One-and-a-half-million years ago, two large volcanoes emerged and created the island of Molokai, Kamakou in the east and Maunaloa in the west. Somewhat later, a third and much smaller caldera, Kauhako, rose to form the Makanalua peninsula on the north side.
Over eons, the north side of the island eroded and fell into the sea, leaving behind the vertical sea cliffs which today make up most of Molokai’s impressive North Shore.
It’s the fifth largest island in the Hawaiian archipelago; 260 square miles in area, 38 miles long and ten miles wide at its widest point.
Situated in the center of the 8 major Hawaiian Islands, Molokai is 25-miles southeast of Oʻahu, and a 25-minute flight from Maui. From the eastern end of the island, it’s only 8-miles across the Pailolo Channel to Maui.
The oldest known settlement on Molokai occurred in Hālawa Valley, at the eastern end of the island. This side of the island was heavily populated in pre-contact Hawaii, a result of ample water from the mountains, fertile and level land for farming, and a rich and abundant ocean.
In November, 1778, Captain James Cook sighted Molokai on his first visit to the Sandwich Islands (as he named these islands,) but it wasn’t until 1786 when Captain George Dixon anchored off Molokai’s coast, that Europeans first visited this island.
Lot Kapuāiwa, who later became King Kamehameha V, gained the title to land on the western side of the island. He had a summer house and began raising cattle. Title later passed to Princess Ruth Keʻelikōlani and then to Princess Bernice Pauahi Bishop and then (with additional land purchased by Charles R. Bishop) became part of the Bishop Estate.
In 1897, a group of Honolulu businessmen (including Judge Alfred S Hartwell, Alfred W Carter, and AD McClellan) purchased 70,000 acres from the trustees of the Bishop Estate and leased another 30,000 acres from the Hawaiian government. Molokai Ranch was formed. At that time, American Sugar Company began sugar cane production on the lands.
About 10 years later, the land was bought out by Charles M Cooke and under his son, George P Cooke, they raised cattle, planted sweet potato and wheat crops and produced honey. It became the second largest cattle ranch in Hawaiʻi and a major producer of beef.
In the early days, the focus was on raising beef cattle for market, plus horses and mules for use and for sale elsewhere. Over time, other ventures were tried, with varying degrees of success. Some of these included raising sheep for market, honey production, a small dairy, and various grains and row crops.
Between 1923 and 1985, several thousand acres were leased to Libby and Del Monte for pineapple cultivation. During those years, pineapple was an economic mainstay for Molokai.
The Cooke family owned Molokai Ranch for almost 80 years until the late-1980s. It was operated as a family corporation separate, from Castle and Cooke.
More recently, activities related to the visitor industry were tried. However, in May 2008, the Ranch reduced its operations on the island. Today, Molokai Ranch encompasses about 53,000-acres which is roughly one-third of the island.