hawaii’s King Kamehameha V established a leper colony here following an outbreak of the disease in Hawaii in the 1860’s, isolating affected islanders and others who contracted the disease.

Into this chaotic and dangerous world stepped Father Damien, a young Belgian priest who volunteered to serve the community here. After ministering to the colony for 15 years, Father Damien ultimately contracted the disease and succumbed to what is now called Hansen’s disease in 1889. This image shows the beauty of the location and majesty of the cliffs, but also the serenity of the cemetery where a relic of Father Damien is now buried (his grave is the lei-draped cross in the bottom left of the image). “You can’t help but feel the power and beauty of the land here,” says Eric. “It’s also impossible not to feel humbled by the efforts of Father Damian in an environment that even today is isolated and far-flung.”  Today, visitors can experience the area either arriving on muleback or by hiking down to Kalaupapa National Historic Park. Father Damien was made a saint by the Catholic Church in 2009. A Franciscan sister who served with him at Kalaupapa, Sister Marianne Cope, will be named a saint this October.


  1. Teri Waros on April 5, 2012 at 7:16 am

    Mahalo Eric for sharing the magic of Molokai. Two small corrections however; leprosy is now referred to as “Hansen’s Disease, after the Norwegian doctor who identified the cause of the disease and it’s cure. Secondly, St. Damien was cannonized on October 11, 2009, and the Blessed Mother Marianne will be cannonized this October, I believe the 26th. A hui Hou!

    • Eric Hiss on April 11, 2012 at 11:38 am

      Duly noted and thanks!

  2. Teresa Nelle on May 17, 2012 at 3:06 pm

    Great article – I too recently visited Kaulapapa Settlement – fascinating! There is a great book called Molokai by Alan Brennert – he also wrote Honoluul; both shed light on life in the islands around the turn of the century.
    Your friend in the islands,

  3. Katherine on May 22, 2014 at 8:55 pm

    Mahalo for the story.
    I have been visiting Maui for many years. And the last few times I have sat on the beach an d looked over to Molokai and have heard it call me.
    It’s been 7 years since my last visit to any of the islands but the calling has become quit loud. Looking forward to my first visit to Molokai and it’s beautiful people.
    I promise to step lightly, see everything, and take nothing but beautiful memories.

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