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A Weekend in Lanai

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We woke up early one Saturday morning in Honolulu and jumped on a prop plane.

View of Lanai island from the air.#2

Just a 30-minute flight from Oahu (or a 45-minute ferry ride from Maui ), sits the island of Lanai. Lanai is small, with a length of just 18 miles in the longest direction. The population is made up of just a few thousand people.

View of dirt roads on Lanai from the air. #3

Many of the beaches and sights can only be accessed via these dirt roads. Because of this, the rental car options on the island are all 4×4 vehicles.

The 'Ohana airlines propeller plane at Lanai Airport.#4

We arrived at Lanai Airport (LNY) at around 8:30am (flying ‘Ohana by Hawaiian Airlines).

Lanai Airport.#5

Christina (@stinasoohoo) and I were here to do a quick one-night weekend getaway on this peaceful island.

Living in Honolulu, you can easily forget that Hawaii is a tropical paradise. Especially when work gets busy. I’ve found that the best way for me to actually take a break and relax is to go visit another island and leave my laptop and responsibilities at home.

What I like about Lanai is how small it is. And right now, the two main resorts on the island are closed for renovations (they reopen early 2016) so there are very few visitors on the island. You feel like you have the island to yourself.

Rabacca's Limousine Service in Lanai.#6

We were picked up at the airport by Rabacca’s Limousine Service. This is Neal, the owner. He grew up on Lanai during the pineapple plantation days and then eventually built a transportation and tour service. You can look them up to book private tours on the island. He took us to get our rental car which we would drive to our hotel. This whole process of getting from Lanai Airport to our rental car pick up then the hotel took about 20 minutes.

The front entrance of Hotel Lanai in Lanai City.#7

Hotel Lanai is in Lanai City, which is right in the middle of the island. The central location is convenient for sightseeing as the sights are spread out all over the island.

Since it was still morning (around 9am) we were too early to check-in and get our room. So we dropped off some bags, walked across the street and went to get breakfast.

Entrance of Blue Ginger Cafe in Lanai City, Lanai, Hawaii.#8

Right across the street from Hotel Lanai is downtown Lanai City. The downtown is made up of a few shops and restaurants that surround Dole Park. We went to Blue Ginger Cafe for breakfast.

Interior of Blue Ginger Cafe in Lanai City.#9

Blue Ginger has that classic look of a local-food restaurant in Hawaii. Judging by appearances alone, I could tell with confidence that this place makes a mean loco moco. It was packed when we first arrived but cleared out fast. I think we got here just as the morning breakfast rush was ending.

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It was too early in the day for me to eat a loco moco so we went for an omelet and two-egg breakfast and a side of Portuguese sausage. Everything was great. This is going to sound weird but that toast was amazing. The aunties that do the baking here make some crazy good bread and pastries. Do not leave without picking up a cherry turnover or pig-in-a-blanket for the road.

Highway 440 on the island of Lanai.#11

After breakfast we hit the road. The highways on Lanai really well maintained and are lined with pine trees. It’s so quaint. It felt like we were driving through some rural area on the mainland. I barely saw any other cars on the road.

Kanuolu Village signage on Lanai.#12

Our first stop of the day is a spot I’ve been wanting to see for years now, Kaunolu. This site was a fishing village of the ancient Hawaiians and is classified as a national historic landmark.

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Kaunolu sits at the bottom of a cliff and you’ll need a 4-wheel drive vehicle to access it. Not all car rental services on Lanai allow you to go down here. (I’ll have more info on car rentals at the end of this story.)

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There’s a super short yet very awesome hike here that has a name that must have been written by a lawyer. Let’s see, it’s called the Kealia Kapu-Kaunolu Village Heritage Trail.

Hiking along the Kealia Kapu-Kaunolu Village Heritage Trail#15

The Kealia Kapu-Kaunolu Village Heritage Trail takes you by the water and then up to the edge of the sea cliffs.

View of the Lanai sea cliffs from Kaunolu.#16

Hiking the Kealia Kapu-Kaunolu Village Heritage Trail gets you to views like this. These views were the reason we came to Kaunolu.

Tidepools and Lanai sea cliffs in Kaunolu, Lanai.#17

Tide pools line the bottom of the sea cliffs at Kaunolu, adding to the already stunning landscape.

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The Kealia Kapu-Kaunolu Village Heritage Trail ends at Kahekili’s Leap. It’s said that this cliff jump is where Hawaiian soldiers would prove their bravery. It’s an 80-foot drop into water that’s only 10-20 feet deep. No, you’re not meant to jump here (unless you’re in a Red Bull cliff diving competition, that is). You’re meant to complete your hike by returning to the trailhead the same way you came on the Kealia Kapu-Kaunolu Village Heritage Trail. So that’s what we did.

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If you like taking photos, you can have a lot of fun in Kaunolou. I could have stayed here all day.

(I’ll be posting a separate story with more photos of Kaunolu in the next few weeks.)

Front of Hotel Lanai.#20

Kaunolu is a good 45-minute drive from Hotel Lanai so by the time we made it back, our room was ready for us.

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Hotel Lanai is a historic landmark in Hawaii. It was built by James Dole (of Dole Pineapples) for guests at the plantation. There are 11 rooms at the hotel. This place has so much character. Just the right vibe for a weekend getaway.

