Most people who visit the Hawaiian island of Lanai stay for a few days or even a week or more, taking time to relax and enjoy the unique features that make this tiny island a popular vacation destination. Many more though travel to Lanai from either Oahu or Maui to spend the day so that they can see for themselves what makes Lanai so special. While it would be impossible to get to know most places that quickly, with a little planning it’s easy to see the best of Lanai in a single day.
If you arrive on the ferry from Maui or fly in from Oahu, you will need to coordinate with the Four Seasons Lanai for transportation around the island. The hotels operate a bus shuttle around the island for which day visitors may purchase a pass. The shuttles run every half hour, depending on the season, and stop at the Four Seasons Manele, Four Seasons Koele, Lanai City and the Dollar Rent-A-Car office.
Laid Back Lanai
The beauty of Lanai is that it is secluded and relatively undeveloped. The island captures not only the romance of a bygone era, but the relaxation of that special time in Hawaii’s history. If you’re looking for some serious rest and relaxation, the best spot on the island is Hulopoe Bay on the south side of the island, adjacent to the Four Seasons Manele Bay Resort. The pool and part of the beach area are for hotel guests only, but there is public beach access with no limitations. If you’re anything like me though, there’s only so much beach time you can enjoy before you start to get restless. From Hulopoe Beach, there are two walks that allow for some exercise and spectacular views.
Sweetheart Rock (PuUpehe) Hike – This easy hike begins at the edge of the public beach at Hulopoe Bay and follows the coastline away from the hotel towards the magnificent Sweetheart Rock formation.
Walking past tidal pools rich in animal life, I turned a corner and there it was, Puupehe. According to legend, on top of the lava tower is the Tomb of Puupehe. Puupehe was a legendary beauty, and the mate of a young warrior named Makakehau. One day, while she was resting in a sea cave, a sudden storm arose and flooded the cave, taking her life. Makakehau was beside himself in grief but rather than bury her in the traditional grounds, he ascended the sheer face of the 80-foot high craggy island, built a tomb for her and put her to rest before leaping to his death in the frothy waters below.
Indeed you can see the remnants of an ancient structure on top of the tower, although not much can be seen from the cliffs opposite. Regardless of whether or not it truly is the final resting place of Puupehe, the views of this remarkable achievement by Mother Nature are well worth the easy mile hike.
Fisherman’s Trail Hike – This hike begins from the Four Seasons Manele Bay Resort and follows the ocean cliffs through an archeological preserve to Kaluakoi Point, the end of the hike and the start of the famous Challenge at Manele Golf Course. This part of the island was once home to early Hawaiians, and the trail begins at the former site of the ancient village of Hulopoe. Remains of homes and other features can still be seen along the edge of the coast line. In addition to the archeological wonders, the one-mile hike also provides amazing views of the ocean, Hulopoe Bay and Sweetheart Rock in the distance.
Contrary to Lanai’s popular perception, there is a lot to do on the island, more than enough to fill a day with fun and exciting activities. For the true explorer, rent an off-road vehicle and drive off into the wilds of Lanai. There are several areas open for exploration, although this may change during the year depending on the season and recent rainfall. A great itinerary is to start off your day driving to the remote and pristine Polihua Beach. Located on the northwest side of the island, Polihua isn’t really close to anything, offering a rare opportunity to enjoy an entire beach by yourself. On a clear day you can even see Molokai across the channel. Be careful though, because of the channel the winds here are fierce and swimming is not allowed due to the rip tide.
After sunning yourself on Polihua, jump back in the car and retrace your path through the strange Lanai landscape and follow the provided directions to Shipwreck Beach to find ancient Hawaiian Petroglyphs.
Shipwreck Beach is aptly named, there is a World War II ship partially submerged in the distance, adding a spooky feeling to the visit. There isn’t much of a beach here, instead the terrain is rocky and overgrown with thick gorse.
When I visited it was hot, and the sweltering heat immediately slapped me in the face once I left the Jeep. Even though it’s small, Lana’i has more ecosystems than any other place I’ve been. The highlands are often times cool, but a short 15-20 minute drive to the lower elevations reveals a much more hot and muggy area.
Like a pirate looking for his treasure, I unfolded my treasure map that would led me to the petroglyphs. Petroglyphs are pictographic rock engravings created by removing part of a rock surface by incising, picking, carving, and abrading. These engravings are important in understanding the history of Hawaii, and examples can be found from all time periods.
The starting point are the foundations of an old lighthouse, which is actually just a slab of concrete on a small bluff. From this point, turn your back to the ocean and start searching.
The problem with a secluded area of an island that itself is extremely secluded, is that marked trails don’t stay marked for very long. Instead of a clearly defined walking path, I saw several lightly trodden pathlings that might have been the magic one. Or not. I started walking and twenty minutes later I was back at the lighthouse, confused as to what had happened. It felt like an episode of Lost when no one can find the super secret spot.
I tried again until, finally, I saw a cluster of large rocks to my right, with a path leading down. I gingerly negotiated the path, the small pricks of unknown plant life scratching my legs as I went. Then, as I turned the bend I saw it, I had finally found the petroglyphs. I walked a little further and was confronted with my treasure; an amazing display of ancient Hawaiian petroglyphs.
I couldn’t believe that I had actually found them. I spent some time photographing them, examining the artwork that had survived for centuries in this hidden rock cluster. It was humbling to stand there and think of the generations of people before me who had each stood in that very spot, marveling at the designs before them.
There are several other driving routes around the island, each offering fun adventures, although it really isn’t possible to do everything in one day. Instead ask the rental car agent which roads are open and make your decision from the available options.
Finish up your day with a drive to Lanai City for a snack at Blue Ginger Café or a cocktail at the restaurant Pele’s Other Garden. Grab a table where you can look across Dole Park and just enjoy the slow pace of life on Hawaii’s most intriguing island.
With a little planning, a day on Lanai is a great way to add something new and different to your Hawaiian holiday.