The island of Lanai is an off-road driver’s dream, with rugged trails that lead to sunny, deserted beaches and the upper regions of cloud-shrouded Lanaihale, the 3,370-foot peak of Lanai. Unless you know someone on the island who owns a four-wheel-drive vehicle, you’ll have to rent from one of the two agencies on-island. One rents standard cars and four-wheel drives; the other rents Humvees.
The off-road adventure can be challenging, especially if the one-lane trail is wet. In fact, the drive should not be attempted in rainy conditions when the muddy path can turn into a treacherous slip and slide. In good conditions, the trip should take between two and three hours. This is laid-back Lanai, so we recommend you take your time, pack some picnic fixings, stop at the best scenic lookouts for photos and take in the natural beauty.
Your rental agency will provide exact details on how to proceed to the trailhead, which begins just beyond the stables at The Lodge at Koele, on the northern edge of Lanai City. A short side trip can include the awesome view at the lookout over Maunalei Gulch, the island’s deepest ravine. The view includes Lanai’s scrabbly northern coastline and Shipwreck Beach and across the channel to Molokai. Just 2.5 miles into the drive is a scenic lookout with views that extend to Oahu, Molokai, Maui, Mookini, Kahoolawe and Hawaii Island. No other spot in the Hawaiian Islands offers a view of so many islands on a clear day. Only Kauai is too far to be seen.
The summit of the trail has recently been in disrepair, so there are times when the view can be enjoyed, but drivers may have to retrace their tracks the same way back to town. When the trail is in good condition, the descent can be made in a complete loop back down to Lanai City.
The nearly 13-mile trail is named for George Munro, a New Zealand naturalist who came to the island in 1890. He mapped out the trail and planted many of his country’s native Cook Island pines that grace the peak. The pines were planted in the early 1900s to attract clouds with rain, providing freshwater for the island’s low-level cultivation and its inhabitants. The trail meanders through a forest of native plants, ironwood trees, eucalyptus and pine. Along the way, you may encounter hikers, mountain bikers and perhaps one of the thousands of axis deer that make this their home.
For seven decades, between 1922 and 1992, life on Lanai revolved around the pineapple plantation of James Dole’s Hawaiian Pineapple Co., when the island was nicknamed “The Pineapple Isle.” Today it is privately owned, with 3,000 residents, most of them employed in the visitor industry, which caters to the luxurious Four Seasons Resort and its world-class golf courses. For the lucky visitor, Lanai offers the opportunity to be pampered and at the same time to experience adventures on a road less traveled.
Photo by Ron Dahlquist / HTA