You’ll need an off-road vehicle to reach the sights listed below. Four-wheel-drive rentals on Lanai are expensive—but worth it for a day or two of adventure. For details on vehicle rentals, see "Planning a Trip."
Your first stop on Lanai (perhaps after baptizing yourself at Hulopoe Beach) should be the Lanai Culture & Heritage Center ★★, 730 Lanai Ave. (www.lanaichc.org; 808/565-7177), located in the heart of town. Orient yourself to the island’s cultural and natural history at this tiny, well-curated museum. Learn how indigenous Hawaiians navigated thousands of miles of Pacific Ocean, see relics of the Dole plantation years, and get directions to the island’s petroglyph fields. Even better, ask the docents to recount local legends passed down in their families. A visit is guaranteed to make your explorations of Lanai that much richer.
Off the Tourist Trail: Eastside Lanai
If you’ve got good weather and a trusty 4x4 vehicle, go find adventure on Lanai’s untamed east side. Bring snacks and extra water; there are no facilities out here and cell service is scarce. Follow Keomoku Road for 8 miles to the coast. Here the road turns to dirt, mud, or sand; proceed with caution. Head left to find Shipwreck Beach and the Kukui Point petroglyphs.
Venture right to explore a string of empty beaches and abandoned villages, including Keomoku—about 5 3/4 miles down the rough-and-tumble dirt road. This former ranching and fishing community of 2,000 was home to the first non-Hawaiian settlement on Lanai. A ghost town since the mid-1950s, it dried up after droughts killed off the Maunalei Sugar Company. Check out Ka Lanakila, the sweetly restored church that dates back to 1903.
Continue another 2 miles to the deserted remains of Club Lanai. A lonely pier stretches into the Pacific from a golden-sand beach populated by coconut palms, a few gazebos, and an empty bar floating in a lagoon. You can pretend you’re on the set of Gilligan’s Island here. This secluded area’s Hawaiian name, Halepaloa, means “whale ivory house.” Historians speculate that the teeth and bones of a sperm whale—rare in these waters—once washed ashore here. If you have time, press on to Lopa Beach (good for surfing, not for swimming). The road ends at Naha Beach with its ancient fishponds. Return the way you came and take any trash with you.
Keahiakawelo (Garden of the Gods) ★★★
A four-wheel-drive dirt road leads out of Lanai City, through fallow pineapple fields, past the Kanepuu Preserve (see below) to Keahiakawelo. The rugged beauty of this place is punctuated by boulders strewn by volcanic forces and sculpted by the elements into varying shapes and colors—brilliant reds, oranges, ochers, and yellows.
Modern visitors nicknamed this otherworldly landscape “the Garden of the Gods,” but its ancient Hawaiian name, Ke-ahi-a-kawelo, means “the fire of Kawelo.” According to legend, it’s the site of a sorcerers’ battle. Kawelo, a powerful kahuna (priest) noticed that the people and animals of Lanai were falling ill. He traced their sickness to smoke coming from the neighboring island of Molokai. There, an ill-intentioned priest, Lanikaula, sat chanting over a fire. Kawelo started a fire of his own, here at Keahiakawelo, and tossed some of Lanikaula’s excrement into the flames. The smoke turned purple, Lanikaula perished, and health and prosperity returned to Lanai.
Take the dusty, bumpy drive out to Keahiakewalo early in the morning or just before sunset, when the light casts eerie shadows on the mysterious lava formations. Drive west from Koele Lodge on Polihua Road; in about 2 miles, you’ll see a hand-painted sign pointing left down a one-lane, red-dirt road through a kiawe forest to the large stone sign. Don’t stack rocks or otherwise disturb this interesting site; leave everything as you found it.
Munro Trail ★
In the first golden rays of dawn, when owls swoop silently over the abandoned pineapple fields, take a peek at Mount Lanaihale, the 3,370-foot summit of Lanai. If it’s clear, hop into a 4x4 and head for the Munro Trail, the narrow, winding ridge trail that runs across Lanai’s razorback spine to its peak. From here, you may get a rare treat: On a clear day, you can see most of the main islands in the Hawaiian chain.
But if it’s raining, forget it. On rainy days, the Munro Trail becomes slick and boggy with major washouts. Rainy-day excursions often end with a rental jeep on the hook of the island’s lone tow truck—and a $250 tow charge. You could even slide off into a major gulch and never be found, so don’t try it. But in late August and September, when trade winds stop blowing and the air over the islands stalls in what’s called a kona condition, Mount Lanaihale’s suddenly visible summit becomes an irresistible attraction.
