“The glimpses of Molokai which one obtains from a steamer’s deck while passing to Honolulu from San Francisco or in passing to and from Maui (along its south shore,) give the impression that the island is bleak, mountainous and desolate.”
“Skirting its (north) shores on the Hālawa, Wailua and Pelekunu sides on Wilder’s fine steamer Likelike, gives a far different picture. For miles sheer precipices rise from the sea and tower 1,500 feet into the air.”
“Now and then, and sometimes in groups, beautiful waterfalls are seen on the face of the cliff, now falling in clear view for a couple of hundred feet, now hidden under denses masses of foliage, only to reappear further down, another silvery link in the watery thread which ends In a splash and scintillating mist in the breakers below.” (Hawaiian Gazette, March 31, 1905)
“Early the next morning, with a pleasant breeze from the NE, we stood over towards the east point of Mororoi (Molokai.) … we sailed to the westward … In this the land rises rather abruptly from the sea, towards the lofty mountains in the center of the east part of Morotoi …”
“… and though the acclivity was great, yet the face of the country, diversified by eminences and vallies, bore a verdant and fertile appearance. It seemed to be well inhabited, in a high state of cultivation, and presented not only a rich but a romantic prospect.” (Captain George Vancouver, March 19, 1793)
The windward valleys developed into areas of intensive irrigated taro cultivation and seasonal migrations took place to stock up on fish and precious salt for the rest of the year. Kalaupapa was well known for its bountiful ʻuala (sweet potato) crops and its fine-grained, white salt which was preferred over that from the salt ponds of Kawela and Kaunakakai. (Strazar)
The large windward valleys – Pelekunu, Wailau and Halawa – and Papalaua, along with all of Kalaupapa comprise the old Hawaiian Koʻolau Moku (district) of Molokai.
Wailau Valley (“many waters” – the largest along the coast) on Molokai’s North Shore has some interesting history.
The sea cliffs that surround Wailau on the island’s north shore were formed by the ‘Wailau Slide,’ in which a portion of the volcano collapsed into the ocean, leaving a swath of debris strewn across the ocean floor.
The sea cliffs represent the scar left by the collapse and Wailau and the other windward valleys were cut into the scar after the slide.
The Kalaupapa Peninsula, in north central Molokai, was formed later by volcanic rejuvenation.
Molokai’s North Shore Cliffs were designated a National Natural Landmark in December 1972. The Landmark includes 27,100 acres located along 17 miles of the northeast coast between Hālawa and Kalaupapa.
Four major valleys span the coastline, from Hālawa (at the east end of the island of Molokai) westward toward Kalaupapa: from east to west they are Pāpalaua, Wailau, Pelekunu and Waikolu.
This area is accessible by boat and trails into the valleys; there are no roads through North Shore Molokai.
Wailau is made up of a smaller broad valley on the east and a deeper valley on the west, with two major streams flowing down through them – Kahawai‘iki Stream and Wailau Stream.
The Wailau stream, which runs the entire length of the valley, is said to have received its name “because it began in many brooks that flowed from the palis on every side.”
Wailau was a major area of taro production from the pre-contact era until the 1930s, when the valley was abandoned due to a combination of factors, including flooding and unfavorable economic conditions.
A series of intact lo‘i, or taro terraces, forms an agricultural system distributed across almost the entire valley.
There are extensive terraces in the seaward lowlands and back in the lower valleys of streams. Approximately 80 acres were planted in taro. The banks of the numerous taro patches in the lowlands can still be seen from the air.
They say Wailau also has high terracing of valley sides comparable to that on the Napali coast of Kaua‘i.
The cliffs just beyond Pāpalaua Valley are home to Kahiwa Falls, the longest waterfall in the state (over 1,700-feet.) (Lots of the information and images come from reports by Windy K McElroy.)