The community of Maunaloa lies isolated on the western end of the Island of Molokai near the top of a rounded volcanic dome which rises sharply on its eastern face and slopes gradually to the sea on the west over a distance of several miles. On days when clouds do not obscure the view, the Island of Oahu, about thirty miles to the northwest, is clearly visible, and the lights of Honolulu may be seen at night.
The Island of Molokai, 260 square miles in area, is approximately thirty-eight miles long and varies from six to ten miles in width. A volcanic mountain reaching an altitude of 4,970 feet lies at its eastern extremity and forms the largest part of the island. At the western end of the island the volcanic dome of Mauna Loa (not to be confused with the well-known Mauna Loa of the Island of Hawai), from which the community of Maunaloa takes its name, rises at a sharp incline to a maximum eminence of 1,381 feet. Between the eastern mountain and the Mauna Loa dome is a saddle called the Hoolehua plain. The pineapple fields of Molokai are in the red lateritic soils of the lower and westerly slopes of the mountain, on the adjoining Hoolehua plain, and, continuing westward, on the slopes of Mauna Loa.
The population of Molokai totals approximately 7,500 persons, most of whom depend for livelihood directly or indirectly upon the three pineapple plantations on the island. Other industry is limited to the raising of a few thousand head of cattle and small-scale farming. Communities are few and small. Kaunakakai, with a population of approximately 2,700, is the largest town, the economic center, and the only port of the island. Maunaloa, second in size to Kaunakakai, is the only community in western Molokai. Approximately twelve miles from its nearest neighboring settlement, it lies seventeen miles from Kaunakakai.
Undeveloped for lack of water for irrigation, Molokai is known to the outside world chiefly because of its leper colony. On a small peninsula physically isolated from the main body of the island by a 2,000foot cliff, the leper colony of Kalaupapa is also socially isolated. Off the beaten track for tourists, Molokai maintains the flavor of the Hawaii in greater degree than the more populous islands. The pineapple plantations of Molokai, however, are thoroughly modern.
Behind the traveler lie the pineapple fields of two rival plantations and, towering above them, the eastern mountain. Arid on its lower slopes, the mountain presents a scene of increasingly lush, wild vegetation as the eye travels upward to the crown of clouds at its peak. By contrast, the vista which lies ahead on the road to Maunaloa is one of stark, uninviting aridity. On the clifflike eastern boundary of Mauna Loa, the red-brown and yellow of exposed soil, volcanic cinders, and grass apparently lifeless most of the year predominate in the landscape. Here and there at lower altitudes are clumps of dusty kiawe trees. Skirting the edge of the sharp rise, the road takes an easy incline in rocky land containing many shallow rifts and gullies which nurture only wild grasses, kiawe, and a few cattle.
The excellent road quickly brings the traveler into the pineapple fields on the gentle and rolling northwest slopes of Mauna Loa, from which a great expanse of vividly blue ocean and the Island of Oahu or the mass of clouds which mask it are visible to the west. Pineapple fields stretch for miles in every direction, rectangle after rectangle of growing plants bordered by the narrow red bands of field roads, in neat but monotonous geometric regularity. The eye welcomes the relief provided by changes in elevation and the occasional shallow gullies and eroded cuts of an angry red color. At the lower margins of the fields, dry grasses, rocky outcrops, kiawe trees, sand dunes, and occasional volcanic cinder cones create a desolate expanse of several miles until they terminate at the edge of the sea.
Nearing his destination, the traveler catches sight of two sizable white houses on the slope above him. Surrounded by vagrantly green lawns and wind-bowed vegetation, they look neat and substantial. At a lower elevation are many smaller dwellings, visible at first only as a cluster of green-painted galvanized iron roofs amid eucalyptus trees and Norfolk Island pines. The traveler passes the station where pineapples are loaded onto trucks for hauling to the port of Kaunakakai for shipment to the cannery in Honolulu, the mixing plant for insecticides and fertilizers, the service stations, and the shops for repair and maintenance of mechanical equipment. The journey terminates in the unnamed main street of Maunaloa. About one city block in length, it presents an uninspiring view of a few frame buildings, wind-battered trees, and a long expanse of closely trimmed and almost blossomless hibiscus hedges. The paved road comes to an end in the natural red soil of a field road leading into the pineapple fields.