Breaking Down in Molokai

Life’s not an adventure without an element of risk, and our trip through Kamakou Preserve in Molokai was risky.

“Oh no, you can’t drive up there. Needs to be dry for at least three days,” the tourist officer told us, noting the heavy rain that had fallen the previous day and the canceled tour bus that most people take to get there. “And there’s not going to be anyone up there if you get stuck.” We wanted to drive up to Molokai’s highest point on our final day there, considering we already had the required 4-wheel drive.

“We should go and see how far we get before it gets too muddy,” Bryan urged. Let it be noted that Bryan does not drive.

After getting turned around twice trying to find the right unmarked road — Molokai is not like any of the other Hawaiian islands that are set up for tourists — we were on our way.

With zero 4-wheel driving experience, I white-knuckled the almost two-hour drive into the forest preserve and up the mountain (it’s supposed to only take an hour), not before signing the visitor list at the entrance. With the absence of people, phones, or cell service in the forest, authorities can at least narrow down their search for you if you’ve gone missing and you’ve signed in but haven’t signed out.

As we drove, it seemed that every few minutes the landscape and the climate changed. It went from desert to rainforest, from scrub trees to eucalyptus, and from dry mud to wet mud. (Check out our Kamakou video to get a good sense of the roads and the whole adventure.)

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The carved road through the preserve is lined by dirt walls and tree roots

A very bumpy ride, we took it slow while my heart was beating out of control, because not only was I worried of getting stuck there, my eye was on the little red light on the dashboard.

“I think it’s going to overheat,” I said, going over all the worst-case scenarios in my mind. “Can you look in the glove box to see if there’s a manual for this thing?” I didn’t know if I should have been switching the gears at some point or if there was some other precaution I needed to take.

We started to slow down. The engine died. We rolled to a stop. I said, “Oh God,” about 35 times. I immediately thought of the snacks and water that we had and that we’d be fine if we had to stay there for the night, but I didn’t really want to.

I popped the hood and had a look. There was coolant, though not much, and the engine was indeed very hot. We decided to leave the jeep to cool off while we hiked further up the road, hoping that it would start again when we returned.

The forest is beautiful. Kamakou Preserve covers a total of 2,774 acres with over 200 native plant species and is known as wao akua, or “realm of the gods.” It’s easy to see why. It’s a blanket of green in curtains of clouds with the wind and the birds and the fragrant air to remind you it’s not all just a painting.

A half hour into hiking, we realized we were still pretty far from our destination, so we headed back to the jeep. With a deep breath and a prayer, I turned the ignition and heard a sound that was even more pleasing than the birdsong echoing through the trees. We decided to take a chance and continue up the mountain, figuring it couldn’t be much further. Then we came upon a rather large puddle that covered the width of the road.

This is the puddle that Bryan wanted me to “jump.” Would you have gone through it?

“Jump it!” Bryan said.

“Nope.” I said, calmly, turning off the road to park. You can convince me to do some things I’m not super comfortable with, but I know a stupid idea when I hear one. “We’re walking from here.”

So back onto foot we went, and it wasn’t much further, thankfully. We soon came upon a large manicured picnic area and Waikolu lookout. This is what we came for.

With Kauai, Molokai was used as a main filming site for the first three Jurassic Park films. Since Molokai has the largest sea cliffs in the world, and is the least visited of the public Hawaiian islands, particularly because of how challenging it can be to get around, it feels foreign and prehistoric. This particular shot was where the intro to Jurassic Park III was filmed, though the cliffs, hillsides, and waterfalls will look familiar to those who know the films.

We were completely alone, with the more sensible tourists having heeded the officer’s warnings. It’s times like those that I’m thankful for someone like Bryan who can throw caution to the wind, because look at the reward it can get you.

You can do an easy but apparently beautiful 3-mile hike in the Preserve, but after everything we’d been through, we weren’t up for it. Soon the clouds rolled in over the cliffs and we knew we had taken all the chances there were to give. We headed back to the car and eased our way down the bumpy road out of the past and back into civilization. If you haven’t put this on your Bucket List, we highly suggest you add it. But if you don’t have a lot of experience with off-roading, maybe take the bus instead.

Anticipating the dangerous consequences of what lay ahead, this video begins with an impression from the Blair Witch Project (just in case you wondered what that was about). Here’s the full video:

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