The smallest of Hawaii’s six main islands, Lanai is steeped in local traditions, myths and legends. The land was once dominated by pineapple plantations and, while the trade died off, an annual festival is held to celebrate the fruit’s heritage. A rural lifestyle still prevails on the island, and as you explore you can dip into small fishing communities that have changed little over the years. For a glimpse into the past, head to Kaunolu — the ruins of a fishing village abandoned long ago.
Elsewhere, you can relax on some of the white-sand beaches that line the island’s 30 km (18 mile) shoreline and hear local stories about the notable rock formations. Or, stay active with a hike or cycle ride along the 20 km (13 mile) Munro Trail.
Away from Hawaii’s crowded haunts, Lanai is a destination of untouched tranquillity. You can spend your days relaxing on the beach, exploring the local culture, and taking in panoramas over the surrounding ocean and nearby islands, including Molokai and Oahu.
We also recommend hiring a 4x4 to drive to the Garden of the Gods (Keahiakawelo). This lunar landscape is made up of rock towers and spires, formed by centuries of erosion. There’s a local myth that it was created as a result of a contest between two kahuna (priests) from Lanai and Molokai. The challenge was to see who could keep a fire burning the longest on their respective island, and Lanai’s kahuna set the vegetation alight to maintain his fire. Visit at dusk to see the setting sun cast long shadows and deepen the earthy redness of the rock.
On the southern coast is Hulopo’e Bay and the island’s main harbour, Manele Bay. Rising from the sea between these two bays is Sweetheart Rock (Puu Pehe). Local legend has it that the young warrior, Makakehau, leaped into the waves from this sea stack after burying his Hawaiian maiden.
The wilder northern beaches, such as Shipwreck Beach (Kaiolohia), are good places for beachcombing and gazing over to the other islands. Nearby, Kukui (Candle) Point is home to a collection of petroglyphs, etched onto reddish-brown boulders by native Hawaiians centuries ago.
You’ll find further evidence of the island’s former inhabitants at Kaunolu Fishing Village. Here, you can explore the largest surviving ruins of a prehistoric Hawaiian village. Eventually abandoned in the 1880s, the village is said to have been a fishing spot popular with King Kamehameha I, unified Hawaii’s first ruler. From here, you can look over Shark Fin Cove, the remains of a sacred temple, and Kahekili’s Leap — an 18 m (60 ft) cliff that warriors would jump off to show their bravery.
For a more active experience, consider cycling or hiking along the Munro Trail. It begins just north of Lanai City and stretches along the coastline, ending in the Palawai Basin. From its 487 m (1,600 ft) elevation, you can look out over the other islands, the sparkling ocean, and the Maunalei Gulch canyon.
Best time to visit Lanai
Enjoying a tropical climate, Hawaii can be visited at any time of year. We suggest avoiding the busier period of June to September, although Lanai itself never feels too crowded, with just a handful of boutique hotels and resorts limiting visitor numbers.