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When leprosy hit Hawaii in the mid-19th century, King Kamehameha V tried to isolate the disease by banishing lepers to the most rugged corner of the kingdom. The extreme geography of the peninsula on Moloka’i provided a perfect setting for what was essentially a prison: 2,000-foot na pali, or sea cliffs, kept lepers quarantined, while the jagged reefs and seastacks lined the coastline like barbed-wire.
The era of forced isolation ended in 1969, and now the only land-based access to the historical park is via a 3.5-mile footpath (make arrangements beforehand with the official park concessionaire) that traces some of Hawaii’s tallest seaside cliffs. Get going by 8 a.m. to reach the settlement for the 10 a.m. tour. Keep an eye out for endemic plant species, like the stocky pua`ala shrub, the purple-flowered awikiwiki vine, or the pungent makou forb, and emerge onto the broad Kalaupapa Peninsula near mile 2.7. Continue to the buildings of the former settlement to meet your guide for a four-hour bus tour through the colony. Camping is prohibited in the park, so spend the night at Pala`au State Park ($12/night) near the trailhead.