It was clear to me when I pulled up to the car rental lot and saw nothing but jeeps that Lanai wasn’t going to be the same adventure as the other Hawaiian islands.
Lanai isn’t jungly or particularly green. It isn’t covered in resorts, and you won’t see many other tourists here. It’s rugged, rocky, orange, and rustic.
The entire island is about 140 square miles and there are no traffic lights. In sharp contrast to the resorts of Maui and the efforts I took to avoid the crowds there, on Lanai I rarely saw another person. I rarely saw a paved road, either.
It was my Jeep, Jasper (he needed a name, right?), and me adventuring around the island most of the time, taking in Instagram-worthy sunset views solo and enjoying the total silence, unless I did want to talk to people, which was easy to do at the B&B I stayed at with its live music and friendly staff.
I felt the family vibes all around, and noticed that people always waved when they passed me on the street. It felt good to be so welcomed and to be transported back to the past in a way, to a time and place in Hawaii where people still know and recognize each other, and acknowledge that in passing.
These were a few of my favorite activities on Lanai:
This is the busiest place I encountered during my stay in Lanai, which is to say there were a few people around. This is mainly thanks to the Four Seasons nearby – the only resort on the island – and the day trips from Maui.
I still didn’t have to share the tide pools pictured above with anyone else during the 20 or so minutes that I spent swimming around in the warm water (and taking selfies like the one above, admittedly). From here you can snorkel or do beach dives, which can be fun if you like technical dives with swim-throughs.
If you keep walking, you’ll see Pu’u Pele, or sweetheart rock, depicted in the first photo of this post. It’s a massive orange rock rising out of the ocean and is frequented by dolphins. Whether you see them or not, the sweeping views from the surrounding cliffs all the way over to Maui on a clear day are lovely.
An unspoilt Polihue Beach
Though the tide is way too strong for swimming, unless you’re crazy, Michael Phelps, or both, this 3-mile beach is unlikely to have anyone else around and is the perfect beach to have all to yourself.
On a clear day, you can see all the way to Molokai and on a particularly lucky day, there are seals and turtles around.
I kept thinking a beach this clean, with such soft yellow sand and gorgeous views, would be absolutely packed on almost all the rest of the islands. Never mind that the waves were coming in sideways (have you ever seen such a thing!?) people would still be storming the sand with umbrellas and drinks with paper umbrellas.
On the way you’ll pass Keahikawelo, or the Garden of the Gods, which is a rock garden full of boulders and towers. Some say the rocks were dropped from the sky as gods tended to their gardens, and others claim that the rocks are formations containing the spirits of Hawaiian warriors.
Kaunolu for sunset
Kaunolu was a favorite fishing spot for King Kamehameha I and is considered one of the most sacred places on Lanai, with remains of shrines and petroglyphs still at the site today.
Halulu Heiau, a temple in Kaunolu, was a place of refuge for anyone who broke kapu (Hawaiian laws). To escape the penalty of death, a person violating kapu would go to the temple to ask for forgiveness and be allowed to return to their family without being killed.
I read online that the drive to Kaunolu required a 4 wheel drive and a ‘very skilled driver.’
Even though it was my first time on road like that, I’d been spending the better part of the day joyriding all over the rugged sand and dirt roads of the island, so off I went. It was very rocky and steep but that’s the whole point of 4-wheel driving right? And without anyone in the passenger seat to say things like, “this is a bad idea!” I had a blast!
Though the drive back up such rocky terrain after dark was all new to me, pulling off partway to see the glorious stars and taking in the sunset to the very last drop were such a treat.
The views are gorgeous just about everywhere. Get in the car and just go. Head over to shipwreck beach and drive the coast over to Lopa, or head to Kaumalapau harbor for another great sunset spot. Just get out and explore! It’s awesome for getting just a little bit lost down those rough roads.
I returned the car the next day beaming, the girl behind the counter genuinely excited that I enjoyed my solo adventure in Lanai so much.
Even if you don’t have experience driving on 4×4 only roads (like me), and even if it’s a little daunting, don’t let the adventurous side of Lanai scare you. I’m so glad I went for it!
Stay: Hotel Lanai is the only locally-owned guesthouse on the island, and it’s also significantly cheaper than the $1k per night Four Seasons (but hey, go for it if you’ve got the cash!). The food there is excellent and I loved the friendly staff and quaint atmosphere. Plus, it’s a local favorite and sometimes there’s live music.
Drive: Definitely rent a Jeep! Without the right wheels, you’ll miss almost all of the cool stuff on the island. The only rental place I saw was Dollar rental. Call them at 808-952-4264 an request an airport pickup if you’re coming in that way, as they’re located in Lanai city.
Eat: Poke bowl is a great spot for cheap eats, and the Hotel Lanai is excellent for dinner.
*This post was brought to you in collaboration with Go Hawaii and Visit Lanai, who had me out as part of a photography project. The adventure and choices of location were my own, as are all opinions. Happy adventuring!