Off the Beaten Path: Tips on Visiting and Exploring Lanai, Hawaii
While the term "Hawaii" generally conjures up images of Oahu, Maui, Kauai and the Big Island, there's more to the island chain than those four. I recently shared my top tips for exploring and enjoying Molokai — The Friendly Isle — and now I'm back with recommendations to make the most of your stay on Lanai.
Lanai is very visible from the main drag in Lahaina, one of the more populated towns on Maui. With just 8 miles of ocean separating the two, it's a wonder Lanai feels as remote as it does. And with only 3,000 people on the entire island, there's ample room to spread out. Not only will you never see a parking meter on Lanai, you won't even find a traffic light. For adventures scouting what remains of untouched Hawaii, Lanai is paradise.
Below, I'll highlight a few reasons to make the effort to visit one of Hawaii's quietest islands.
Off-Road Through the Garden of the Gods
If there's one must-do activity on Lanai, it's this. While you can off-road in various spots throughout Hawaii, little compares to the majesty of the Garden of the Gods. The first step is renting a Jeep. In most places, I'd suggest using AutoSlash to get a great deal from one of the major providers, and booking with a credit card that provides primary car rental insurance.
However, Lanai is not most places. Your best bet is to trawl recent TripAdvisor forum posts and look for locals who will rent their vehicle out. I found a local who rented me his Jeep for $100 for a 24-hour period. That's an outrageous sum by mainland US standards, but your options are slim out here. Plus, that $100 is all you'll spend all day long besides a few gallons of fuel. From Lanai City, head to Kanepuu Highway, which becomes Polihua Trail as pavement is replaced with rich, red dirt. There's plenty of offshoots to explore, though Kaena Trail to the coast offers spectacular views and challenging terrain.
Hike the Munro Trail
In theory, you could take the Jeep you rented for your trek through the Garden of the Gods and traverse the 12.8-mile Munro Trail. In recent years, certain sections of the road have become impassable, even for Jeeps, due to intense rain and runoff. Rather than crossing it off of your list, pack ample food and water and set out on foot.
I'd allow a full day to do the hike, stopping at your leisure to eat whatever you pack for lunch and to admire myriad viewpoints. With more than a thousand feet of elevation gain, the hike isn't for the faint of heart. Wise souls will arrange for a ride to pick them up at the coast, but I actually hiked the highway back to Lanai City, adding many more miles (and setting a personal daily step record) in the process.
Savor the Four Seasons
With garden view rooms starting at more than $1,000 per night and no way to use points for free nights, actually staying at the exclusive Four Seasons Lanai isn't in the cards for most travelers. Thankfully, there are other ways to enjoy this spectacular property. Whether it's splurging on a meal overlooking its manicured lawns, treating yourself to an afternoon at its spa or teeing it up at Manele Golf Course, be sure to spend at least a few hours here.
Closer to Lanai City, be sure to stop by The Lodge at Koele (shown above). This is a Four Seasons Resort as well, though it's still undergoing renovations. There are several heralded hiking trails that depart from the rear of the property.
Watch a Sunset at Sweetheart Rock
Hulopoʻe Beach Park sits just in front of the Four Seasons Lanai, and it's worth catching a ride there a few hours prior to sunset. There's plenty of coastal hiking here with truly astonishing views of the Pacific. Standing on Lanai's edge, looking down at the sheer cliffside at Sweetheart Rock, is a moment you won't soon forget. The only sound you're apt to hear are the waves splashing below, and perhaps a few "oohs" and "aahs" from other guests.
Use Points and Miles to Fly Free
As with Molokai, Lanai isn't connected to the US mainland directly. For points and miles aficionados, you'll need to get familiar with Hawaiian Airlines. We have an entire guide to redeeming points and miles on Hawaiian, which you should pore over before making a reservation. Hawaiian flies to Lanai (LNY) daily from its base in Honolulu (HNL), but doesn’t serve the island from any other airport. Currently, Lanai isn't served regularly by any other commercial airline.
If you’re coming from the mainland, you can easily fly to HNL and then connect over to Lanai (LNY). If you’re looking to make Lanai a part of a multi-island trip within Hawaii, you have two options. The first is that you can create a round-trip within a trip, beginning and ending in Honolulu, if you wish to fly Hawaiian exclusively.
While you can spend 15,000 HawaiianMiles round-trip (7,500 one-way), you’re likely better off paying cash and earning miles if you’re planning far out. $138 round-trip between Honolulu (HNL) and Lanai (LNY) is a solid deal. Considering that TPG values HawaiianMiles at 1.2 cents apiece, the cash rate is far less than the $180 in value assigned to 15,000 HawaiianMiles.
The other option is to book Hawaiian flights using miles from JetBlue, Delta, American Airlines and United. If you have a small stash of points in any of those buckets, and do not plan to fly those airlines enough to secure a long-haul trip, a free hop to Lanai is a wonderful way to burn miles that would otherwise go to waste.
If you're staying in Maui, there's a ferry that makes several daily runs to Lanai from Lahaina. You'll pay $30 each way for an adult ticket, and $20 each way for children.
For those seeking an ultra-luxe experience on one of the most unspoiled tropical islands on Earth, staying at the Four Seasons Lanai will be tough to beat. For everyday adventurers, there are plenty of homes on Airbnb that'll give you a truer taste of how locals live. If you book a place on Airbnb, make sure to use a credit card that maximizes that purchase.
Lanai is a place to slow down and unwind, while also getting your feet (and tires) dirty with endless hiking and off-roading options. The very walkable Lanai City is home to a few good cafes and eateries, though I'd recommend visiting only after sunset. You won't want to miss a single one on this island.
If you have any tips to share on exploring Lanai, let us know in comments below!
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All photos by Darren Murph/TPG.