Look for a red-dirt road off Manele Road (Hwy. 440), about 5 miles south of Lanai City; turn left and head up the ridgeline. No sign marks the peak, so you’ll have to keep an eye out. Look for a wide spot in the road and a clearing that falls sharply to the sea. From here you can also see silver domes of Space City atop the summit of Haleakala on Maui; Puu Moaulanui, the tongue-twisting summit of Kahoolawe; the tiny crescent of Molokini; and, looming above the clouds, Mauna Kea on the Big Island. At another clearing farther along the thickly forested ridge, all of Molokai, including the 4,961-foot summit of Kamakou and the faint outline of Oahu (more than 30 miles across the sea), are visible. For details on hiking the trail, see “Hiking & Camping" under "Active Pursuits."
Perfect for a Rainy Day: Lanai Art Center
A perfect activity for a rainy day in Lanai City is the Lanai Art Center, 339 Seventh St., located in the heart of the small town. Top artists from across Hawaii frequently visit this homegrown art program and teach a variety of classes, ranging from raku (Japanese pottery), silk printing, silk screening, pareu making (creating your own design on this islanders' wrap), gyotaku (printing a real fish on your own T-shirt), and watercolor drawing to a variety of other island crafts. The cost for the 2- to 3-hour classes is usually in the $15 to $70 range (materials are extra). For information, call 808/565-7503 or visit www.lanaiart.org.
Luahiwa Petroglyph Field ★★
Lanai is second only to the Big Island in its wealth of prehistoric rock art, but you’ll have to search a little to find it. Some of the best examples are on the outskirts of Lanai City, on a hillside site known as Luahiwa Petroglyph Field. The characters incised on 13 boulders in this grassy 3-acre knoll include a running man, a canoe, turtles, and curly-tailed dogs (a latter-day wag put a leash on one).
To get here, take Manele Road from Lanai City toward Hulopoe Beach. About 2 miles out of town, you’ll see a pump house on the left. Look up on the hillside for a cluster of dark boulders—the petroglyphs are there, but you’ll have to zigzag to get to them. Two dirt roads lead off of Manele Road, on either side of the pump house. Take the first one, which leads straight toward the hillside. After about 1 mile, you’ll come to a fork. Head right. Drive for another 1/2 mile. At the first V in the road, take a sharp left and double back the way you came, this time on an upper road. After about 1/4 mile; you’ll come to the large cluster of boulders on the right. It’s just a short walk up the cliffs (wear walking or hiking shoes) to the petroglyphs. Exit the same way you came. Go between 3pm and sunset for ideal viewing and photo ops. Don’t touch the petroglyphs or climb on the rocks; these cultural resources are very fragile.
Kaunolu Village ★★
Out on Lanai’s nearly vertical, Gibraltar-like sea cliffs is an old royal compound and fishing village. Now a national historic landmark and one of Hawaii’s most treasured ruins, it’s believed to have been inhabited by King Kamehameha the Great and hundreds of his closest followers about 200 years ago.
It’s a hot, dry, 3-mile 4x4 drive from Lanai City to Kaunolu, but the mini-expedition is worth it. Take plenty of water, don a hat for protection against the sun, and wear sturdy shoes. Signs explain the sacred site’s importance. Ruins of 86 house platforms and 35 stone shelters have been identified on both sides of Kaunolu Gulch. The residential complex also includes the Halulu Heiau temple, named after a mythical man-eating bird. The king’s royal retreat is thought to have stood on the eastern edge of Kaunolu Gulch, overlooking the rocky shore facing Kahekili’s Leap. Chiefs leapt from the 62-foot-high perch as a show of bravado. Nearby are burial caves, a fishing shrine, a lookout tower, and warriorlike stick figures—petroglyphs—carved on boulders. Just offshore stands the telltale fin of little Shark Island, a popular dive spot that teems with bright tropical fish and, frequently, sharks.
From Lanai City, take Kaumalapau Highway past the airport. Look for a carved boulder on the left side of the road. Turn left onto a dirt road (Kaupili Rd.) and drive east until you see another carved boulder. Turn right, toward the ocean. Tip: On your way out, turn right to continue on Kaupili Road. It meets with Hulopoe Drive, a shortcut to Manele Bay.
This ancient grove on Lanai’s western plateau is the island’s last remaining dryland forest, containing 48 native species. A self-guided hike allows visitors to see the rare trees and shrubs that once covered the dry lowlands of all the main Hawaiian Islands. Elsewhere these species have succumbed to axis deer, agriculture, or “progress.” The botanical marvels growing within this protected reserve include olopua (Hawaiian olive), lama (Hawaiian ebony), ma‘o hau hele (a Hawaiian hibiscus), and nānū (Hawaiian gardenia). Kanepuu is easily reached via 4WD. Head west from Koele Lodge on Polihua Road; in about 1 3/4 miles, you’ll see the fenced area on the left.
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.