A Visit to Hawai‘i’s ‘Golden Cage’ at Kalaupapa


Coastline flanking the Kalaupapa Peninsula.

Three miles, 26 switchbacks, and 1,700 slippery feet later, I emerged from the rainforest at the bottom of the world’s tallest sea cliffs on the north side of Moloka‘i. The 100+ year-old Pali Trail is the only public land-access route to the Kalaupapa Peninsula, a 25-square-mile piece of land completely fenced in by the towering sea cliffs and a roaring Pacific ocean. Its beauty was overwhelming — the kind that punches you in the gut. As I came out of the forest I followed the coast north towards the tip of the peninsula.

My arrival at the isolated Kalaupapa was the icing on the cake of an already tourist-free visit to Moloka‘i. From the very beginning, the island has resisted tourism, and it doesn’t take long to pick up on that vibe. Look no further than the “No Cruise Ship” signs that grace front yards, or the island’s “Kingdom of Hawai‘i II” meetings, where some locals discuss plans for a return to a sovereign nation. Further proof is in the numbers: In 2013, for example, more than 5 million people visited Oahu, and only 55,000 boarded the short connecting flight over to Moloka‘i.

Moloka‘i is described by locals as “the real Hawai‘i” or “old-school Hawai‘i,” not only for its lack of tourism, but also because the island is a birthplace of Hawaiian civilization. The western Halawa Valley was an original point of settlement in the Hawaiian Islands, and despite its beauty, Kalaupapa played its own significant, dreary role in Hawaiian history, one that saw 8,000 people die in forced isolation over the course of almost 100 years.

The Kalaupapa Peninsula Leper Colony was originally established to prevent the highly contagious disease from becoming an epidemic and spreading throughout the islands. In 1865, King Kamehameha V and the Hawai‘i  Board of Health created the colony at Kalaupapa when they signed the Act to Prevent the Spread of Leprosy. It ordered all infected to be quarantined off from society, saying that its purpose was “to secure the isolation and seclusion of such leprous persons [who], as in the opinion of the Board of Health or its agents, may, by being at large, cause the spread of leprosy.” They chose Kalaupapa for obvious reasons: It’s a remote peninsula, encaged by the world’s tallest sea cliffs, on the lightly-populated island of Moloka‘i.


Beginning with 12 “patients” upon the law’s official enactment in 1866, thousands of people, many misdiagnosed, would be forced into exile at Kalaupapa in the years to follow. Here, their new life began as part of a commune of their “own kind.” The odds of survival were not good, and most suffered from deformities, upper respiratory problems, and nerve damage. Small amounts of dignity were afforded to the patients thanks to the work of figures like Father Damien de Veuster — who was officially canonized by the Catholic Church a few years ago in 2009 — in the form of treatment, comfort, and community. He built churches, homes, and inspired hope before succumbing to the disease himself.

Kalaupapa’s doors would remain open for the next 80 years. Things changed in the 1940s, coincidentally between the time of the Pearl Harbor attacks and when Hawai‘i  became a state in 1959. Forced isolation officially came to an end in 1949 thanks to the discovery of a cure for leprosy and a changing public perception toward those infected with the disease. Support for the latter was built over time through the efforts of many, including celebrities such as Shirley Temple and John Wayne, who visited Kalaupapa to spread awareness.

Interestingly enough, although the patients were made free to leave in 1959, many decided to stay. My first thought was, “well, I can see why.”  I felt the slightest hint of romanticism creep in. Looking at my surroundings, I heard a voice in my mind’s eye: What a privilege it must have been to call this place home.


Later, I learned that this was a shallow thought. Of course, it was not a privilege, and a lot of suffering took place, its impacts disseminated through nearly 100 years of angst, torment and rejection. More to the point was the fact that Kalaupapa had become a place for these so-called social refugees to call home, a place where they felt accepted, welcomed and understood.

