The Mana of Molokai
Graced with pristine beaches, dramatic sea cliffs, rugged landscapes and verdant rainforests, the island of Molokai has been an oasis for Hawai‘ian royalty, tycoons and naturalists alike for centuries. Now, its most iconic property, Molokai Ranch, has hit the market for a cool $260 million, presenting an unprecedented opportunity to own a legendary slice of paradise.
By: Kevin Daniel Dwyer
Rikki Cooke describes his affinity for Molokai Ranch as intangible attachment: “There is a power to the land, what we call ‘Mana’. It has a nurturing energy. The earth is red, raw and wild on the western side of the island. It’s like blood for those of us who grew here. We were raised by Molokai.” Rikki is the last remaining Cooke on the island—his great-great grandfather, Charles M. Cooke, purchased Molokai Ranch in 1897 and the family has been on the land ever since. From the largest cattle ranch in the Hawai‘ian Islands to the epicenter of pineapple farming to present day, his family has been a steward of the land.
“The ranch was passion for my family. They opened the Royal School which educated the royal family, started 50 companies including the Bank of Hawaii and C&H Sugar, we’ve tended the land and preserved it,” says Cooke. “Its quiet strength and hidden beauty always brings me back to here.” Cooke returned with his family to the island in 1992, after 22 years traveling the world as a photographer with National Geographic. “I’ve lived all around the world and no other place connects to the core of my being,” he reflects.
Cooke notes that not only is Molokai the center island of the Hawai‘ian chain, it is also the spiritual center. “The island has never been conquered. It was home to the royals and the birthplace of hula. It remains the spiritual core of Hawai‘i to this day,” says Cooke.
Molokai rises from the Pacific Ocean between O‘ahu and Maui just north of Lana‘i and is one of the most pristine islands in the Hawai‘ian archipelago. Known as the “Friendly Isle” for its slow pace, rural style, and rich Hawai‘ian culture. The island itself was formed by three separate volcanoes, as evidenced by Molokai’s environmental diversity compressed within its small land area. Located on the island’s western end, Molokai Ranch encompasses numerous land parcels with an estimated aggregate area of approximately 55,575 acres and over 20 miles of coastline. For the first time in history, this large-scale offering is available on the open market to be acquired through a single transaction.
The successful new owner of Molokai Ranch will be among the top 10 largest landowners throughout the State of Hawai‘i, including former Oracle CEO Larry Ellison, who, in a single sweeping real estate deal in 2014, purchased 97 percent of the island of Lana‘i, reportedly 87,000 of the island’s 90,000 acres.
The acquisition of Molokai Ranch promises an enduring legacy—the privacy and sense of authentic Hawai‘i are preserved, while world-class amenities are easily accessible, including the major urban center of Honolulu and the more populated islands within 30 minutes via private or commercial air services.
Lands that eventually became part of Molokai Ranch were assigned as part of the Great Mahele, Hawai‘i’s land division of 1848. In 1859, King Kamehameha IV established a sheep ranch on the west end at Kaluako‘i. His brother, High Chief Kapuāiwa gained title to the land that is now encompassed by Molokai Ranch when he became King Kamehameha V in 1863, and he expanded this holding through acquisition of more land and addition of other types of livestock.
Princess Ruth Ke‘elikōlani inherited the land on Molokai from King Kamehameha V upon his death. When she died in 1883, the property passed on to Princess Bernice Pauahi Bishop, the last descendant of the Kamehameha dynasty. Princess Pauahi’s inheritance excluded the land of Kaluako‘i in West Molokai, as these were granted to her husband, Charles Bishop, in 1875.
In 1897, Charles M. Cooke, son of the early missionary teacher, Amos Starr Cooke, along with a group of Honolulu businessmen, purchased 70,000 acres of land in fee simple from the trustees of Princess Pauahi’s estate. The business group leased another 30,000 acres from the Hawai‘ian government. In 1898, the businessmen started American Sugar Company Limited on Molokai. In 1908, Charles M. Cooke acquired 100% interest in the fee simple lands and subsequently established Molokai Ranch. George P. Cooke, son of Charles M. Cooke, succeeded his father to become the manager of Molokai Ranch. Under George P. Cooke, Molokai Ranch progressed through cattle grazing, sweet potato, and wheat crops. When the Ranch began producing honey, Molokai became the world’s largest producer of honey from 1910 to 1937.
By 1923, the Libby, McNeil & Libby Company had begun raising pineapple in the Maunaloa area on lands leased from Molokai Ranch.
They continued until the operations were sold to the Dole Corporation in 1972. Del Monte, then known as California Packing Corporation, arrived in 1927 and made their headquarters at Kualapu‘u. They soon commenced large-scale pineapple cultivation, mostly on land leased from Molokai Ranch. Dole ceased its Molokai operations in 1976. Del Monte phased out its operations in the mid-1980s.
In the early 1970s, Molokai Ranch, then owned by the Cooke family, entered into a partnership with Louisiana Land and Exploration Company for the development of the Kaluako‘i Hotel and Resort. After initial success, the cash requirements of these investments led to the eventual sale of Molokai Ranch stock to Brierley Investments Limited (later to become BIL International Limited), who became the sole stockholder in 1987. At that time, Molokai Ranch consisted of approximately 52,000 acres. The Kaluako‘i Hotel, under separate ownership, closed in 2000.
In October 2001, BIL International, on behalf of Molokai Ranch, reacquired 6,300 acres on the southwest corner of Molokai. In December 2001, Molokai Ranch acquired the land holdings of Kukui (Molokai), Inc., that included the abandoned Kaluako‘i Hotel, the Kaluako‘i Golf Course, and the undeveloped lands of the resort area. The golf course was renovated and re-opened in 2004 and closed in 2008. The hotel, golf course and most of the common facilities have yet to be re-opened.
Under the current ownership, not much has changed in recent years. While Molokai Ranch has continued to engage in active cattle ranching and utilities operations, reopening the Kaluako‘i Hotel and Resort operations has not been a priority.
Today, Cooke has a hopeful outlook for the Ranch’s new owners: “I want a family like ours to buy this ranch. It’s a fantastic, large-scale ranch unlike any other on the islands. I hope the owners create a relationship with the land. We have an expression here that rings true. 'If you love the land, it will love you back’.” G
Molokai Ranch is listed with
Principal Broker of Carvill Sotheby’s International Realty
Listed for $260,000,000
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