Off-The-Beaten-Path in Lanai

If you read my last blog post, then you know I don't like to discriminate about travel. I don't care how people go or where they go to, I just care that they go. But anyone who knows me knows that I live for offbeat types of travel experiences. Those places that are down an alley between a nook and cranny. The types of places that don't have a Yelp review.

But while Lewis and Clark may have had their share of off-the-beaten-path travel, offbeat experiences are becoming rarer and rarer, as the population of the world continues to grow and travel continues to become more accessible. But then there's a place like the Hawaiian island of Lanai, which has 13 times as many unpaved roads as paved roads (30 miles of paved roads, but 400 miles of unpaved roads). To put that into perspective, there are over 500 miles of paved freeway roads in Los Angeles alone. It gives new meaning to the term "off-the-beaten-path."

I think any destination that has over 10 times as many unpaved roads as paved roads has earned the distinction as "offbeat". It immediately sets itself apart from other destinations where paved roads and concrete jungles rule the land. Not in Lanai. The only franchises on the island: Four Seasons and Dollar Rent A Car. There's no shopping mall. No chain stores. No fast food. There aren't even any stoplights. There is one place to rent a car. Which is also the island's only gas station. And the island's auto service shop. With a 4 x 4 red jeep and a tank of gas, I hit the off-the-beaten paths of Lanai.

While there aren't the tall peaks on Lanai that you can find on many of the Hawaiian islands, there are hiking trails that are unlike any you've trekked before. Some of these can easily be done independently, such as the hiking trail that leaves from the base of the Four Seasons Manele Bay and winds around the rugged coastline. Others, however, are best suited for a guide, not because of the difficulty of the trail, but rather because of their expertise coupled with their know-how of Lanai's unpaved roads to reach the trailhead. Plus, Hawaii takes a lot of pride in not just protecting, but preserving their land, and having a guide can help assure that no trace is left behind.

The Hike Lanai guides picked me up from my hotel for one of a few different hikes that they offer. The hike we would be doing was the Kaunolū Ancient Shoreline Hike, which took us down a winding gravel road that at times felt more like a "boulder road". The three and a half hour hike was an easy hike, but I couldn't have imagined walking it without Stephen, who told me the story of the village as we passed numerous ruins. Kaunolū Village is a national historic site that dates back over 1,000 years. Years ago it served as a holy site, and at one time, was the retreat for King Kamehameha, considered one of Hawaii's greatest leaders. Kahekili’s Leap, located along the trail, looked tempting (as I reminisced about my cliff-jumping days of college), but was more of a death trap than thrill ride. Back in the day, warriors would have to test their courage by jumping off the 63-foot cliff down into the shallow water. Many of them didn't make it.

While I stayed at the Lodge at Koele, I traded my Jeep Wrangler for a UTV. And for a bow, arrows, and a shotgun. The Zombiepocalypse wasn't going to have nothing on me! After off-roading in a UTV through the hills and forests of Lanai, which included reaching the summit with views to other Hawaiian islands, I stopped at the skeet shooting course. I redeemed my follies as a child (in which I accidentally shot my finger with a BB gun) by hitting over 85% of my targets with Lanai Grand Adventures. Who is hitting the road with me when the Zombiepocalypse hits? BYOCrossbow.

My favorite part of my week on Lanai, however, was having an entire day with nothing but a map and a Jeep Wrangler. The challenge to myself: Don't drive on a single paved road. And I hardly had to. My first stop was at Keahiakawelo, better known as the Garden of the Gods. I, however, like to think of it as the Garden of Mars. It feels so otherworldly. The area is dotted with huge boulders and rock towers atop a summit that looks across Lanai and over the Pacific Ocean. Pro tip: Don't stack or move rocks. This is forbidden as part of the "kapu," which is the Hawaiian law of the land. Only accessible by four-wheel drive, this would be the last time I would see a car until I was back on paved roads.

From the Garden of the Gods, it was down the boulder-ridden road toward Polihua Beach. There are offbeat beaches and then there's Polihua Beach. I was there for an hour and a half and could have ran around and swam naked and nobody would've known, since I didn't see a single person, and my footprints were the only ones on the beach. It's a wide, long beach, great for a walk with your honey, or if you just want a beach with no one else on it, which isn't so easy to come by. While you will likely have to slip your Jeep into four-wheel drive on the way down, what awaits is worth it. You have two miles of beach to yourself and can even see the Hawaiian island of Molokai across the channel.

Further up from Polihua Beach is Shipwreck Beach, which is just that, a beach that is somewhat of a graveyard of shipwrecks. One such shipwreck, a 1940s oil tanker is beached on Kaiolohia Bay’s coral reef. The scene of the ghostly oil tanker has all the appearances of a dramatic scene from a movie. However, Shipwreck Beach isn't recommended for swimming, especially because of the strong shore break. Just beyond the beach, a couple hundred yards up a trail, is the Kukui Point petroglyphs, marked on large boulders. Be careful driving in this area, however, as more than one traveler has gotten their jeeps stuck in the sand.

All of these were some of the highlights from my week, and what I would recommend if you only have a couple days to explore the island or are just doing a day trip from Maui. Be prepared, however, to pay over $100 to rent a 4 x 4 Jeep Wrangler since there is only one rental car agency on the island. And make sure to give yourself enough time. A few miles on Lanai is 30 minutes easily, since some of the unpaved roads require you to use four-wheel drive. Other notable hiking/off-roading excursions include the Munro Trail (which leads to the highest peak on the island), Kanepuu Preserve, and Koloiki Ridge Trail. For some nourishment before you hit the off-the-beaten-paths, stop into Lana'i 'Ohana Poke Market ,which is only open during lunch hours, but is home to one of the best meals I've ever had in Hawaii.

Recommended Reading

Hiking the Koloiki Ridge Trail in Lanai by Matt Long

Lānaʻi, Hawaii: Hiking Inland and Coastal Trails by Kara Williams

Spotlight :: A Trip Styler Guide to Lanai by Trip Styler

An Island To Get Away From it All - Lanai by Sherry Ott

What have been your best off-the-beaten-path travel experiences?