-Published in The Haleakala Times
Every time I take a trip I forget something. No matter how hard I try, there is one thing that simply wants to stay behind, curled up in its bed, not going on a trip of any sort. This time it was my shoes. Seeing as we were going to be horseback riding in about two hours, and I only had my trusty slippers from Longs, this posed an immediate problem. “What size shoe you get?” came the van driver, recognizing my dismay. “Um, about a 12”. “Come, we go my house, my son get shoes you can borrow. Just drop them at the gas station tomorrow for Antie Jo”.
Welcome to Lana’i.
As all kama’aina as well as visitors alike are aware, one of the greatest things about living in these beautiful islands is the ability to simply hop on over to one of the other islands whenever you get the urge to “get away”. But how often do you really get away to these places that lay constantly floating on the horizon? My guess is less often than you should. I know a lot of people who take the time to head over to Lana’i every once and a while, but surprisingly, the overwhelming majority of them spend their time camping on Hulopo’e Beach, without ever foraying out and exploring the rest of the wonders of the island.
Don’t get me wrong, Hulopo’e is an absolutely amazing beach and an incredible way to spend a warm day filled with free time. The sand is golden, the reef is teeming, there are tidepools for the kids and a pool bar at the hotel for the adults, and in the summer time the classic reeling left surf break keeps the point and the shorebreak pumping, usually without the crowds found back in Lahaina. On top of everything else, like so many other beaches here in Maui County it was voted #1 beach in America 1997, which is never a bad feather in your cap. All of this said, however, if Lana’i were to be considered Heaven, then Hulopo’e would simply be the pearly gates—a magnificent entry way into a land of unforeseen beauty.
On this particular trip, like the ancient ahupua’a that once divided the island, our adventures took us from the mountaintops down to the sea. Weaving up the highway into Lanai City, the air grows cooler and the trees switch from palm to pine. While it is no secret that Lana’i possesses two unbelievable world class resorts in the Four Seasons’ Manele Bay and the The Lodge at Koele, those of us more budget-minded types need not despair, as the incredibly quaint, rustic, and charming Hotel Lana’i in Lana’i City provides the simplicity and amenities of a laidback mountain lodge, without the large numbers at the bottom of the bill. Standard rooms run about $150/ night, and one of the best perches in Lana’i City can be found from the raised private balconies—wine bottle in hand and sunset on full display. In terms of dining, Hotel Lana’i borrows a feature more notably found in the “other” two resorts, in that it offers world class cuisine that draws both visitors and locals alike in the Lana’i City Grille. With a fully stocked bar, live pau hana local music on Friday nights, and a menu designed by famed local chef Bev Gannon—recipient of the Maui News 2007 Chef of the Year—the generous portions of fresh island fare ensure that all leave impressed, relaxed, and completely satisfied.
But back to the shoes. With my new pair of old Nike’s in hand, I was now ready to saddle up my noble steed and gallop valiantly through the Ironwood trees and red cinder into the exploding sunset below. Not quite, but an enjoyable time nonetheless. Run by the Lodge at Koele, Koele Stables offers both group as well as private trail rides on their well trained stock. Wanting a private ride, but settling for a group one due to availability, I meandered my way on “Dance” on the guided loop trail that leads into the Koele highlands. While the pace was too slow for anyone who still has a pulse (apparently faster on private rides), the views of the Palawai Basin below, and the ubiquitous buried black plastic remaining from the island’s pineapple days provide a solid sense of life in the Lana’i pastures and heartland. To book a trail ride contact the Lodge at Koele’s concierge desk at 565-4000.
