Owned privately by billionaire Larry Ellison, Lanai is known as the “pineapple island” (because of its past pineapple growing industry).
It’s a small Hawaiian island off the coast of Maui – just 13 miles wide by 18 miles long. But despite its postage-stamp size, there are a surprising number of things to do in Lanai.
At the same time, it’s the perfect place to get away from it all. Lanai has no stop lights – imagine that! But its 400 miles of 4-wheel-drive trails get you out into dramatic countryside. And the island has several secluded beaches where you may be the only person soaking up the sun.
How to get to Lanai
Let’s first start with how to get there.
Expeditions runs a passenger ferry from Maui to Lanai and back. The ride takes about 45 to 50 minutes. The ferry dock on Lanai – Manele Harbor – is just a short walk from Hulopoe Beach (#2 below), one of the best beaches on Lanai.
While you can make a day trip to Lanai, you’ll probably end up wishing you could stay longer on Lanai.
Things to do in Lanai, Hawaii
Okay, ready now to kick around Lanai?
1) Hike Lanai
We particularly loved the hiking on Lanai.
Koloiki Ridge hike:
A popular trail is the Koloiki Ridge hike.
This great 5-mile roundtrip hiking trail winds along a mountain ridge through pine forests high up in the hills (where the air is definitely cooler than down by the beach), before opening up to sweeping ocean views.
The official start of the trail is near the Four Seasons Hotel Lanai at Koele. Alternatively, you can start from the Munro Trail (park at the cemetery) – the hike would then be about 6 miles. Give yourself 2 to 3 hours, which allows plenty of time for gawking at the views.
Sweetheart Rock (Puu Pehe) hike:
Down by Hulopoe Beach (at the foot of the beachfront Four Seasons Resort Lanai), there’s an easy walk to Puu Pehe or “Sweetheart Rock.”
It follows the coastline to an 80-foot tall craggy rock formation shooting up out of the water.
Legend has it that Makakehau, a young warrior from Lanai, fell in love with Pehe, a Hawaiian beauty from Maui. He took her back to Lanai and hid her in a sea cave. But a sudden storm flooded the cave, drowning her in the waves. So he climbed to the top of this rocky outcropping, where he buried her, then leaped to his death in the surging waters below.
The legend is touching – adding to the mystical beauty of the dramatic red rock pinnacle.
This walk is about 15 to 20 minutes each way.
2) Bask on Hulopoe Beach
Of course, you’re going to want to spend some time relaxing on beautiful Hulopoe Beach. This is one of the things you can do on Lanai without a car, because the beach is walking distance from the Lanai ferry dock.
Keep your eyes peeled for spinner dolphins that play in the bay!
The white sand beach is absolutely idyllic! And it’s public. If you take a Lanai snorkeling excursion from Maui, this is the beach you get to enjoy lazing about on.
If you’re a guest at either of the Four Seasons resorts on Lanai, you also get to enjoy their beach club services – like being treated to Evian spritzes and chilled facecloths delivered to you, while you’re lounging on your beach chair.
3) Explore Lanai City
The small sleepy town of Lanai City sits at 1,645 feet above sea level.
That means it’s a pleasantly cool reprieve from the beach.
Stroll about the town’s square, and you’ll discover a few shops and several sweet cafes and restaurants.
The Lanai Culture & Heritage Center is worth poking about in. Historic old photos, maps and artifacts (like poi pounders and pineapple plantation tools) celebrate the land, people and history of Lanai. There are even a few pineapples growing outside in the garden.
Also check out the Lanai Art Center.
Its gallery and gift shop features the works of local artists.
4) Visit Shipwreck Beach
Who knew! More than a dozen wrecks lie along the 6-mile coastline known as Shipwreck Beach.
Some were grounded accidentally.
Others were dumped intentionally. After inter-island steamships had finished servicing the plantations and ferrying passengers in the 19th century, their owners let them go to be wrecked on the reefs here.
One of the most visible wrecks you see when visiting the area is the YOGN-42, a concrete fuel barge built for the US Navy in 1942. It was intentionally scuttled in 1954.