When the Kingdom announced the end of forced isolation, they included a rule: once a patient left the colony, they could not return. Stories told today at Kalaupapa reveal that many patients who decided to leave regretted it after only a few months. Once outside the Kalaupapa community, they were greeted in the “real world” by a public that, despite the efforts of many, was still wary of being too close to someone with leprosy.

About a half dozen patients still live at Kalaupapa (13 in total are still living). The community dwellings are plantation-style homes that sit in the shadow of majestic, breathtaking scenery, frozen in time, complete with decaying old vehicles and a school bus that doubles as a tour bus. I was at the colony only a half day, but it doesn’t take more than a few minutes to be overwhelmed by the charm and beauty of Kalaupapa. It’s a golden cage in a sense, maybe the prettiest prison you’ll ever see.

After the tour, I walked east along the beach. Looking up at the cliffs, I thought a lot about a number that was thrown out by the guide as we parted ways: 51,000.  It’s the number of people that visit Kalaupapa each year. I wondered what that looked like when compared to, say, Pearl Harbor on O‘ahu. There were 40 people on my tour. But how many paid their respects to the USS Arizona Memorial that same day? When I got back to my room that night, I checked. In 2013, Pearl Harbor Memorial had 1,786,024 visitors.


The cold-hard fact is that history lessons for tourists in Hawai‘i typically start and end with Pearl Harbor. It’s understandable given the magnitude and implications of the event. It officially invited the United States into World War II and affected the lives of millions of American mainlanders. And it is certainly a part of Hawaiian history. The attacks undoubtedly impacted the local Hawaiians.

But after experiencing Moloka‘i and learning more about its role in Hawai‘i’s history as a kingdom, its low number of visitors really began to develop significance for me. Has US history in Hawai‘i completely overshadowed Hawai‘i’s story as a once-sovereign nation? The details of December 7th, 1941, are a no-brainer for most of us, yet how many mainlanders realize that Hawai‘i wasn’t even a state during the 1941 attacks by the Japanese?

History is odd like that: There I was, coming down the mountain like a kid at a playground, happy to finally be in the “real Hawai‘i,” and all of a sudden I realized that I’d arrived at a leper colony — one where a lot of people suffered and some still lived — and that it was being severely overlooked by the modern world.

Many people are quick to point out that the fault of visitors knowing next to nothing about Kalaupapa’s history falls in the lap of Moloka‘i and its resistance to tourism. Encourage people to come and see it, they say, and it will get the exposure it deserves.

My two cents is that Kalaupapa welcomes all who arrive, and it’s not Moloka‘i’s job to bus in tourists and shove its history down their throats. That quest is what separates travelers from vacationers, what distinguishes a trek for truth from a day of distraction.

Stepping onto the trail, I started my climb back up the Pali Trail. When I got to the top an hour later, I felt like I had the map to a hidden treasure in hand.

I pass it on to you, hoping you’ll follow, and then do the same.


Kalaupapa Peninsula

An Accidental, Illegal Hike to Hot Lava

As soon as I reached the end of the five-mile hike and approached the moon-like terrain of the volcano, the smell hit me in the face: a burning, smoky scent reminiscent of a smoldering charcoal grill. I looked out over the dark surface, the rising heat creating a blurry visual effect when I looked close enough. But there was no sign of any lava.

As we left the tree line and officially stepped onto the surface of the Kahaualea Reserve, our guide explained that we were standing on day-old rock, formed by small eruptions of lava that harden when they hit the air. Under us, he explained, the Pahoehoe lava flowed at nearly 2,000 degrees. With what I thought to be an obvious question in mind, I tapped him on the shoulder. If there’s lava flowing through these fields right underneath us, should I be worried about, you know, falling through and losing half my leg?

He laughed. “Lava will never sneak up on you,” he said. “If it’s openly flowing, you will burn the hair off your legs and eyebrows before you ever get close enough to step in it.”That didn’t make me feel better. He put his arm on the back of my neck and pulled me onward. Under us, I could hear the crunching of the hardened lava, or “volcanic glass,” named for its brittle texture that chips away as you walk on it, breaking off in shards sharp enough to cut up your hands, which is why I suited up with gloves, long pants and closed-toed shoes. Volcanic glass is the geological equivalent of meringue — it has a crispy exterior, but an airy constitution overall.