For all that Hulopo’e is gorgeous and Lana’i City is charming, the best parts of Lana’i require a 4×4 vehicle to be enjoyed. With only one rental company on the island, offering 4 wheel drive jeeps, it is easy for all of them to be sold out, as they were in our case. Not to be dismayed, we discovered that there is a large underground network of rental cars—more like cars people are willing to rent—that serves the travelling community just as well, if not better. Simply inquire with the local ladies at the gas station or the local supermarket, Richard’s, and there are many local folks who will rent you their 4×4 vehicle for in the $100/day range, a deal comparable with that of the jeep rentals. With the help of our newfound rental agent Gary, we were able to trade him $100 cash for the use of his black 4×4 truck for the night, and we were off to the farflung reaches of the Lana’i map.
The first stop on the adventure was hiking the ridge of 3370 ft. Mt. Lanaihale via Munro Trail. Arriving on the island of Lana’i in 1890, New Zealand naturalist George Munro planted towering Norfolk and Cook Island pines along the top of the ridge, which still tower above the silent observer today. In a completely different clime than the kiawe covered canyons below, mist hugs the pines and enshrouds the potholed dirt trail. Visions of a soggy forest in the Pacific Northwest trump those of the sun bleached shores of Hawaii. On a crisp clear day it is possible to see six of the eight major Hawaiian Islands from this vantage point (all except Kaua’i and Ni’ihau), however today the only view provided is of the dew slowly crying its way down the bark of ancient trunks.
Back on the pavement, our rented 4×4 climbs over the ridge past the skeet shooting arena, and weaves its way down towards the old village of Keomoku and Kaiolohia Bay, more commonly known as Shipwreck Beach. A beachcomber’s heaven, the strong offshore currents, gentle breezes, and miles-long barrier reef make for an incredibly flotsam and jetsam covered coast. In all of my days visiting Shipwreck Beach, this one was exceptionally crowded by my standards as there was one other jeep there when we arrived. Aside from numerous sunken ships that met their ultimate fate on the shallow reefs offshore, the rusting hull of the “Liberty Ship”, a 1940’s tanker, still looms ominously offshore and casts a shadow of secrecy and seclusion over the wispy strand of coastline. While the currents can be strong and the water is exceptionally shallow, the seashells, driftwood, and various other hidden treasures that lay along the sand are enough to keep the active minded passively engaged.
Back in town we stop for the most expensive gas in the nation ($4.65/gallon), and make the obligatory stop at the legendary Blue Ginger Cafe for some hamburger steak and last-minute rations. Soon after, we turn the truck onto the dirt road leading out to Garden of the Gods and the sliver of serenity that lays beyond. The first timeI visited Polihua Beach was also my last, and for the past six years I have been craving endlessly to sit and stare at its vastness once again. As if scripted, right when we complete the hour long, bump-filled drive, we emerge past the tree line to find the beach completely deserted. Deriving its name from egg-nesting sea turtles, which are seldom seen anymore, Polihua has an end of the Earth feeling to it that let’s just say isn’t exactly experienced while sitting on the beach in Ka’anapali. The strong southwestern currents—locally referred to as the Tahitian Express—make the ocean unsafe for swimming, but the windswept dunes and miles of endless isolation are more than enough to consume your time and take your breath away. It’s the type of place where the most complex thing you want to take part in is trying to walk in your own footsteps, which usually aren’t hard to find seeing as they are the only ones there.
Utterly refreshed and more than content, we once more happen back into Lana’i City to drop off the truck and begin recounting our tales. Exiting Richard’s supermarket, my girlfriend buys me a cookie from the local Menehune basketball team fundraiser, and I realize that aside from the isolated beaches and forested trails, what really defines Lana’i is it’s charming simplicity. As if justifying my thought, a man hands the kids a $5 bill and takes 2 brownies, saying, “You’re brownies are too cheap. Good luck this year”. Even the recent democratic caucus was turned into a potluck. Try to imagine that on the mainland for a moment. So for those of you looking to get away from the ever growing population of Maui and simply take a break from life for a moment, you need look no further than the looming hump on the horizon.
Expeditions Ferry departs both Lahaina and Ma’alaea harbors for Lana’i 5 times and twice daily. 1-800-695-2624 for more info.