hawaii mountains panorama
hawaii panorama

Located high in the mountains of East Molokai, the Kamakou Preserve is a fascinating rainforest. The rich biological ecosystem allows a glimpse into native and rare Hawaiian plants and animals. If you’re in love with nature, then a trip to the Kamakou Preserve will do well for your peace of mind.

What’s better than exploring nature?
What’s better than exploring nature?

The vast rainforest spans over 30,000 acres on Molokai’s highest mountain, Kamakou. Sitting close to the summit, the preserve is home to some of Hawaii’s most unique species.


The Rainforest

Kamakou is part of the East Molokai Watershed, which encompasses several rain-forested mountains, deep valleys, and precipitous sea cliffs. As you can imagine, the rainforest is an important natural habitat for several rare native species. This includes:


What You’ll See: Plants

Over 200 species of native plants are found here, creating a rich and healthy environment for the many animals that depend of the rainforest. Such native plants include:

  • The hapuu, the popular Hawaiian tree fern.
  • The Alani, from the family of citrus fruits.
  • The ohia lehua, an Hawaiian tree of the myrtle family known for its colorful blossoms.
Hawaiian fern varieties
Hawaiian fern varieties


What You’ll See: Animals

Most Kamakou visitors will tell you that one of the highlights of the trail is hearing the Kawawahie and the Olomao sing. These are two Hawaiian birds that are considered endangered species, but can still be observed in the Kamakou rainforest. The Olomao is particularly rare. Others include:

  • The vivid green amakihi.
  • Insects and colorful banded tree snails
  • The short-eared Hawaiian owl, or pueo
The yellow-green amakihi
The yellow-green amakihi


Is Camping Allowed At The Kamakou Preserve?

Camping is allowed at the Waikolu Lookout with a permit issued through the Maui District’s Forestry and Wildlife Office in Wailuku on Maui However, camping is not permitted in the Kamakou Preserve.

In addition, please note that open fires are strictly prohibited.


The Kaunakakai Trail

Nature Conservancy staff and volunteers lead a monthly hike through the preserver. The hikes are normally limited to eight people and held one Saturday each month between March and October.

Their events schedule is available here.  If you’re on a guided tour, then it is likely that they will drive you from Waikolu Lookout to the trailhead (known as Pepeopae Trailhead).  If you are you’re on your own, then you will need to walk from here.

Watch your step!
Watch your step!

Upon arriving, you’ll notice that the boardwalk trail is rather narrow, but meanders for more than a mile through the Preserve. Due to its narrowness, you’ll get close ups with some of Hawaii’s most exotic and unique species as well as see the some of the islands’ wettest areas in the moss-covered rain forest.

In addition to that, you’ll be treated to spectacular views of Molokai’s southern coastline including dramatic valleys, towering waterfalls, and rugged, contrasting landscapes.

Coming up on the end of the trail, you’ll find the Pelekunu Valley Overlook. Here, you can enjoy stunning view of the cliffs above the Pelekunu River that flows into the beautiful blue ocean.


How to prepare for the Kaunakakai Trail

Since you’ll be hiking through a rainforest, you can expect moist and wet areas. As such, ensure that you dress appropriately:

  1. Wear covered shoes with adequate traction
  2. Wear long pants that can withstand a wet environment


Exploring The Kamakou Preserve Alone

You should only attempt to drive to Waikolu in fair, dry weather as during the rainy season, the roads become impassable. In fact, do not attempt the drive unless you are proficient at managing vehicles in difficult terrain. In generally, it is simply not recommended that you explore the preserve alone.

However, if you are determined to go it alone, The Nature Conservancy requires that you check in at the office and get directions first. The office is located at Molokai Industrial Park, just about 3 miles west of Kaunakakai.


How to get There | Directions

From Kaunakakai take Highway 460 west until you come up on the Homelani Cemetery sign, just before Mile Marker 4.

1          At the marker, turn right and then follow the dirt road.

2          Please note that a 4-wheel-drive is required for this stretch.

3          Along the road, you will reach the beautiful, 3,700 foot Waikolu Lookout. Once youre at the lookout, you’ll see the valley of Kamakou.


Official location: Kamakou Forest Preserve Rd, Kaunakakai HI 96748


Molokai’s Water Source

At the very heart of Kamakou, youll find the origin of Molokai’s main water source that continuously delivers fresh water to the main reservoir. No wonder life thrives here.


More Information

For more information on visiting this preserve, their event schedule, etc. contact the Molokai field office at (808) 553-5236

Look far and wide!
Look far and wide!


The meandering hikes through the rainforest offers fortunate hikers a glimpse of Mother Nature’s handiwork in its most pure form. Its nature lover’s paradise.