Hotel room at Hotel Lanai.#22

The rooms look just as you would expect for this small country hotel. You have your own bathroom and there’s free Wi-Fi at the hotel. There’s no TV in the rooms though but that was cool with us. (We brought an iPad and have Netflix.)

Interior of Lanai City Grille restaurant.#23

Dinner was at Lanai City Grille, the restaurant inside Hotel Lanai. This restaurant impressed me. Those chairs are solid wood and have been around since the plantation days.

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Looking at the menu, I wished I could have eaten two meals here to try more dishes.

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We decided on the ribeye steak as our main.

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And we had mushroom risotto on the side.

Interior of Lanai City Grille.#27

On a weekend trip, you’ll have time for one dinner and if you choose to eat at Lanai City Grille I don’t think you’ll be disappointed. If there was a Lanai City Grille location in Honolulu I’d be a regular.

Being that the two main resorts are closed there were a bunch of open tables. After they open in early 2016, it might be wise to make a reservation in advance.

Front entrance of Richard's Market in Lanai City.#28

The next morning we had coffee and breakfast at the hotel. We checked out of our room and drove approximately 35-seconds over to Richard’s Market to pick up some water and snacks for the day’s activities.

Trailhead for the Koloiki Trail in Lanai.#29

We would be hiking the Koloiki Trail.

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The trailhead is located at the Four Seasons Lodge at Koele. This is one of the resorts that’s currently closed.

To get to the trailhead you drive over to the Four Seasons Lodge (which is about 5 minutes from Hotel Lanai) and turn right just before the circle driveway in front of the main building. The road takes you to the golf course. Park right in front of the building above, the clubhouse, and you’ll see the red sign that marks the trailhead.

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This is an easy, family-friendly trail. It is a good five-mile hike though with moderate elevation gains so be prepared to sweat.

Hiking along the Koloiki Trail on Lanai.#32

The hike takes you through a forest and to the Munroe Trail, a dirt road used by 4×4 vehicles. We were treated to a misty landscape in the forest.

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You hike the Munroe Trail most of the way and then it branches off to a lookout.

The view of Maui, Molokai and a couple of gulches on Lanai at the end of the Koloiki Trail.#34

This lookout is the terminus of the Koloiki Trail. You’ll have views of the ocean, Molokai and Maui in the distance, and you’ll be standing above Maunalei and Naio gulches.

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The wind was blowing through the gulches and up right at us.

We stayed here and ate our snacks for a bit enjoying the view. Then we returned the same way we came.

(I’ll be posting a separate story with full coverage of the Koloiki trail within a few weeks.)

Sweetheart Rock on Lanai#36

After the hike we had time for one last activity before we had to get to the airport.  We couldn’t leave Lanai without seeing the iconic Sweetheart Rock. This chunk of dirt is the site that Lanai is most known for.

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Starting at Hulopo‘e Beach Park (a 20-minute drive from Hotel Lanai), you walk up a dirt path for a couple hundred yards. The lookout is really easy to get to. There are tide pools along the way you can explore.

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As you walk up the path, Puu Pehe comes into view.

A closer view of Sweetheart Rock in Lanai.#39

I was surprised at how big it was. I felt that the view of Sweetheart Rock is much more grand when you see it in person. But without a person standing right on top or at the bottom of the rock, it’s hard to tell just how tall the thing is.

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Waves crashed onto the small beach in the cove in front of Sweetheart Rock.

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You can walk out on this sort of natural jetty to get different views of the area.

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Looking back towards land you can get an idea of where Sweetheart Rock is situated. It’s on the south side of the island. That big building in the background is the Four Season’s Manele Bay resort.

At this point it was time to drive back into town and make our way to the airport. We washed up and changed into non-sweaty clothes at the beach park and then drove back into town.

Ohana by Hawaiian - Lanai#43

We returned the rental car and got a ride from Rabacca’s Limousine Service back to the airport. We were back in Honolulu around dinner time.

Lanai is so small and country that it feels like time slows down when you’re there. We had a jam packed itinerary laid out before we left but once on the island, we found ourselves wanting to take things slow. We moved at a leisurely pace and spent time absorbing each place we went to. We only checked-off maybe half of the items on our list. The point of this trip was to relax and the slow vibe of the island really helped with that.

Now if you’re looking for more sights to check out, there are plenty of other things to do. You can check out Shipwreck Beach and Polihua Beach. You could also do some snorkeling at Hulope Bay. This list of Top Sights & Attractions on Lanai would be a good place to learn more about Lanai.

A note on renting a car on Lanai:

You’ll want a 4-wheel drive vehicle as many sights can only be accessed via dirt roads. But, the rental car providers may restrict access to certain areas. So if you want to go to Kaunolu for instance, you’ll need to ask the car rental provider if it’s allowed. Or you could set up a tour with a company like Rabacca’s Limousine Service and have them drive you there.

The largest (relatively speaking) company to rent from on Lanai is Dollar Rent-a-Car. They also have the most restrictions on where you can take the car. Another option would be to contact 808 Hummers which has a small fleet of H2s on the island. There are other small local Jeep rental companies on the island too. TripAdvisor is a good place to start researching options. And I’ve heard there are plenty of folks on the island who are willing to rent their trucks out to friends of friends. So if you know someone that has friends and family on Lanai, just ask around, they might be open to letting you borrow their car for a good price. It’s really chill over there.

See also

  • Kaunolu (coming soon)
  • Koloiki Trail (coming soon)

This story was last modified on October 28, 2015. (Originally published in October 2015.)

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