Lānaʻi, Hawaii: Exploring the Island by Jeep

When I visited Lānaʻi by myself in 2008, I rented a Jeep for the day, but didn’t venture too far with it. I drove from the Hotel Lānaʻi, past the Four Seasons Lanai, Lodge at Koele, to hook up with the Koloiki Ridge Trail (the trailhead behind the Lodge was washed out) and, um, I think that was it. I was just too freaked out by the thought of driving on remote, curvy, bumpy, steep, puddle-riddled, mud-covered or dirt roads all by myself to see some of Lānaʻi’s popular sights. So I was thrilled at the prospect of driving these same non-paved roads with my partner-in-crime, my buddy Kristina, on my most recent trip to this small Hawaiian island earlier this month.

Our trusty Jeep rental at Garden of the Gods.

In fact, Kristina ended up doing all the driving. How great a friend is she?!

Here’s where our off-road Jeep adventure took us:

Garden of the Gods

From the Lodge at Koele, we headed northwest past the horse stable. It took us about 35 minutes to drive first over heavily rutted roads that were lined with bright orange puddles and then through a stand of Ironwood trees to Keahiakawelo, otherwise known as Garden of the Gods. The acres of strewn boulders here are often described as a “lunar setting” or “moonscape,” and indeed it is otherworldly.

It is also a sacred site, and visitors are cautioned against moving any rocks. When we visited it was incredibly windy; we traipsed around the rocks a bit, snapping photos of the dusty red rock formations and neighboring Hawaiian islands.

Garden of the Gods, with Molokaʻi in the distance.

Polihua Beach

We passed through stands of shady Ironwood trees on our Jeep adventure.

From Garden of the Gods, it’s another six miles (but at least 25 minutes) along a bouncy, hilly road down to Polihua Beach. Known as a site for nesting sea turtles, the name of the shore is literally translated, poli = bay or cove and hua = eggs. Alas, when we were there, we didn’t spot any turtles. It remained incredibly windy, and while we wanted to sit and sunbathe with a picnic for a while, the pelting sand scared us away after not more than a half-hour!

I’m thrilled, however, that we made it to Polihua Beach — after another couple left, we were the only people taking in the pretty gold sand, deep blue ocean with white-capped waves and sunny sky. I’ll tell you this… if you want to disappear from the face of the earth for a while, drive to Polihua Beach and enjoy the quiet.

Long strech of pristine sand at Polihua Beach.

Shipwreck Beach

We backtracked via Jeep along the same bumpy roads toward Lānaʻi City, and then veered north (a bit northeast) along smooth, yet twisty, paved roads toward Kaioloha, also known as Shipwreck Beach. Along the way — once we went off-road again close to the coast — we passed by decrepit buildings once regularly inhabited and known as “Federation Camp.” Locals still camp here on the weekends.

Old Navy ship grounded on the reef at Shipwreck Beach.

A small parking area signaled we’d arrived at Shipwreck Beach. Here, after World War II, the Navy tried to sink a concrete “Liberty ship” in the channel, but it refused to go under. The ship remains an unusual sight — best viewed from the oceanfront, raised lighthouse foundation. This is a rocky beach — strewn with debris, due to tradewinds — so I didn’t find it particularly pretty, per se. Still, the grounded Navy vessel was pretty cool.

If you find the pile of big dark boulders, walk behind it... petroglyphs!

Also quite nifty: petroglyphs carved into boulders in the area. These ancient Hawaiian rock drawings are quite difficult to find. Our handy Jeep Safari map/guide detailed how to find them (head south on a trail from the lighthouse foundation… follow splotches of white paint… look for a rock with a “thoughtful warning” painted on it…). However, the trail was slightly overgrown, paint splotches were scarce, and we never did find a warning sign; instead, we wandered around (silly me, in flip-flops!) over rocks and through underbrush for at least 20 minutes until lo and behold — we found the petroglyphs!

