Paniolo Up! Molokai Ranch Offers Contention and 87 Square Miles of Hawaii’s Molokai Island

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Leave town for a week and everything happens.  On September 7, a third of Molokai Island was put up for sale for $260 million.  The property includes 300 parcels covering 55,575 acres with over 20 miles of coastline.  Granted, it’s not as showy as Larry Ellison’s 2012 purchase of 98 percent of the island of Lanai for $500-ish million, but Lanai is a bit larger at 141 square miles. A purchaser would still be able to brag about being one of the top five private landowners in the state.

Sure it’s a physically beautiful location that offers unprecedented privacy and bragging rights, but it also comes with a contentious local population who are vociferously anti-progress.  Current owner, Singapore-based GL Limited found that out for themselves.

Molokai is nicknamed “the Friendly Isle”

Over the years local activists have cut fences, poisoned animals, set fire to a newly renovated ranch house and destroyed miles of water pipes.

Most recently in the mid-2000s, GL wanted to sell 200 beachfront buildable lots at one end of the island. The locals protested and eventually killed the deal even after GL offered to set nearly all their remaining lands into a public trust that barred any future development.  Some say this was a final straw for GL, who in 2008, shuttered most operations including a hotel, theater and golf course, laying off 120 workers on an island already known for the highest unemployment in the state with a third of the ~7,500 population receiving food stamps.

In a twist of irony, after the announcement of the sale, Molokai locals formed a group to explore purchasing the ranch holdings. Given the wealth of the local population and the price, this is a slim-to-none chance.  But had they allowed the 200 homes, they’d already have what they wanted for “free.”

It was only in 2014 that limited ranch operations were resumed raising Wagyu cattle. They’ve tried attracting wind farmers to no avail. The property is listed with Scott Carvill of Carvill Sotheby’s International Realty.

The sale is targeted at a billionaire who wants the bragging rights versus a development-oriented buyer.  I suspect the reason is precisely what I outlined above.  The locals want all the shuttered operations reopened for their own enrichment but want to block any further development on the island by the person who actually owns the land.  Because of this, I suspect the buyer will be someone who doesn’t mind running a unprofitable operation for the enrichment everyone on the island but them.  Or someone with deep enough pockets and enough Gaviscon to do battle. Ellison’s Lanai purchase couldn’t have been more different. The prior owner was despised and the locals wanted development.

When Ellison bought Lanai, the rumor was that he was in competition with Bill Gates.  Given the price tag, I think it’s safe to say that whomever buys Molokai Ranch will be a tech billionaire.  But I doubt Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg will be trading in his 700 acres on neighboring Kauai. After repeatedly ticking off all of Kauai, he’d be a glutton for punishment to trade that self-inflicted headache for the likely aneurysm awaiting any buyer on Molokai.


Remember: When I’m not stirring up trouble in Dallas, Texas or Honolulu, Hawaii for and, I’m off scouting interesting locations for a second home.  In 2016 and 2017, the National Association of Real Estate Editors has recognized my writing with two Bronze (2016, 2017) and two Silver (2016, 2017) awards. If you’re a Realtor with second home clients who’d like me to feature their journey, shoot me an email


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