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The Honolulu Advertiser

Updated at 4:21 p.m., Sunday, September 30, 2007

Go 'holoholo' around Molokai on new agricultural tour

The Maui News

There's a new agricultural tour on Moloka'i that's kicking up its heels — with everything from mule-driven wagon rides that take you to the top of Sweet Potato Hill for a panoramic lunch in a country pavilion to an oceanfront blast from the past with a historical perspective on the island's ancient fishponds.

The best part about it is, you may participate in the excursion as a day trip from Maui, or your may choose to stay longer as a free and independent traveler and immerse yourself into other aspects of the Friendly Isle, The Maui News reported.

If you hop aboard the Molokai Princess, the noncontroversial interisland ferry, your day will start early with a 7:15 a.m departure out of Lahaina Harbor with a one-and-a-half-hour ride plying the Pailolo Channel to Kaunakakai.

Or you may opt to puddle jump in a commuter plane from Kahului Airport to Ho'olehua. Either way, you'll be met by your tour guide, Rochelle "Kim" Tempo, owner of Ohana Concierge & Tours, who will graciously greet you with a lei, a hug and warm words that make the visit to Moloka'i so welcoming.

Once you gather your belongings, Kim will then escort you to her cool, air-conditioned rig and you're off to your first stop at Rawlins Chevron Station in the island's capital to pick up anything you may want to buy to make the six-hour tour more comfortable.

"Rawlins is our answer to Minit Stop, 7-11 and Wal-Mart all rolled into one," says Kim. "It has just about everything. TVs, cappuccinos, diapers, CDs and, of course, gas."

You see that everybody knows and/or is related to everybody else. It's a small-town groove. There are no red lights, and bumper stickers read, "Slow down, this is Molokai." The encroachingly urban Maui seems an ocean away.

"Over here, mass transit is anyone who owns a truck," she jokes, as we drive through town, giving shakas and the local-style chins-up along the way. "KFC disappeared and now Subway popped up, but not much has changed since your last visit a few years ago."

Little change, except for the ubiquitous La'au signs that appear in yards and on telephone poles everywhere you look. Some are for, but most are against the proposed development. Moloka'i may be small, but the people are outspoken when it comes to their island.

The van then heads a short jaunt east along the ocean in the direction of Halawa Valley to our first destination on the tour: One Ali'i Fishpond, one of 70 documented on Moloka'i.

"It has been a dream to see the fishponds working again, and to see them used by the Hawaiian people," Kim tells us before she introduces us to the caretaker, famous fishermen Mervin Dudoit, who happens to be her dad.

"I'll let my dad give you the spiel, because he knows so much more about this place than I do," she beams at him with admiration and respect. "He almost lives here."

Mervin, casual in no shirt and fashionable swim trunks, agrees. "I'm here five days a week," he says. "We started working on this three years ago. The pond is over 26-and-a-half acres and 10 acres are covered in mangroves."

With the help of kids from off-island schools such as Kamehameha and Punahou and others, Mervin has already taken out 150 truckloads of the mangrove wood.

"A lot of people in the community bring along their chain saws and help us out. The story is, we're trying to get it back to the way Hawaiians had it before."

Of interest is the fact all of the rocks shoring up the pond come from the north side of the island. One Ali'i is south side. Mountains are in the middle, so this was no small feat.

"The island had 250,000 people at one time," he says. "There are 70 fishponds documented, but there are over 100 on island. The biggest one is Ku'apa or 'dug-out' fishpond. Most of the old ones are near taro patches. The Hawaiians would boil the taro, and the peel was thrown into the pond to feed the fish."

Speaking of fish, One Ali'i boasts mullet, weke or goatfish, shrimp, awa, edible seaweed and even plump Samoan crab.

"We're trying to restock the pond and we'll give the fish to our kupuna (elders) when it's time," says Mervin. "Our goal is to eventually sell the fish and put the money back into the program. It's important to teach the kids about our culture. And another thing we're doing is releasing some fish back into the reef. We tag 'em and release to let them replenish the ocean."

The fish initially swim into the pond because of the brackish water. They like to feed on the 'ele'ele seaweed. They come in through the makaha or opening in the rocks. There are two gates and they get trapped between them, when the tide comes in at night.

Kim sums it up: "My dad's goal here is to pass all of this on to the next generation."

Then it's time to head to the next destination, Molokai Plumerias. Kim keeps the tour going at a nice clip, staying at each of the stops from half an hour to 45 minutes.

"Except that we're on Moloka'i time. It's much slower than Hawaiian time." Kim certainly knows the difference as she grew up a Maui girl and only moved to Moloka'i 15 years ago. In fact, we even have a connection. She and my nephews went to Makawao Elementary School together.

"Back in the Hana buttah daaaays," she drawls. "I knew them because they played baseball and soccer with my brother."

We head back through Kaunakakai town and Kim expounds about many other things besides what's on the tour.

"There's going to be a new hamburger drive- through in 2008," she says. Then we head toward Kapuaiwa, the nickname of King Kamehameha V and the second oldest coconut grove in Hawaii. There are over 1,000 fully loaded trees here and natural springs flow in lava tubes underneath. Mullet swim up and you can catch them. "But it's really dangerous to go underneath the trees as the coconuts go 125 miles per hour and they weigh five to eight pounds each," says Kim. "Oops, I was talking story and passed the plumeria farm. I call it the 'Portagee syndrome.' I talk with my hands and my brain shuts off."

We turn around and then pull into the 10-acre Molokai Plumerias, owned and operated by Dick and Aomi Wheeler. It's the largest supplier of plumerias in the state, located in Kalamaula, just west of Kaunakakai. A beekeeper in his former life, Dick is the consummate host as he leads us around his fragrant farm.

Stomachs start growling and we all agree it's time to drive to Coffees of Hawaii, for the wagon ride, lunch and espresso tour. The 327 acres may be seen from a distance, easily recognized by the Cook Island pines and wiliwili windbreakers protecting the crops.

A pair of mules pull you to Sweet Potato Hill. Its Hawaiian name is Kualapu'u, and you enjoy your box lunch on the back side facing the shiny reservoir. The set menu includes chicken, veggie or salmon sandwiches on ciabatta roll with sweet potato chips and soft drinks. You must try the chocolate-covered coffee beans, and the retail store is chock full of hand-packed and hand-labeled coffees such as Muleskinner and Island Princess, perfect to take home as gifts.

The last stop is Beachboy Hydroponic Farms, owned by Janie and Kealoha Peltier. The main crop is lettuce, and they also grow garlic, chives, tomatoes and bananas. But the adobe house they are building and the school bus they lived in are eccentric to the max. The tour was over yet we chose to stay. We watched Auntie Beebop do her tiny bubbles routine at Hotel Molokai and Larry Helm dance to "Super Freak" on his birthday. All of these things made for a super fun excursion. Moloka'i is mo' bettah.

For more Maui news, visit The Maui News.