And now you see her, listing on her side, rusting away in the salty sea – and making for a very interesting photo!
5) Golf on Lanai
Golfers can tee off on the seaside Manele Golf Course. Designed by Jack Nicklaus, this immaculately maintained course serves up ocean views from every hole.
Cool factoid: Bill Gates married his wife, Melinda, at the 12th hole tee box in 1994.
6) Pet a kitty at the Lanai Cat Sanctuary
Oh, this is a feel-good Lanai activity.
Started by spirited cat lovers, the non-profit Lanai Cat Sanctuary is a top-notch cat haven that has taken in more that 600 cats in the last few years. It also helps the Lanai eco-stysem by rescuing cats from protected areas where endangered ground-nesting birds (like the Hawaiian petrel) live.
So rent a jeep or car, and go play with the kitties!
The sanctuary survives on donations, so while there’s no admission fee, you might want to donate a little something to help support their efforts.
And if you end up falling in love with one of the cute fur balls and adopting it to take home – don’t say we didn’t warn you!
7) Explore Keahiakawelo
Known as the “Garden of the Gods,” Keahiakawelo is a vast otherworldly rock garden on the north end of the island.
The ultimate rock garden, this storied place looks like how you’d imagine Mars, with the sun bouncing off red rock towers and spires, formed by thousands of years of erosion.
According to one Hawaiian legend, the boulders were dropped from the sky by gods caring for their gardens.
Another says that this rocky landscape was created after a contest between two priests from Lanai and Molokai. Each had to keep a fire burning on their island longer than the other. The Lanai priest won, using all the trees and bushes on this part of the island to fuel his fire.
Whatever the legend, Keahiakawelo is a remarkable site. You need a four-wheel drive to get to this wild and windswept area (about a 45-minute drive from Lanai City).
The Garden of the Gods is most alluring at dusk, when the setting sun bathes everything in a vivid orange glow.
Morning is another good time to soak in the scenes when the colors are richest.
8) Suntan in the buff at Polihua Beach
Yes, because Polihua Beach is so remote, you can strip off and sunbathe in the nude here!
But don’t tell too many people about this – we’d like to keep it one of those secret things to do in Lanai. (Note that the water isn’t safe for swimming at Polihua Beach though.)
Like Keahiakawalo (#7 above), this two-mile arc of pristine gold sand beach is also found on the northern part of Lanai, so you can combine visiting both in the same four-wheel drive outing.
9) Go scuba diving
What to do on Lanai underwater? Go scuba diving!
Underwater, Lanai is every bit as captivating as above. In particular, it boasts two signature dive sites with light-filled caverns created from lava tubes – the First Cathedral and Second Cathedral.
Apart from the wonder of diving through these beautiful lava caves and archways, these sites are also rich in marine life. See green turtles, yellow butterfly fish, eels and perhaps even whitetip reef sharks, if you’re lucky.
More Lanai activities?
There are several more Lanai beaches where you can sink your toes in the sand. And the beaches are never crowded!
You can also join a yoga session on the island.
And horseback riding? Yup! Ride through Ironwood forests up in the hills surrounding Koele.
Where to stay
Many visitors stay at one of the two Four Seasons hotels on Lanai: the Sensei Lanai, A Four Seasons Resort (the former Lodge at Koele) or the Four Seasons Resort Lanai (at Manele Bay). We’ve stayed at both of these – and can highly recommend these luxury digs!
Another option – less expensive too – is to bunk down at the funky and charming Hotel Lanai.
It was built in 1923 as lodging for Dole Plantation execs.
Recommended reading: See our review of the two Four Seasons Resorts on Lanai
If you’d prefer to have your own private self-contained accommodation with a kitchen, there are some lovely Lanai plantation homes, cottages and condos available through VRBO (Vacation Rental by Owner), an Expedia Group company.
Photo credits: 4, 5, 11 and 13 © Janice and George Mucalov, SandInMySuitcase | 3, 7, 9, 14, 15, 17, 22 to 24 and 27 to 28 Four Seasons Lanai | 8 Hawaii Tourism Authority | 18 to 21 Lanai Cat Sanctuary | 29 Hotel Lanai