Lanai -- Hawaii for the adventurous
Santa Monica, Calif. — Lanai -- it is less than an hour by air from Honolulu, but you will find yourself several decades from the more popular, crowded, overdeveloped shores of Hawaii.
Even as the developers make their moves on Molokai, Lanai remains a guardian of an older, more primitive island life style. And with its rough edges and lack of creature comforts, it gives every indication of wanting to stay that way.
Forget everything you have hard about Lanai being "that little island where they grow pineapples." For the get-away-frm-it-all traveler and the die-hard Hawaiiphile, it's a great place to visit even if you can't stand the prickly fruit.
Culture shock first hits you at Lanai's World War II-vintage Quonset-hut airport. A lone airfield employee transfers your luggage from an ancient, creaking baggage wagon to an open-air sloped tin counter, while your jet makes a hasty retreat to more civilized shores. The roar of the jet is soon lost to the rhythmic flapping of an anachronistic windsock and your senses are bathed in a gentle silence.
No lei stands. No rent-a-car booths. Virtually no people.
While the farmers and workers who accompanied you on the flight disappear down a long, flat road in little clouds of dust kicked up by their battered old sedans and pickups, you will just have to twiddle your thumbs and take in the view until the folks from the Lanai Lodge get out to pick you up.
Lanai is an extinct volcano, only 17 miles long and 13 miles wide. Lanai City is the only town, situated in the middle of the island. And the only place to stay -- unless you have friends or relatives among the island's 2,600 residents -- is the Lanai Lodge.
Prepare yourself for another culture shock as you roll into town in the lodge's well-worn VW microbus. You'll be almost sure you are about to check into an Elks or Moose Club somewhere in the Pacific Northwest, complete with stuffed animal heads on the walls.
This stately structure, nestled against the base of Lanaihale (the island's highest peak), surrounded by towering Norfolk pines, has changed very little since its halcyon days as plantation house for the pineapple executives and their families.
There are only 11 rooms for guests. You will have to do without a double bed. If too many companions share your room, somebody will end up on an army cot or the floor. And you will have to watch it with those modern electric conveniences. One shaver or hair dryer too many will blow the circuits in half the building.
But at $17 a day (add $3 for each extra body), it is one of the great bargains in Hawaii.
The lodge also houses the only restaurant in town -- a spacious log cabin dining hall that serves up three robust meals a day with summer-camp regularity. You won't believe how much you still can eat and drink for under $5.
Right next door to the lodge is a beautifyl, well-manicured nine-hole golf course, with no greens fees!
The legends say Lanai once was a land of ghosts and banished spirits. But they were run off by Kaululaau -- the flesh-and-blood relative of a Maui king -- who made the place habitable for humans.
However, the humans who came never stayed very long. Because of its evil past, the Polynesians found Lanai a bit unsavory. King Kamehameha once thought it was a terrific place to visit, but you wouldn't have caught him living there permanently. Eventually, the Protestant missionaries moved in, followed closely by the Mormons. They all moved out. When religion didn't make it, business and agriculture moved in. The sugar interests. The cattle ranchers. They flourished briefly. They too moved on.
Finally, the Dole company arrived to tame the land and the legends. We may never know why Dole succeeded where others failed.
The only disturbance is the occasional distant echo of a hunter's rifle.
This is Dole's island. The company (Castle & Cooke Inc.) supports, directly or indirectly, everyone and everything in sight. About 15,000 acres is reserved for pineapples, but there's another 75,000 acres of undeveloped land. And it's all wide open for your enjoyment until Dole decides what to do with it.
Begin your exploration in Lanai City, a real company town with mountain village charm. You can walk from one end of town to the other along streets as bright and colorful as a rainbow after a tropical storm. Many of the Dole worker homes are small wood-and-metal boxlike structures painted brilliant hues of red, blue, yellow, and green. In their small neat yards, they're like tropical flowers in miniature jungles of home-grown gardens and exotic plants.
To see the rest of the rugged countryside you will need a jeep. And the town's two service stations are each well stocked with some of the funkiest four-wheel-drive rentals you'll ever run across. Don't worry if you can't drive a stick shift, many of them are stuck in one gear anyway.
Drive to the northeast and you will discover Shipwreck Beach and the site of the old Protestant settlement.
This quiet haven for beachcombers is a graveyard for the skeletons of ships run aground long ago. Protruding from the shallow water offshore, the rust-red hulk of one half-submerged tanker dominates the view toward Molokai.
The shoreline is also home to a plethora of living skeletons -- the small shellfish opikim and the sea snail pipipi,m which cling like welded metal to the rocks along the shore.
Occasionally, the quiet is disturbed by the distant echo of a rifle shot. Hunters come to this island in search of dove, partridge, phesant, and quail. They also come for bigger game: mouflon, pronghorn antelope, and axis deer.
Roads to the opposite side of Lanai wind through miles of pineapple fields. You'll see the fruit in every phase of its nearly two-year growth cycle. And driving around the hundreds of red dirt access roads, you will feel the frustration of a laboratory mouse trying to pick and choose its way through a scientific maze.
Two trips on the island are worth a day to themselves. Northwest of Lanai City, on the exposed north slope of the island, is a canyon of stark beauty called "Garden of the Gods."
It is a moonscape of brown and red lava rocks baked by the sun and carved into fantastic shapes by centuries of wind and rain. If your body and your jeep can take the jarring ride, head all the way down the rutted trail to the ocean. Your reward for the effort is Polihua -- an old breeding ground for sea turtles and a vast unspoiled beach you undoubtedly will have all to yourself.
After a day at the bottom, try a day at the top. The Munro Trail is the island's supreme offering to adventurous souls.
The trail was built in the 1800s by George C. Munro, a Hawaiian naturalist who needed an access road up the slopes of Lanaihale to the narrow 3,500-foot ridge that spans the island. Here he planted a forest of Norfolk pine to increase the water supply for agriculture down below. The giant trees literally suck the moisture out of the clouds.
The trail winds up the mountainside like the Burma Road. As you ascend in your jeep you will be treated to increasingly spectacular views with each hairpin turn. At the top the trail snakes along a narrow ridge, as if on a cloud. While you ponder what might happen if you meet a jeep coming the other way, relax for a moment and take in one of the most breathtaking views in Hawaii. On a clear day you can see every other island, except Kauai.
Finally, don't forget the beach. After all, this is Hawaii. And Lanai has a beautiful strand at the southern tip of the island -- Hulopoe Beach in Manele Bay.
Several yachts and schooners from Lahaina, Maui, make daily excursions to this sheltered cove.They anchor offshore, allowing their dozen or so passengers a warm day of swimming, snorkeling, sunning, and luch in the shade of the Kiawe trees on the beach.
For the perfect ending to a Lanai adventure, arrange ahead of time to link up with one of these excursions. With your pants rolled above your knees and luggage perched on your head, you'll leave the island in real style -- wading out to a rubber skiff for the ride to your schooner and a sunset sail to Maui.
The Lanai Lodge can supply most of the information you will need for lodging and recreation on Lanai. Write: Lanai Lodge, PO Box 755, Lanai City, Lanai, Hawaii 96763.