Molokai Cocktail: On This Tiny Island, We Got the Friendliest Unfriendly Greeting Ever

December 1, 2011 | By | 13 Comments

(Update: On December 20, American Safari Cruises announced that the island’s residents had come to an agreement with local groups and that visits to Molokai would resume in late January 2012.)
All I wanted to do was visit laid-back little Molokai, that off-the-grid Hawaiian island that’s well off most visitors’ radars. But instead of leis and alohas at the dock, I was greeted by a mini-mob of local residents telling us to get lost. On the upside, these were the politest and most good-natured protesters I’ve ever encountered. (And as a child of the ’60’s, I know protesters.)

My crime? Arriving by cruise ship — even though my vessel, Safari Explorer, was a tiny little thing carrying only 36 passengers. I was in the middle of a week-long voyage from the Big Island to Maui and was looking forward to seeing Molokai’s lush valleys and cliff-top vistas. When we docked in early November and heard the chants of “Cruise ship go home!” from about a dozen locals, my first reaction was that there must be some mistake. We were, after all, your basic small-footprint, minimal-impact, ultra PC eco-tourists. And we had money to spend!
But the protesters made it clear they did not want cruise ships of any size befouling their harbor. They stalked us at the dock, driving around town — and even during an excursion to a remote valley.
So what’s the problem? According to a report on, opponents are upset that the new-to-the-scene Safari Explorer was allowed to add Molokai to its itinerary without community input, as well as “impacts of the ship on the island’s lifestyle and resources.”
It’s clear that the locals are split on what constitutes reasonable development. Several tour operators and local business owners told me that they do want small cruise ships to visit (i.e., spend money), and they maintained that only a handful of activists are opposed to small ships like the Explorer.
Still, I had to admire the protesters’ dedication. I talked for several minutes with one demonstrator who was walking the picket line alongside five adorable local kids, and tried to convince her that we weren’t the devil (“But we’re not a cruise ship! We’re just a small yacht!”) — but to no avail. She did, however, wave a friendly goodbye to me when I walked back to the ship.
Nice they may be, but the protesters are not giving up. In fact, the situation is escalating. Two weeks after my visit, Safari Explorer, which is owned by American Safari Cruises, had to abandon its planned stop on the island after the protesters took to the harbor waters on surfboards and small boats. The Explorer captain made the call to leave the harbor, and the ship spent that day docked off the coast of nearby Lanai. It was able to return to Molokai the following day without incident.
On Wednesday night, according to Maui Now, more than 200 people attended a meeting; the outcome was iffy, with community leaders expressing optimism that a deal could be worked out and protesters vowing to block the ship again. For his part, American Safari Cruises CEO Dan Blanchard, who attended the meeting, said in a statement that he’ll meet with more Molokai residents “in hopes of a long-term, mutually agreeable resolution.” Until that happens, the Explorer has decided to postpone its Molokai visits for now — starting this weekend.
Whatever the outcome, the ongoing drama offers a fascinating glimpse into daily life on one of Hawaii’s most alluring and mysterious islands. If you’ve been considering a visit, don’t let this conflict put you off. The aloha spirit is still alive and well among the locals — even when they’re yelling at you to go home.
Check out other posts from our When Bad Things Happen to Good Cruisers series, including credit card horror stories, burning cruise ships and foiled honeymoon cruises.
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    13 Responses to “Molokai Cocktail: On This Tiny Island, We Got the Friendliest Unfriendly Greeting Ever”

    1. Sonya Sherow
      December 1st, 2011 @ 4:08 pm

      Good luck to the islanders in their fight to stay off the grid of the real world.

    2. Brian
      December 1st, 2011 @ 5:23 pm

      How else do the islanders hope to make a living? Raising pot? As if that were good for the pristine island environment.

    3. teri
      December 2nd, 2011 @ 2:12 pm

      Aloha KC, mahalo for your report – it is so important that people realize that aloha lives even in our disagreements. It truly is a minority within the community that fear any changes at all. But as you point out, aloha lives within them as well. MaHAlo!

    4. Jim
      December 3rd, 2011 @ 9:06 pm

      Protesting people spending money on their island? What a bunch of idiots! Go to the Caribbean where they appreciate people helping local economy.