While some visitors had defaced the rocks with their own stick-people scratches, we could absolutely make out animal and human figures. While it was a bit arduous finding the rock art, there is something quite charming about not having clear signage or plexiglass covering the petroglyphs that you might find at other more touristy ancient sites. Again, our trek to Shipwreck Beach was absolutely another worthwhile, off-the-beaten-path adventure on Lānaʻi.

I see a bird behind a deer carved in the rock. Do you?

If you rent a Jeep:

Dollar Rent a Car is the only rental-car agency on the island, and by the looks of it, the outfit only rents Jeep Wranglers. When we were there, the cost of a 2WD Jeep was $139/day; a 4WD was $169/day plus tax. The rental location is convenient; just a few blocks from Dole Square in the middle of Lānaʻi City. Advance reservations are recommended: 808-565-7227.

Nifty views from all angles from the front seat of a Jeep along the dirt roads of Lānaʻi.

The rental-car agency staff gives you an excellent “Jeep Safari” guide with a map that details unpaved roads you can drive on; the map is marked “Not Accessible” for any roads that are impassable due to washouts by recent rains or other unsafe conditions.The Jeep Safari guide also includes written instructions and tips for visiting each of the remote sites I list above, plus Keomoku Village and Lopa Beach on the east side of the island (not accessible when I was there).

I recommend following the instructions on the map, and not veering off the road; if you find yourself stuck and needing to call for a tow, you’ll pay fines, for sure. Your rental agreement also cautions against “plowing through puddles,” lest you incur a fee for extra cleaning. Driving on beaches is illegal; that will cost you $500 if you’re caught.

Despite all the rules and regulations, I’d definitely recommend renting a Jeep on Lānaʻi, for at least one day on the island. It’s absolutely worth the cost and time to see some of the island’s unspoiled areas and unusual vistas.

I am one of seven New Media Artists visiting Lānaʻi courtesy of the Lānaʻi Visitors Bureau from January to May; following along on Twitter with the hashtag #visitlanai!

8 Comments on "Lānaʻi, Hawaii: Exploring the Island by Jeep"

  1. TwinCitiesGal | March 31, 2011 at 9:50 am | Reply

    What a fabulous adventure! Great tips. It sounds like a 4WD may be worth it. I wonder how many tourists get caught driving on the beach.

  2. Fantastic photos, Kara!

    We’re probably going to try to rent a Jeep on Lanai in a few weeks. Hopefully, we’ll find the petroglyphs this next time. On our first try we searched, but couldn’t find them. Sounds like the rental place provides a better map now, with some attempt of explaining tenuous landmarks.

    • Alas, it was NOT easy to find that rock art, Sheila. Just leave plenty of time to find so you don’t get *too* frustrated – and don’t wear flip flops. 🙂

  3. You know I love those petroglyphs, Kara! What a great post, you’ve made Lana’i seem like a “must” for any Hawaii lover.

  4. Roxanne Darling | March 31, 2011 at 4:49 pm | Reply

    I think you nailed that all time traveler experience – the harder you have to work for something the easier it is to appreciate it! Of course, having said that, count me in with the “appreciation team” for making the petroglyphs easier to find from here on out.

    At first I thought the jeep price was a bit expensive, but considering it is actually a ticket for up to 4 to a wild, remote, and largely uninhabited part of Hawaii for a full day, it now sounds cheap! (You can tell I usually go for the “Compact” rental…)

  5. This is excellent. I’m do in Hawaii for my brother’s wedding come October and have been digging around for things to do while I’m there. Shipwreck beach is right up my alley. I love that kind of stuff. A 4×4 to a shipwreck, you gals have your act together.

  6. Christy @ Technosyncratic | April 1, 2011 at 5:43 pm | Reply

    We love exploring in our Jeep – it opens up a lot of new areas that we wouldn’t be able to see otherwise (especially if we were just limited to where our RV could roam). Lanai seems like a great place for off-roading. 🙂

  7. Thank for the primer, Indiana Jones! We’ll have a jeep in Lana’i, too, so I’m grateful for this idea of what to expect. You’ve also answered my biggest question…about footwear. I’m definitely bringing my Keens!

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