LANAI – IN SEARCH OF THE REAL HAWAII
LANAI, HAWAII - Every day, Hawaii is challenged by its own image—wind-swept beaches and crystal blue waters edged by palm trees shading grass-skirted hula dancers.
It’s that Hollywood inspired identity in the mind’s eye that draws tourists and, yes, it is possible to experience it in a brief, usually staged, encounter. But, if you’re searching for that authentic, original Hawaii, you’re out of luck. Of the 132 islands that make up the state, the traditional Hawaiian way of life has all but vanished. It is, after all, the 21st Century, not the 19th.
There is one place left in Hawaii where Hawaiian is spoken as the first language and where daily life is close to what it once was – among the 130 Hawaiians who live on the 17870 ha (69.5 sq. mi) island of Nihau. It’s just 25km (18mi) northwest of Kauai, but, as a tourist you can’t go there. No hotels, no B&Bs, no resorts.
Still, the other islands offer a potpourri of pleasures and where nature conservatories, resorts, artists, environmentalists, and historians rekindle images of Hawaii’s past.
While others may find their real Hawaii elsewhere, it’s on the island of Lanai that I discovered my own view of the Hawaii of my mind. It`s a place that has kept its pristine character even though it has two luxury resorts – the Four Seasons Lanai Resort and the Lodge at Koele - two championship golf courses, and an airport.
At about 20km (13mi) wide and 28km (18mi) long off the western coast of Maui it is easily reached by a 45-minute speedboat ferry that leaves frequently from dockside at Lahaina on Maui. It’s more exciting on a windy sea-choppy day than flying.
With ground elevations that vary from sea level to 1005m (3,300ft), a population of about 3,200 full time residents, and miles of untouched beaches, Lanai offers the sense that you’re isolated on a South Seas island. At the same time, you can escape to the modern Hawaii if you need a luxury fix.
Its heart is Lanai City – actually, a small village. Here, you’ll find two general stores both of which are closed by 7:00pm and three restaurants. The stores often closed for mid-afternoon siesta and early on Sundays. There’s one movie house that shows one or two films a week.
The Hotel Lanai, built in 1923, by James Dole as lodging for the now extinct Dole Plantation, seems out of a Somerset Maugham novel. With just 11 rooms and a restaurant it fits in nicely with the island’s old south-seas atmosphere.
On Saturdays, the Market in Dole Park features a gathering of local vendors, as they sell their local grown vegetables, potted plants and a cultural mix of Hawaiian, Japanese, and Filipino foods. Local artists and craft makers often display their art work.
You’ll need a four-wheel drive rental and a full tank of gas to fully explore the network of roads and hiking trails that lead to hidden beaches and scenic mountain ridges. Or you can take guided Jeep tours.
Keomoku road leads from town to Lanai's northeast or windward coast and the narrow, winding road climbs over the middle of the island and offers great views of Molokai and Maui as well as the abandoned, rusting hulls of two old Liberty Ships where, at low tide, you can get close.
Serious hikers come to the island for the Munro Trail, named for George Munro, the New Zealand naturalist who planted Lanai's large pines. The 11km (8 mi) drive and hiking trail starts about a mile north of Lanai City and climbs in a southeasterly direction through rain forests and deep canyons.
Eventually you arrive at 3,370-foot Lanai Hale, the highest point on the island. On a clear day, all of Hawaii's islands, except Kauai and Niihau, can be seen from this perch.
On the south shore Kaunolu Village is a fishing community abandoned in the 1880s, now a national historical landmark. It is the largest surviving ruins of a prehistoric Hawaiian village with some 80 homes and the remains of a sacred temple, and petroglyphs.
A 45-minute drive from Lanai City, the Garden of The Gods is a dramatic canyon of wind carved sand and lava formations whose colors change throughout the day. The rock towers, spires, and formations formed by centuries of erosion are a kaleidoscope of colors at dusk.
Yet, Lanai offers more than physical pleasures. Throughout the year, the Lanai Visiting Artist Program brings in well known musicians, film makers, artists, and chefs – adding a bit of spice to a mix of other adventures.
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IF YOU GO:
Where to stay: Four Seasons Lanai Resort; The Lodge at Koele
PHOTOS by Toshi, except where otherwise attributed.
1. Downtown Lanai – Photo by Lanai Tourism
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