Nancy D. Brown gives the thumbs up sign while riding a mule in Molokai.
Kalaupapa Rare Adventure Mule Ride, Molokai, Hawaii
I’d seen the bumper sticker, “Wouldn’t You Rather Be Riding a Mule in Molokai?” I’d yet to ride a mule and I hadn’t been to Molokai. On a recent trip to Molokai, Hawaii, I was able to cross these two items off my “must do” travel list. Whether you are a history buff curious to learn about Kalaupapa and Father Damien’s work with the leprosy patients (Hansen’s Disease) or you are an adventure traveler, you must experience the Molokai Mule Ride.
Horseback riding in Molokai
While there are horses and paniolos in Molokai, horseback riding isn’t available to the public. You’ll need to be on island in November for the Molokai Stampede to get your horse fix. Instead, climb aboard a sure-footed mule and ride down the highest sea cliffs in the world. At 1,600 feet, you’ll descend 26 switchbacks to the Kalaupapa valley floor.
Unfamiliar with mules? The mule is the offspring of a horse and a donkey. I’d compare the difference between riding a mule and a horse like a type of car. Horses offer two-wheel drive, while mules are able to shift easily into 4-wheel drive. Mules watch every step they take and are very deliberate movers.
“Let’s face it, the mule is a funny looking critter,” said Burl Brooks, owner at Brooks Gaited Horse Training. “He doesn’t look like a horse, hell he doesn’t even SOUND like a horse. He acts differently to certain stimuli, and he can be a lot harder to train if you don’t understand him. Does that make him stubborn? No. Does that mean you can’t trust him? HELL no. Does that mean they aren’t as “good” as a horse? You can bet your ass it doesn’t.”
The author headed down to Kalaupapa.
I have owned several Quarter horses in my youth and I can tell you without hesitation that I would rather be riding a mule in Molokai! The mule’s heart beats 4 times faster than a horse and therefore recovers quicker. They also have calm personalities similar to some of the laid back Hawaiian locals.
Most mule riders have little or no horseback riding experience and sit on the mule like a sack of potatoes. The mules go into autopilot for the 3.2 mile ride down Kalaupapa. At the valley floor they are rewarded with 50 pounds of alfalfa cubes for lunch while riders are transported in an old yellow school bus for a guided tour of the former leper colony and a picnic lunch (included in the price) by Kalawao’s north side of Molokai.
We were fortunate to have a local Hawaiian narrate our Kalaupapa tour. He pointed out highlights such as the St. Francis Church, Father Damien’s and Mother Marianne Cope’s tomestones, a quaint lighthouse and the 8,000+ graves of former residents of Kalaupapa. Be sure to bring your camera because the stop for lunch at Kalawo on the north side of the island is breath-taking.
Need to know
Wear long pants and closed-toe shoes for the Molokai Mule Ride. Bring sunscreen, a hat and a small backpack for your water bottle and a couple of power bars if you enjoy healthy snacks during your travels. There is a stop at a small store for ice cream bars or cold drinks (small bills only) and a stop at the bookstore inside the national historical park if you want to purchase a souvenir or postcard stamped with the Kalaupapa designation.
This is an all day activity; plan accordingly. Advance reservations of at least two weeks are recommended. The price of the mule ride and Kalaupapa tour is $199 (check the website for current pricing.) Don’t forget to tip your guide. These folks work hard all day and treat these mules well.
Say hello to Elvira. At 28 years of age, she is the senior citizen of the mule string, but always takes the lead! For additional insider tips follow Luxury Travel Writer Nancy D. Brown on Twitter @nancydbrown.
If You Go:
Mule Ride (808) 567-6088
Kalae Hwy, Kalaupapa, Hawaii 96757
Article, photos and video by Equine Writer Nancy D. Brown. Photos of author by Wendy Harvey. I was a guest of Molokai Visitors Association. All opinions are my own.