Cycling Moloka‘i’s Less-Traveled Trails

Exploring Moloka‘i on two wheels, rather than four, encourages you to slow your pace and connect with the island’s rhythms.

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bicycling Molokai Hawaii
Since the climb to the forest reserve begins below the shade of the tree line, you’ll want to ride early or late in the day, when the air is cool.

Aside from the deer and wild turkeys that bound and scurry through the grasslands, there isn’t another soul around as I lace up my shoes, strap on my helmet, and point the Zaskar mountain bike in the direction of Kawākiu Beach on the island’s northwestern coast. The road is rugged and fairly technical (having tricky sections), and within five minutes I’m maneuvering around rocks and erosional scars in the dirt. After thirty minutes I reach Kawākiu, and just as I’d expected—and secretly hoped—I have it all to myself.

Waves break on the rocks offshore, and when I fix my gaze on the western horizon, I can make out the island of O‘ahu in the distance. Just yesterday morning I was cycling out east, enjoying views of West Maui’s coastline, and now I’m on the opposite end of the island, basking in the sandy, secluded serenity of biking down red-dirt roads.

The following morning, my wife, Heather, joins me. We wake to clear skies and arrange to head mauka (inland) with Phillip to the Moloka‘i Forest Reserve. It’s an area more frequented by hunters than bikers (be sure to wear bright colors), and considering that it’s remote and requires local knowledge, anyone planning on biking up here has likely been speaking with Phillip.

The ride begins by Homelani Memorial Park on Mauna Hui Road, which is four miles west of Kaunakakai and 300 feet above sea level. The first few miles of climbing are gradual, hot, dusty, and dry; but by the time we reach the forest-reserve boundary, about 2,000 feet in elevation, the road is shaded by eucalyptus and the air is refreshingly cool.

Phillip usually starts riding before dawn as a way of beating the heat, but today we’ve opted for early afternoon so the road can dry out in the sun. To save some time, we take Phillip’s four-wheel-drive truck to the edge of the reserve and unload our bikes for the five-mile climb to Waikolu Valley. At an elevation of 3,600 feet, the overlook offers sweeping views into Waikolu, where waterfalls plunge toward the sea. The valley is cloud-filled on most afternoons, so it pays to start early if you’re hoping for views that look down to the island’s northern coast.

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