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The 13 Best Things to Do on Lanai, Hawaii’s “Private Island”

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You can probably name the main Hawaiian Islands, right? You know popular Oahu, sun-drenched Maui, volcanic Hawaii (also called the Big Island), and lush Kauai. You may even be a bit familiar with Moloka’i, the oft-overlooked Friendly Isle… but can you tell me about the island of Lanai? If you’ve made it to this post – you’ve probably heard of Lanai, sometimes called Hawaii’s private island. (It’s so named because 98% of the island is held by a single owner, currently Larry Ellison from the Oracle Corporation.) Despite this name, Lanai is open to visitors – and there are loads of things to do on Lanai.

Things to Do in Lanai - BirdsEyePix via Flickr
Featured photo courtesy of BirdsEyePix via Flickr

We visited Lanai as part of our multi-island cruise itinerary with Uncruise in April 2019. We only had one day on the “Pineapple Island” – yes, there are loads of pineapple plantations – but managed to pack a lot in (#1, #2, and #4 on this list!); we also went snorkeling off the coast of Lanai one day (#5). Based on our trip, I was hungry to learn more about all there is to do on Lanai, and I’m eager to plan a longer trip back.

If you’re planning a day trip from Maui to Lanai or want to spend a few days away from the crowds on the other Hawaiian Islands, Lanai is the place to go. It may be a small island at just 140.5 square miles, but you can easily fill one day or two days in Lanai, and I’m jealous if you get to spend even longer! In any event, here are all the best things to do on Lanai to fill your days.

In this post, I promote travel to a destination that is the traditional lands of the Kō Hawaiʻi Paeʻāina (Hawaiian Kingdom) people. With respect, I make a formal land acknowledgment, extending my appreciation and respect to the past and present people of these lands. To learn more about the peoples who call these lands home, I invite you to explore Native Land.

1. Visit Lana’i City

Lanai Town Center

The sleepy, relaxed Lanai City is the only major town on the island – and, even then, “major” is a generous word for a town of 3,000 people with no traffic lights. While in this small, inviting town, you can simply get a feel for what life would be like to live in Lana‘i City.

You can pop into one of the town’s two adorable art galleries, picnic at Dole Park, or try some local food at Blue Ginger Cafe. We stopped in town shortly during our stop on Hawaii during our Uncruise trip and it left me wanting more time to stroll the quiet streets in the shade of those towering Cook Island pine trees.

2. Learn the History of Pu’u Pehe (Sweetheart Rock)

The most popular landmark on the island of Lana‘i is Pu‘u Pehe, also known as Sweetheart Rock. With its turquoise waters and red-orange ocean cliffs, it’s an absolutely gorgeous scene.

But the most interesting part of Pu‘u Pehe is the Hawaiian legend behind it. Once upon a time, a young warrior from Lana‘i popped on over to Maui. While on the neighboring island, he saw a beautiful princess, whom he captured and made his wife. But because this warrior was worried about other men getting jealous, he hid his newlywed wife in a sea cave. But, one day, during a particularly violent storm, the princess drowned. Due to his heartbreak, the warrior jumped off the cliff and to his death.

It’s a short hike from Hulopo‘e Bay Beach Park to Sweetheart Rock, which we did at the end of our day on Lanai during our Hawaii cruise. If I had more time, it would definitely be a go-to sunrise spot on the island.

3. Explore Keahiakawelo (Garden of the Gods)

Things to Do on Lanai - Keahiakawelo - chuck b. via Flickr
Photo courtesy of chuck b on Flickr

Keahiakawelo, also known as the Garden of the Gods, is definitely one of the best things to do on Lanai. With its red ground, scattered boulders, and foggy skies, this otherworldly landscape looks like it could be on Mars!

According to ancient Hawaiian legend, this barren landscape was made when two priests, one from Lana‘i and one from the neighboring island of Moloka‘i, decided to have a competition to see who could keep a fire burning longer. In the process, they burned away all the vegetation!

But according to scientific studies, the lack of greenery is actually due to the introduction non-native wildlife, including goats and deer, in the 1800s. These animals didn’t have much food to eat, so they ate up all of the vegetation at Keahiakawelo.

4. Support the Lana’i Cat Sanctuary

Lana‘i – and Hawai‘i in general – has many stray animals, especially stray cats. Most of these animals never find permanent homes, but the Lana‘i Cat Sanctuary tries to solve that problem. This nonprofit is home to over 600 cats! Giving these felines a place to stay not only benefits the cats, but also helps to protect Hawai‘i’s endangered bird population.

We visited the Lanai Cat Sanctuary as our primary excursion on Lanai during our Hawaii cruise. It was such a treat to meet so many kitties and explore all their different homes and favorite snooze spots.

To help this nonprofit’s mission, you can sponsor or adopt a cat of your own! (You can also do this from home on their website!)

5. Snorkel, Surf, or Tidepool at Hulopoe Bay Beach Park

Hulopoe Bay Beach Park is one of the best places to snorkel on Lanai. Not only will you get to see schools of rare colorful Hawaiian fish, but you also might get to see endangered Hawaiian green sea turtles and even spinner dolphins.

If you’d like to see ocean creatures without getting wet, there’s also the option to explore tide pools at Hulopoe Bay Beach Park. You’ll be able to see sea cucumbers, starfish, Barber Pole shrimp, and ‘opihi (limpets).

And while Hulopoe Beach Park is ideal for swimming and snorkeling in the summer, it becomes a fantastic place to surf in the winter!

