[ SUNDAY TRAVEL ]
[IN YOUR BACK YARD]
Molokai ranchKAUNAKAKAI, Molokai >> We discovered the magic of Puu O Hoku Ranch the first night we were there. From our hilltop cottage, we admired a sky strewn with stars and an almost full moon. The light they cast seemed especially bright in the darkness that surrounded us. "Puu O Hoku, Hill of Stars," my companion murmured. "The perfect name for this place."
Puu O Hoku Ranch draws
visitors with its isolated location
and wealth of activities
By Cheryl Chee Tsutsumi
Special to the Star-Bulletin
Indeed, Puu O Hoku is where the hills and stars seem to meet, for there is nothing between them to mar the landscape -- no high-rises, no shopping malls, no clogged freeways. This working cattle ranch meanders over 14,000 lush, tranquil acres at the eastern tip of Molokai, 25 miles and an hour's drive from the island's main town of Kaunakakai.
Our journey from civilization to seclusion was gradual. With each passing mile going east, we noticed there was less traffic and more wilderness until we finally reached a narrow, winding stretch of coastline where the waves rolled right up to the asphalt. From there, the road turned inland and gently ascended 750 feet. We were at the threshold of Puu O Hoku, an oasis of wide-open meadows and fragrant forests that overlooks the azure Pacific.
Like Molokai itself, Puu O Hoku is best-suited for active, adventurous, independent travelers who appreciate a rural, laid-back lifestyle. Put your watch away; you won't need it here. Time is all yours, to spend as you desire at any given moment, not by what the minute and hour hands might say.
Built in the 1930s as a hunters' retreat, Sunrise Cottage, our hideaway for the weekend, was unpretentious, but clean and comfortable. Its most elaborate decorative touch was a lauhala basket filled with seashells and nuggets of coral. Although we had to bring our own food, the kitchen was a pleasant surprise; fully equipped, it provided everything we needed to prepare our meals, from cups and colanders to cutlery and a Krups coffee maker.
We spent most of our time outside, delighted that we could come and go as we pleased without worrying about keys; there are no locks on Sunrise's doors. There was a phone in the cottage, but we never used it. There also was a television, albeit without cable service, meaning no ESPN or HBO, but we didn't mind. We much preferred being in the company of nature, watching the wind flirt with the trees, listening to cheerful birdsong, drinking in the peace and fresh air. During the three blissful days we spent at Puu O Hoku, we felt we were the only people on Earth.
According to manager Jack Spruance, solitude is one of the ranch's major draws.
"Even local people need to 'get away from it all' from time to time," he said. "When you think about it, people who live and work in Honolulu aren't that different from people from New York or Los Angeles. They're in an urban environment, dealing with traffic and crowds and 8-to-5 jobs. Puu O Hoku offers a great escape for city folks -- even those from Hawaii!"
The ranch is the springboard for activities of all kinds. Kayaking, snorkeling, biking, fishing, diving and more can be arranged easily with outfitters on Molokai. In addition, hiking enthusiasts can spend hours exploring private trails that crisscross the property. Detailed maps are distributed at the ranch's office.
Horseback riding is another popular option. Geared to both greenhorns and avid equestrians, Puu O Hoku's six guided rides range from an hour to a full day in length. The longer tours include a continental breakfast, lunch or dinner.
"Some of our rides go along the coast and look across the ocean to Kaanapali Resort in West Maui," Spruance said. "During whale season, from December through April, you can see humpbacks breaching in the water. Riders also can enjoy spectacular views of cliffs, bluffs, green pasture land and waterfalls in Halawa Valley. You've heard that saying, 'It's so beautiful it takes your breath away?' You'll find out what that means when you ride with us."
An organic farm supplements Puu O Hoku's tourism and cattle-raising efforts. "We're committed to growing quality products, including bananas, papayas, corn and lettuce, and particularly see a lot of potential for awa or kava," Spruance said. "The ancient Hawaiians knew about awa's relaxing effects. We sell loose leaves mixed with ginger and lemongrass for tea, and dried awa root powder, which also can be used to make drinks. Also available are dried leaves that can be steeped in hot water and added to a bath for a very soothing soak."
Like the potent awa, Puu O Hoku heals, rejuvenates. Spruance summed it up, "It's private and peaceful here. The land exudes a magnificence and spirituality that makes you automatically speak and move quietly, respectfully. Being at the ranch refreshes your body, mind and soul. It really is the ultimate getaway."
Address: P.O. Box 1889, Kaunakakai, HI 96748
PUU O HOKU RANCH
Call: (808) 558-8109
Fax: (808) 558-8100
Web site: www.puuohoku.com
AccommodationsPayment may be made by cash, personal check or traveler's check; credit cards are not accepted. There is a two-night minimum stay. The usual charge of $10 per night for each additional guest is waived for kama'aina.
>> The Lodge: Seven rooms have a private bath with a shower. Two additional baths are shared by four rooms. Guests have access to a spacious main hall with a lava rock fireplace, fully equipped kitchen, large covered lanai, swimming pool, barbecue area, and two acres of lawns and gardens. John F. Kennedy, Jimmy Stewart, John Denver and James Arness are among the luminaries who've stayed here. Cost: $900 per night.
>> Sunrise Cottage: A short walk from the lodge, this 1,120-square-foot retreat offers two bedrooms, two baths, a fully equipped kitchen, living room, dining room and an enclosed shaded lanai. Cost: $100 per night, double; $600 per week.
>> Grove Cottage: Within its 2,100 square feet are four bedrooms, three baths, a fully equipped kitchen, dining room and living room with a stone fireplace. Cost: $175 per night for four guests; $1,000 per week.