Geography of Kalawao County, Hawaii

Kalawao County, located on the island of Molokai in the state of Hawaii, is a unique and historically significant region known for its stunning natural beauty, rich cultural heritage, and remarkable history. Despite being the smallest county in Hawaii by land area, Kalawao County holds great importance due to its status as the former site of the Kalaupapa leprosy settlement, now preserved as Kalaupapa National Historical Park. In this comprehensive exploration, we’ll delve into the geography, climate, rivers, coastline, and other notable features of Kalawao County.


According to Listofledlights, Kalawao County covers an area of approximately 53 square miles (137 square kilometers) and is located on the northern coast of the island of Molokai. The county is bordered by the Pacific Ocean to the north and east, and by Maui County to the south and west.

The geography of Kalawao County is characterized by its rugged coastline, lush valleys, and steep sea cliffs. The county is dominated by the towering cliffs of the Kalaupapa Peninsula, which rise sharply from the Pacific Ocean to heights of over 1,600 feet (488 meters) in some places. These cliffs form a natural barrier that isolates the Kalaupapa settlement from the rest of the island, creating a secluded and serene environment.

The county seat of Kalawao County is Kalaupapa, a small community located on the northern shore of the Kalaupapa Peninsula. The settlement is accessible only by sea or by a mule trail that winds down the steep cliffs from the topside of Molokai.


Kalawao County experiences a tropical climate, characterized by warm temperatures, abundant sunshine, and a relatively consistent climate year-round. The region’s climate is influenced by its location in the central Pacific Ocean and its proximity to the equator.

Summers in Kalawao County are warm and humid, with average temperatures ranging from the mid-70s to low 80s Fahrenheit (around 24 to 28 degrees Celsius). Trade winds from the northeast provide relief from the heat and help to keep temperatures comfortable.

Winters in Kalawao County are mild and pleasant, with average temperatures ranging from the low 70s to mid-70s Fahrenheit (around 22 to 24 degrees Celsius). The region receives slightly more rainfall during the winter months, but precipitation is generally light and sporadic.

Overall, Kalawao County enjoys a relatively stable climate throughout the year, making it an ideal destination for outdoor activities and recreation.

Rivers and Streams:

Kalawao County is not known for its rivers or streams, as the region’s rugged terrain and steep cliffs make it difficult for water to flow freely. However, there are several small streams that originate in the valleys and mountains of the Kalaupapa Peninsula and flow down to the coastline.

One notable stream is the Waikolu Stream, which runs through the Waikolu Valley on the northern side of the Kalaupapa Peninsula. The stream is fed by rainfall and mountain runoff and flows down to the coast, where it empties into the Pacific Ocean.

While these streams may not be large or navigable, they play a crucial role in the local ecosystem, providing water for plants, animals, and agricultural activities.


The coastline of Kalawao County is characterized by its dramatic sea cliffs, rugged rock formations, and pristine beaches. The county is home to some of the highest sea cliffs in the world, which rise hundreds of feet above the ocean and provide breathtaking views of the Pacific Ocean and neighboring islands.

One of the most iconic features of the coastline is the Kalaupapa Sea Cliffs, which tower over the northern shore of the Kalaupapa Peninsula. These cliffs are composed of volcanic rock and have been sculpted by wind and waves over millions of years, creating a striking landscape that is both beautiful and formidable.

In addition to the sea cliffs, Kalawao County is home to several secluded beaches and coves, which offer opportunities for swimming, snorkeling, and sunbathing. Some of the most popular beaches include Kalaupapa Beach, Murphy’s Beach, and Papalaua Beach.

The coastline of Kalawao County is also home to a variety of marine life, including sea turtles, dolphins, and colorful coral reefs. Visitors to the area can explore the underwater world through snorkeling and diving excursions, or simply relax and enjoy the natural beauty of the shoreline.

Kalaupapa National Historical Park:

One of the most significant features of Kalawao County is Kalaupapa National Historical Park, which encompasses the historic Kalaupapa leprosy settlement. Established in 1980, the park preserves the cultural and historical significance of the settlement and honors the memory of the thousands of people who were sent there to live out their lives in exile.

The settlement was founded in 1866 as a quarantine colony for individuals with leprosy (Hansen’s disease), who were forcibly removed from their homes and families and sent to live in isolation on the remote peninsula. Over the years, thousands of individuals were banished to Kalaupapa, where they lived in segregated communities and were cared for by Catholic priests and nuns from the nearby Saint Damien and Saint Marianne Cope.

Today, Kalaupapa National Historical Park is a place of reflection and remembrance, where visitors can learn about the history and legacy of the settlement through exhibits, guided tours, and educational programs. The park also offers opportunities for hiking, wildlife viewing, and cultural activities, allowing visitors to experience the natural beauty and cultural significance of the area firsthand.


In conclusion, Kalawao County, Hawaii, is a region of remarkable natural beauty, rich cultural heritage, and profound historical significance. From its rugged coastline and towering sea cliffs to its secluded beaches and lush valleys, the county offers a unique and unforgettable experience for residents and visitors alike. Whether exploring the historic Kalaupapa settlement, hiking along the sea cliffs, or simply relaxing on the beach, Kalawao County offers a wealth of opportunities for adventure, discovery, and reflection. With its stunning landscapes, diverse ecosystems, and vibrant cultural heritage, Kalawao County truly stands as a testament to the resilience and spirit of the Hawaiian people.