6. Stroll on Kaiolohia (Shipwreck Beach)

Things to Do in Lanai - Kaiolohia Shipwreck Beach

Taking a trip to Kaiolohia, also known as Shipwreck Beach, is definitely one of the best things to do on Lanai. Like the name implies, you can actually see a huge, rusted shipwreck at this beach!

Due to the strong current in the area, there are actually multiple shipwrecks beneath the waves. And while you might be tempted to dive below the waters to see them all, you definitely shouldn’t do that. The waves at Shipwreck Beach are extremely strong and dangerous, so you’ll want to stay out of the water.

7. Escape the “Crowds” on Polihua Beach

With a population of just 3,000 people, there aren’t really any crowds on Lana‘i. But if you visit the most popular beaches, including Hulopoe Bay Beach Park, you’ll definitely see a few other people. If you’d like to have a slice of paradise all to yourself, you can head to Polihua Beach.

With 1.5 miles of pristine shoreline, Polihua Beach is one of the longest beaches in Hawai‘i. In other words, it’s the perfect place to relax and soak up some sun! But don’t head in the water, as the waves at Polihua Beach can be very dangerous.

8. Hike Koloiki Trail or Munro Trail

Things to Do in Lanai - Munro Trail - Forest and Kim Starr via Flickr
Photo courtesy of Forest and Kim Starr via Flickr

Both the Koloiki Trail and the Munro Trail start at the same spot, but the two trails offer very different experiences. (Note: The Munro Trail is currently closed for restoration and construction.)

First of all, the Koloiki Trail is a mere four miles, whereas the Munro Trail is a whopping twelve miles. Secondly, Kolokiki Trail is a ridge trail that takes you up into the lush mountains, whereas the Munro Trail takes you through a few different terrains. Regardless of which path you choose, you’ll be guaranteed to catch spectacular views of the island.

While hiking the Koloiki Trail or the Munro Trail, be sure to plot your path in advance, as there are a few different trails that intertwine with these two paths. If you don’t plan out your route before you head out, you may end up hiking for longer than you like.

9. Explore Kaunolu Village Site

Lanai Kaunolu Halulu Heiau - Joel Bradshaw
Photo courtesy of Joel Bradshaw

The Kaunolu Village Site is a U.S. National Historic Landmark packed with Hawaiian history. For hundreds of years, this village was a thriving fishing spot. It was even one of King Kamehameha I’s favorites!

While at Kaunolu Village Site, you can check out the gorgeous sea cliffs, the town ruins, the remnants of a sacred heiau (Hawaiian temple), and even the ancient Hawaiian petroglyphs. But one of the coolest landmarks at Kaunolu Village Site is Kahekili’s Leap, a 60-foot cliff where ancient Hawaiian warriors would prove their courage by diving off the edge.

10. Discover the Poaiwa Petroglyphs

Petroglyphs were the ancient Hawaiian’s form of pictorial writing. These petroglyphs can be found on all of the Hawaiian Islands, including Lana‘i.

In order to reach the Poaiwa Petroglyphs on Lana‘i, you’ll need to make your way to Shipwreck Beach first and then tackle a short half-mile hike. Once there, you’ll see large lava rock boulders covered in faded petroglyphs. The carvings depict everything from fighting warriors to friendly dogs.

11. Go Off-Roading

Things to Do in Lanai - Off-Roading

During your time on Lana‘i, there’s a very good chance that you’ll end up going off-roading. With only 30 miles of paved road on the entire island, you’ll need to test your off-roading skills to make it to many of the attractions on this list, including Keahiahawelo, Kaiolohia, and Polihua Beach.

Luckily for you, the two rental car companies on the island are packed with four-wheel drive vehicles. Or if you’d prefer to take a guided UTV tour, you can do so with Lana‘i Adventures.

12. SCUBA the Lana‘i Cathedrals

Photos courtesy of Brian Wishan & Amy Truter via Flickr

If you’re a diver, the Lana‘i Cathedrals is a dream adventure for you! On this dive, you’ll be able to swim through lava tunnels, into sea caves, and under lava rock arches.

But the highlight of this experience is obviously the Lana‘i Cathedrals. These cathedrals are essentially two large caverns with light streaming through a hole in the ceiling, creating a bit of a religious vibe. In these two caverns, you’ll see tons of sea creatures, including colorful fish, eels, turtles, octopi, crabs, and lobsters.

But the highlight of this experience is obviously the Lana‘i Cathedrals. These cathedrals are essentially two large caverns with light streaming through a hole in the ceiling, creating a bit of a religious vibe. In these two caverns, you’ll see tons of sea creatures, including colorful fish, eels, turtles, octopi, crabs, and lobsters.

13. Tee Off at the Four Seasons Resort

Four Seasons Lanai - Forest and Kim Starr via Flickr
Photo courtesy of Forest and Kim Starr via Flickr

Most of the best things to do on Lana‘i involve nature or Hawaiian culture. Golfing at the Four Seasons Resort’s Manele Golf Course offers a little something different.

As you test your skills on the 18 holes, you can also take in the course’s breathtaking views. With ocean views and lava outcroppings, it’s no surprise to find out that many people actually come to the Manele Golf Course for the scenery.

Now you know the essential list of things to do on Lana’i, whether you’re visiting for a day or spending a weekend on this quiet island. Which one of these Lanai things to do is #1 on your list? Let me know in the comments plus any questions you have!

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I was born on the East Coast and currently live in the Midwest – but my heart will always be out West. I lived for 15 years in Alaska, as well as four years each in California and Washington. I share travel resources and stories based on my personal experience and knowledge.


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