Sparsely populated, with a handful of small towns, Molokai is a last surviving piece of the old rural Hawaii. It is home to a greater proportion of Hawaiian people than any of the main islands, with almost 50 per cent of its population claiming native Hawaiian ancestry. Although the island has long had a reputation for being wary of outsiders, and is trying not to turn into another Hawaiian concrete tourist fun park, anyone who shows some respect and a aloha aina (love of the land) will be welcomed.

Kaunakakai is Molokai’s biggest town, but it has no shopping malls, and no chain stores. What it does have is a look and feel somewhere between a tropical port and an Old West frontier town and an easy, laid-back attitude. Gone are the days when pineapple was loaded from Kaunakakai Wharf but a commercial barge still uses the harbor once a week and there are mooring facilities for smaller boats.

Along the foreshore are some stone foundations, the remains of King Kamehameha V’s vacation palace, built in the 1860s. A 15-minute walk west out of town and you can see the King’s sacred bathing pools and the Kapuaiwa (’mysterious taboo’) Coconut Grove - acres of coconut palms planted for His Majesty. But all in all, the biggest sight in Kaunakaki is a natural one: the fiery red sunset that comes down over the town and the harbor.

Kalaupapa Peninsula is a place of contradictions: it has some of the most strikingly beautiful scenery in the world, mist-shrouded mountains, steep sea cliffs and narrow valleys, rain forests and lava caves; but also a history of disease, exile and death.

The peninsula is a national historical park, with permit restrictions that help protect the natural environment, as well as the 100 or so mostly elderly leprosy sufferers still living on the peninsula. Although the use of antibiotics now prevents the spread of leprosy (known officially as ‘Hansen’s Disease’), the remaining patients consider Kalaupapa Peninsula their home, and have permission to remain in the park for the rest of their lives. The peninsula is accessible only on foot, by mule, or by small plane.

Kamakou Mountain, is Molokai’s highest peak at 4961ft (1490m), is shrouded in clouds and ancient Hawaiian myth. It is said that women used to hike up to the top with the afterbirth of babies and bury it in the belief that this would make their children reach great heights in life. Any trip these days is usually made in a 4WD and even then the progress can be slow.

Maunaloa Molokai Ranch spread over 54,000 acres (21,600 hectares), the Molokai Ranch, a privately owned resort town and working cattle farm, takes up almost a third of the island of Molokai. It offers plenty of outdoor activities such as mountain biking, horseback riding, hiking, shore fishing, ocean kayaking, snorkeling, and surfing. You can stay in the lodge hotel or in individual furnished canvan bungalows or ‘tentalows’, complete with showers, ice chest and ceiling fans.