Lana'i is the sixth largest of Hawaii's islands and the smallest of the accessible islands. It has a population of around 3,000 people. Every Hawaiian island has a nickname; Lanai's used to be 'The Pineapple Isle' because 16,000 acres (more than 90 percent of its land) were used to grow pineapples. Recently, brochures and maps have begun to refer to the island as 'The Private Isle', because of its secluded, quiet nature. The Expeditions Lanai ferry brings day-trippers from Maui regularly, and tourists pay top dollar to stay in the two major resorts - the Four Seasons Lana'i, The Lodge at Koele and the Four Seasons Resort, Lana'i at Manele Bay. Aside from those developments, the island remains fairly cut off from civilization.
Publicity brochures might lead one to believe that the island is nothing except a developed resort district. That couldn't be further from the truth. It is still 98 percent privately owned, and though the owner has allowed two hotels to be built on the island, the majority of it remains untouched. Much of Lana'i is like a blank slate. It isn't covered in black lava rock like the Big Island or covered in greenery like Kaua'i. It's an empty expanse of sparse brown grass, red earth and blue sky, criss-crossed with dirt roads and dotted with fields. The highway that leads to town is simply a windy two-lane road, while the harbor is the size of a lakeside harbor in any county park on the mainland.
Interestingly, most of Lanai's development has taken place in the center of the island. This is the opposite of the other islands, where most people live on the coasts. It is a 20-minute ride to Lanai City from the harbor. The residential part of the town is approximately six blocks by 12 blocks. All of the stores and restaurants are grouped in the middle, around the perimeter of Dole Park. There are two grocery stores, a few general stores, one clothing boutique and a gift shop. Three restaurants serve breakfast and lunch. Hotel Lanai is a popular evening hangout.
If the cars and trucks were removed from city streets, Lanai City would look like a town of the 1920s. Old men laze about in the sun, children play in the ditches to the side of the road, and the stores sell everything from hammers to hunting knives to cases of soda. A few tourists are often out on the streets or in the local restaurants. Visitors from neighboring islands look somewhat amused by it all, while mainland residents just look confused.
A mile away from Lanai City and a world away from reality is the Four Seasons Lana'i, The Lodge at Koele. Even native Hawaiians get a bit misty-eyed at the sight of Koele. It's nestled in the hills and surrounded by pine trees. The grounds of the hotel and the golf course are so perfectly maintained that they appear airbrushed, and the interior seems to have been magically transported from an Alpine mountain or Bavarian forest.
About a mile behind Koele, at the old Lanai cemetary, is the trailhead for the Munro Trail. This is a famous hiking and four-wheeling path, but it's arduous at the best of times and treacherous at the worst. During the autumn and winter rains make the trail inaccessible. The Luahiwa Petroglyphs are approximately three miles from Koele, and can be reached in a 4x4 vehicle.
Manele Bay/South Lanai
One mile from Manele Harbor is Lanai's other fantasy resort, the Four Seasons
Resort, Lana'i at Manele Bay. It is the equal and the opposite of the Four Seasons Lana'i, The Lodge at Koele. Situated on a private strip of oceanfront land, the hotel is the quintessential tropical retreat. Even when it's raining all over the island, it's usually sunny at Manele. Guests of the hotel stroll about in swimsuits and sarongs—until the sun goes down, at which point semi-elegant clothes are suggested. Since the Lanai Conference Center is onsite, this hotel usually gets most of the conference groups.
If an unwary driver doesn't take the correct turn on the highway, they'll end up at the island's other harbor, Kaumalapau. There isn't much here, but the view of the harbor is spectacular.
All of the west side of Lana'i and most of the north shore is inaccessible and unpopulated. There are a few tourist attractions that can be reached in a four-wheel-drive vehicle. Driving northwest from Koele, one will reach the Kanepu'u Preserve, site of a dryland forest. Past the forest is the Garden of the Gods, an eerie canyon full of rock formations. After this point the trail becomes even rougher. If you want to reach the North Shore, it's necessary to pull over at some point and walk the remaining distance to Polihua Beach. This desolate strip of white sand is a nesting ground for sea turtles. It's a good hiking beach, but strong currents make it unsafe for swimming.
Keomoku Road bisects the island, dead-ending at the north shore on Shipwreck Beach, another popular tourist destination.
Over the past two hundred years, various people tried to inhabit parts of Eastern Lana'i. For one reason or another all attempts failed, leaving behind only ruined buildings. The most striking example of this can be found at Keomoku Village, accessible on the coastline trail by 4x4 vehicles only. A few old, empty buildings and a restored church are all that remain of a once-thriving sugar plantation village. Halepalaoa Beach (also called Kahalepalaoa), on the eastern tip of the island was once used as a shipping wharf by the old sugar traders. At present it's an isolated beach, sometimes suitable for swimming.
Wherever one goes in Lana'i, there are two rules to remember: stick with the marked trails. Secondly, remember that this privately owned island is covered in natural landmarks and ancient religious sites—please have plenty of respect for it.