    5. KenSanDiego
      December 3rd, 2011 @ 9:09 pm

      Hawaii (including Molokai)is part of the United States and I am a United States citizen. I can go there any time I please. The island does not belong to them. OCCUPY MOLOKAI!

    6. zelindra
      December 3rd, 2011 @ 9:49 pm

      Not every island wants tourists mucking up their home.It’s their right to say no it’s their home. Would you like people invading your town treating you like an exbit at the zoo?Not to mention it raises the cost of living there more people means more resources needed.

    7. Ruth
      December 4th, 2011 @ 4:44 am

      Ken (& KC)– No one is stopping you from going to Molokai. With good reason, many of the islanders do not want you arriving by ever larger cruise ships. Today it’s 40 passengers, in a year the cruise ships will want a pier built to accommodate a Carnival ship. You are free to fly in or paddle your way in via an out-rigger canoe.

      The Hawaiian Islands are a very fragile eco-system and at a small place like Molokai, both the land and the waters around it would suffer with more marine and tourist traffic.

      People who live there have the right to limit development. They recognize the people wanting to land from the Safari Explorer, are not bad people, but just perhaps need to understand their point of view and be aware that the “carrying capacity” of the island has limits. Other places in the world have also limited visitors such as the Galapagos Islands and Antarctica.

      We don’t have to love everyplace to death. As for the Caribbean, too many times the people there have been taken advantage of. Perhaps the Hawaiians look at the current sad state of the crime, pollution (BP spill,trash & ship discharges) and abuse there, and wish to protect their islands from a similar fate.

      I say this after only one wonderful visit there.

      December 8th, 2011 @ 10:07 am

      I agreed 100% with Ruth…I am a native Floridian and the “big rolling Disney machine” set the stage for ruining our state. We used to be able to park near and go to the beach, but because of non-stop hotels, we can no longer do that. We used to be able to drive across the state and see the wonderful little towns and the local sights….now all I see is endless interstates and traffic! The tourists, the traffic, the back-to-back Tee-shirt shops, the strip malls…make it stop!

    9. Pete
      December 24th, 2011 @ 10:48 pm

      I’m glad I saw this article. We were planning a trip to Hawaii next summer. We will avoid it and look into the Caribbean, now.

    10. SenOfMolokai
      April 13th, 2012 @ 7:01 pm

      Aloha everyone. I was born and raised on Molokai. Thoughout the years i have seen the attempts to change the lifestyle of Molokai with no prevail. Molokai is a very fragile place. We see what is happening to the outer islands and agree that that is not we want to happen for us.
      Molokai is a place where everybody knows everybody. I mean we only got 7,000 something people here.
      As a native,i encourge everyone to visit Molokai. But theres a saying amongst the people,\COME, RELAX, AND THEN GO HOME! \KEEP MOLOKAI,MOLOKAI!!.
      Dont be afraid of the people of Molokai, We voice our opinions up and straitforward, but at the end of the day, we will invite to our house for dinner and music. Its something that you will see only on Molokai.

    11. Doug B
      April 18th, 2014 @ 10:27 pm

      I’m so glad to have found this web page. My wife and I are planning a trip in June, and my prerequisite was to leave all the big city life, tourists, and everything associated with them…behind.

      I love the spirit that the people of Molokai exude towards their home, and respect their feelings immensely. People who don’t understand what they’re trying to preserve are likely selfish, self important blowhards who I’d hate to be around. good to know that such people will generally travel to the Caribbean instead, since they can’t get their way on Molokai.

    12. Pamela VP
      July 10th, 2014 @ 6:57 pm

      My husband and I had the honor of visiting Molokai, and staying at a beach home on the East End. What an incredible place. Our hats are off to the people of Molokai for wanting to preserve and protect their island. I agree with SenOfMolokai, Ruth, and Doug B. Molokai and it’s people need to be treated with respect and understanding. There are plenty of other islands where large amounts of tourism is welcomed, better the masses go there. I cannot wait to return to Molokai for all the reasons the people are trying to protect it. Thank you.

    13. Christofer
      September 20th, 2015 @ 8:06 am

      So Pamela,

      You support the locals that protest against visitors coming to the island, but at the same time you and your husband have visited Molokai before, and “cannot wait to return to Molokai…”.

      So only you and your family should be allowed on the island? How did you get there the first time – parasailing?

      In essence, you should be ashamed of yourself!

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