Lanai is deliciously remote: The island’s tiny airport doesn’t accommodate direct flights from the Mainland and its closest neighbor is a 45-minute ferry ride away. It’s almost as if this quiet, gentle oasis—known for both its small-town feel and celebrity appeal—demands that visitors go to great lengths to get here in order to better appreciate it.
With barely 30 miles of paved road and not a single stoplight, Lanai (pronounced "lah-nigh-ee") is unspoiled by what passes for progress. Much of the island is still untamed, except for a tiny 1920s-era plantation village—and two first-class luxury hotels where room rates average $400-plus a night.
Still, this nostalgic outpost manages to rank high among the world’s top travel destinations. It’s a place where people come looking for serenity, solitude, and the chance to connect with nature: hushed, empty beaches; dramatic sea cliffs; and skies dotted with stars. The chilled towels and fresh-muddled mojitos served up by the Four Seasons Resorts Lanai staff aren’t bad, either.
This lesser-known Hawaiian island lures visitors with an abundance of activities: snorkeling and swimming in the marine preserve known as Hulopoe Bay, hiking on 100 miles of remote trails, “talking story” with the friendly locals, and beachcombing and whale-watching along stretches of otherwise deserted sand. Adventurers can ride horseback in the forest, scuba dive in caves, swing clubs on golf courses with jaw-dropping ocean views, or go four-wheeling for the day across wild plains where spotted deer run free.
Despite the increase in private jets and America’s Cup yachts, courtesy of the island’s newest owner, software tycoon Larry Ellison, Lanai is still a quaint, idiosyncratic throwback to older times. With a population of just over 3,000, everybody knows everybody. The minute you arrive on island, you’ll feel the small-town coziness. People wave to passing cars, residents stop to talk with friends, fishing and gardening are considered top priorities in life, and leaving the keys in your car’s ignition is standard practice.
Lanai residents might live in a rural setting, but they certainly aren’t isolated. Honolulu’s big-city bustle is just across the channel, and many islanders regularly commute to Oahu or Maui. But when the plane touches down on Palawai Basin, or the ferry rounds Puu Pehe (Sweetheart Rock) to pull into Manele Harbor, it’s easy to relax into the leisurely pace of life that makes Lanai such a paradise.
By Plane--If you’re coming from outside of Hawaii, you’ll have to make a connection on Oahu (Honolulu/HNL) or Maui (Kahului/OGG or Kapalua/JHM), where you can catch a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it flight to Lanai’s airport. You’ll touch down in Palawai Basin, once the world’s largest pineapple plantation; it’s about 10 minutes by car to Lanai City and 25 minutes to Manele Bay.
Hawaiian Airlines (www.hawaiianairlines.com; tel.800/367-5320) just launched [‘]Ohana by Hawaiian, a fleet of pretty new turboprop planes that fly twice daily between Honolulu to Lanai. Island Air (www.islandair.com; tel. 800/652-6541) runs five flights a day between Lanai and Honolulu. Unfortunately, this airline—currently the main conduit between Lanai and the world—is notorious for running late and stranding passengers mid-route. Direct complaints to its new owner, Larry Ellison.
Mokulele Airlines (www.mokuleleairlines.com; tel. 866/260-7070) offers service to Lanai from Honolulu, Kahului, Kapalua, Kona, and Molokai. Currently, it offers the best (and most hassle-free) flights, but availability is limited. The nine-passenger Cessna Grand Caravan planes are small; you’ll board from the tarmac, and weight restrictions apply.
By Boat--A round-trip on Expeditions Lahaina/Lanai Passenger Ferry (www.go-lanai.com; tel. 800/695-2624) takes you between Maui and Lanai for $30 adults and $20 children, each way. The ferry runs five times a day, 365 days a year, between Lahaina (on Maui) and Lanai’s Manele Bay harbor. The 9-mile channel crossing takes 45 minutes to an hour, depending on sea conditions. Reservations are strongly recommended; call or book online. Baggage is limited to two checked bags and one carry-on. Tip: During the winter months, taking the ferry amounts to a free whale-watch.
With so few paved roads on Lanai, you’ll need a four-wheel-drive vehicle if you plan to explore the island’s remote shores, wild interior, or forested summit, Mount Lanaihale.
Rabaca’s Limousine Service (tel. 808/565-6670) is a terrific option for a short romp around the island. Knowledgeable local drivers will navigate the wild roads for you, visiting Shipwreck Beach, Garden of the Gods, and even Kaunolu Village in roomy Suburbans. Three-and-a-half-hour trips are $75 per person (minimum two guests). Or book the “4x4 Trekker Tour” package from Expeditions, which includes ferry travel to Lanai (www.go-lanai.com; tel. 808/565-6670; from $186).
If you’d rather strike out on your own, Dollar Rent A Car at Lanai Plantation Store/Lanai City Service, 1036 Lanai Ave. (tel. 800/533-7808 for Dollar reservations; 808/565-7227 for Lanai Plantation Store) rents both standard cars and four-wheel-drive jeeps. Expect to pay about $139 a day (plus taxes) for a jeep. Keep in mind, however, that days of rain may render muddy roads impassable. Check with the Dollar office to see which roads are open and whether renting is worth your money! For slightly more coin, you can forge through just about anything in your very own Hummer. Jim Kaiser at 808 Hummers will pick you up in one of his six-passenger behemoths for $199, fees included (www.808hummers.com; tel. 808/286-9308).
Warning: Gas is expensive on Lanai—upward of $5 a gallon—and off-road vehicles get lousy mileage. Spending $40 to $50 per day on gas isn’t unheard of. Rent only for those days you want to explore the island’s hinterlands; everything else is accessible by foot or shuttle.
Finally, it’s entirely possible to enjoy Lanai without wheels. Hulopoe Beach is a short hike from the harbor, and everything within Lanai City is walking distance. Air-conditioned resort shuttles run on the half-hour between the two Four Seasons resorts, Lanai City, the airport, and the harbor. Four Seasons guests pay a one-time charge of $48 for unlimited rides; anyone else can hop on for $10 per day.
Lanai’s grand central station
Whether or not you rent a car, sooner or later you’ll find yourself at the Lanai Plantation Store, 1036 Lanai Ave.(tel. 808/565-7227). It’s an all-in-one grocery, gas station, rental-car agency, and souvenir shop—you can pick up information, directions, maps, and all the local gossip here. It’s also a good place to fill your water jugs: A reverse-osmosis water dispenser is just out front.
Lanai Visitors Bureau, 1727 Wili Pa Loop, Wailuku, Maui 96793 (www.gohawaii.com/lanai; tel. 800/947-4774 or 808/565-7600), and the Hawaii Visitors & Convention Bureau (www.gohawaii.com; tel. 800/GO-HAWAII or 808/923-1811) provide brochures, maps, and island guides.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.