Hawaii-Lava-Hike1I always thought staring into a campfire was the most memorizing thing in the world. That changed when we came around the corner and I finally saw it. Lava oozed from the earth, red and black and blob-like, jelly bursting from a stale donut. It didn’t so much flow as it did crawl. It was alive, like a snake that was constantly shedding its skin, the hot red ember moving down, leaving a trail of hardened black “earth” in its wake.

I could feel the heat intensely now, especially on sensitive parts of my body, like my eyebrows. So when my guide handed me a four-foot long stick and nudged me towards the flow, I was skeptical. I came to within five feet before having to cover my face with my arm. Reaching out with the stick in one hand and leaning away with my head and shoulders, I poked the stick into the lava. It was then that I learned how thick and intimidating lava really is, the texture much closer to mud than water.

Retreating from the heat of the field, I could feel the shards of volcanic glass lodged in my sock and irritating my skin. Aside from the killer happy-hour story that comes along with the experience, what makes seeing the lava so intriguing is its sheer intimidation and stature, the fact that it seems like it’s from some other planet.

There’s also something to its significance and role in ancient history. As I watched it cool and harden, I felt like I was getting glimpse into the construction of the planet as we know it.

Unfortunately, the high I was feeling would not last through the evening. Upon returning home and relaying the story of my adventure, a friend pointed out that he was surprised I was able to enter the Kahaualea Reserve, that he thought it was closed by the DLNR due to the volcanic hazards. Over the course of the next few days, I would learn, via the news, that the tour company had indeed broken the law. They were being accused and fined by the government for accessing the closed area. Apparently, my group was not the first, nor the last. Pele would not be proud.


Even though my involvement was indirect, I was disappointed to be associated with it, to have my memory tainted. It shows a complete lack of respect for the land, not to mention the safety of the group. It put a stain on what had otherwise been an incredible experience.

I’m left today with torn feelings. The good is a changed perspective, one where I can imagine the first eruptions that formed the ground on which I’m walking. I’m reminded that the lava’s still flowing, and the Earth is still changing.

The bad part is that now, every time I hear about the lava flow, I think of my time up there, and the irony that the experience really was too good to be true.

From the Beer Blog to the Bottle Shop in Kaka‘ako

‘Beer in Hawai‘i’ Founder Tim Golden became Hawai‘i’s beer expert in 2013, when O‘ahu’s craft beer scene was in its infancy. In the wake of a major industry rebound, he co-opened the island’s first bottle shop and tasting room combo in 2016.


Village Bottle Shop Owners Tim Golden, left, and Daryn Ogino.

There’s an old German song in which the singer laments that he cannot marry his sweetheart because she wants to honeymoon in Hawai‘i, where there’s no beer.

The song, titled “There is No Beer in Hawai‘i,” was written more than fifty years ago in 1963. Here in 2016, things are substantially better. Hawai‘i Island’s Kona Brewery and Maui’s Maui Brewing Company are distributed nationally, and O‘ahu is closing in on ten craft breweries.

Which makes it hard to believe that just a few years ago in 2013, exactly fifty years after it was written, that song was once again kinda-sorta true – at least on O‘ahu.

Craft Beer Comes and Goes 

On August 22, 2013, Village Bottle Shop & Tasting Room Co-Owner Tim Golden responded to a comment on his blog, Beer in Hawai‘i. The question pertained to whether or not there were any locally-owned craft breweries selling kegs.

“Right now on O‘ahu,” Golden wrote, “We don’t have any functioning breweries.”

villagebottleshopIf you’re like me, a casual beer drinker, that answer may have surprised you. But it’s true. Though craft beer had reared its head several times before on O‘ahu – going all the way back to Ali‘i brewing in 1993, for example – 2013 was a dark age of sorts, a transitional time when one wave of brewers was giving way to another.

