The Kalaupapa Historical Park covers an area of roughly 10 square miles (26 sq km) and spreads across the Kalaupapa Peninsula (Makanalua Peninsula) on the north shore of the Hawaiian island of Molokai. It is a stunningly beautiful place that is totally isolated, being cut off from the rest of the island by sheer cliffs that rise 1,600 feet (488 m), and bordered to the north, east, and west by the brilliant blue Pacific Ocean.
The stunning beauty of Kalaupapa belies its tragic history, which was balanced in turn by astonishing acts of human kindness. The highly contagious Hansen’s disease (leprosy) was first seen in Hawaii in 1848, believed to have come from China. It spread quickly, with devastating results that led to the need for isolation procedures. The Kalaupapa Peninsula was chosen as an enforced isolation center, its natural remoteness and fertile land making it a perfect site.
The native residents were forced from their homes in preparation for the new colony. In 1866 King Kamehameha brought in the isolation laws and those suffering from the disease were taken by boat to the peninsula and left with no amentities, caregivers, or supplies. They were expected to become self-sufficient but were too ill and weak to cope alone and suffered dreadfully. In 1873 a Catholic missionary, Father Damien, heard of the plight of the 700 sufferers and traveled with two others to the peninsula, where he set about building houses, churches, and facilities, as well as ministering to their needs. He eventually contracted the disease and died from it in 1889.
The development of sulfone drugs in the 1940s helped to eliminate the disease, and in 1969 the isolation law was repealed. Some former sufferers chose to remain at the site and still live there today. Much of the colony has been preserved as it was; it has become a valuable center of information and a place for quiet contemplation.