The lull came after an active period between 2005-12 in which several craft breweries opened and closed, their demise attributed to a variety of factors, some combination of lacking quality and community disinterest.

What’s more perplexing about O‘ahu’s craft beer bust of 2013 is that the local beer scenes on other islands – namely Hawai‘i Island and Maui – had been on their feet for nearly two decades despite smaller populations.

“Hawai‘i is very unique in that there’s 150 miles and an ocean separating Kona from Honolulu, and you can’t drive like you can between San Francisco and L.A.,” Golden said. “For a long time, none of the love for craft beer was spilling over to O‘ahu.”

Beer Blog Begins 

After growing up on O‘ahu and graduating from Waialua High School and University of Hawai‘i, Golden spent several years living in Los Angeles. When he returned to the island in October of 2012, he took notice of the floundering beer scene, but also made another realization: There was no centralized source of information for beer on the island.

This realization – no doubt a contributing factor to the aforementioned lack of community interest – inspired Golden to start a blog, which he simply named Beer in Hawai‘i.

“I wanted the information, and no one else was doing it,” a humble Golden said of the blog’s beginnings. A look at the earliest entries confirms this intent. Most are updates about what stores are carrying what beers.

But his friend and now business partner, Village Bottle Shop Co-Owner Daryn Ogino, paints a much more influential picture, one where Golden became the point man for an industry lacking a true spokesman.

“People weren’t talking too much about craft beer in 2012. The scene just wasn’t there yet,” said Ogino. “But then Tim started his blog.”

Locals and visitors began to find Golden’s blog online, as did the local media. Before long, Golden became Hawai‘i’s go-to beer expert, and was contracted for beer columns by the Star-Advertiser and Honolulu Magazine.


To-go selection, organized by style, at Village Bottle Shop & Tasting Room.

Craft Beer Battles Back

Regardless of where you want to dish credit –  some to Golden, some to the hard work of local brewers, some to the Hawaiian Gods and Goddesses – craft beer began its present-day resurgence in late 2013.

“The timing was finally right,” Golden said. “The public was more aware, they had gotten a taste [a few years earlier]. The dynamics and demographics of the island had changed. Places like Whole Foods were beginning to sell craft beer from the mainland.”

“It’s like a hurricane,” Golden said of the many contributing factors. “You can’t just have warm water. You need wind and open ocean and hot air.”

Today, O‘ahu is approaching ten craft breweries that range from full-on brewpubs like Honolulu Beer Works in Kaka‘ako to small, garage-door style operations like Stewbum & Stonewall in Kaneohe and Lanikai Brewing Company in Kailua. Home of the Brave Brewing, a “brewseum,” pairs beer with WWII history.

The Power of Suggestion

Golden said the main purpose of the blog, both now and in the past, is to give people options and harness what he calls the “power of suggestion.”

“It’s about what makes you happy,” Golden said. “Beer shouldn’t be polarized.”


Selection of beers at Village Bottle Shop.

The concept for Village Bottle Shop & Tasting Room, opened August 11th in SALT at Our Kaka‘ako, is much the same. In addition to the selection of 500 to-go bottles, the shop has 16 beers on tap. The vision is for customers to try beers on tap and then peruse the fridge for similar ones to take home.

“When customers come in, I want to introduce them to new beers,” said Golden. “Sort of, ‘Well, if you like this, I think you’re going to like this, too.’”

In this way, Golden has a lot of things going for him. His “power of suggestion” theory lends him an open mind, so you can expect genuine, unbiased recommendations.

He’s also got the expertise to back them up. He’s been a homebrewer for a long time, and one year ago, he became a certified cicerone – the beer industry’s equivalent of a wine sommelier.

Golden’s dedication to creating stability and community for an industry that has been historically tepid here on O‘ahu is inspiring. When you meet him at the bottle shop, it’s clear that his stake goes beyond making a living. His mission is admirable: To brew up beer lovers that will support local breweries.

“I stock beers I know will be tough to sell,” Golden said. “Because I want to introduce people to new beer and the only way to do that is to carry creative beers you can’t find anywhere else.”