On Maui, the city of Lahaina is 24 miles from Kahului Airport.
On Oahu, the average drive time from Waikiki to Haleiwa is just over an hour.
Of the two million tourists who visit Maui each year, virtually all of them fly out of the Kahului Airport. Of the four million tourists who visit Oahu each year, many of them spend a day driving to Haleiwa to explore the island’s north shore.
Why do we mention this?
Because in both of these instances there is someplace closer that most visitors don’t ever think of; a place with empty beaches and teeming reefs and miles of hiking trails waiting to be explored. We aren’t talking about the resorts of Ka’anapali or the beaches of Kapolei. We’re talking about a relaxing escape where there aren’t any stoplights and only 30 miles of paved road.
The place we’re talking about, is the island of Lana’i.
Of the millions of visitors who travel to Hawaii each year less than one percent ever make it to Lana’i. Because there aren’t any direct flights into Lana’i—an island of 3,300 residents which was once the world’s largest pineapple plantation—the extra step involved in visiting the island moves it off of many traveler’s radar. The reality, however, is that traveling to Lana’i is far easier than you think, and in many ways it’s more convenient than most travelers could ever imagine.
Manele Harbor, for example, is only 15 miles from the town of Lahaina, placing it eight miles closer than Kahului Airport. Expeditions ferry runs five times daily and departs for Lana’i at 6:45 am, 9:15 am, 12:45 pm, 3:15 pm, and 5:45 pm. If traveling from the other direction, ferries depart Manele Harbor for Lahaina at 8:00 am, 10:30 am, 2:00 pm, 4:30 pm, and 6:45 pm. Travel time between the two islands is just under an hour, and you even have a chance of spotting Hawaiian spinner dolphins or breaching humpback whales during the winter season. Roundtrip passage will cost $60, or tickets can also be purchased for $30 one-way. Children under 12 years and seniors 65 and over are only $20 each way.
From Oahu, a flight between Honolulu Airport (HNL) and Lana’i City Airport (LNY) only takes 30 minutes, placing it closer to the city than driving to the island’s north shore. There are four direct flights per day on Island Air, and two direct flights per day on Mokulele Airlines. As if six flights per day weren’t enough, Hawaiian Airlines has plans to add direct flights between Honolulu and Lana’i in the second half of 2013. If you think a 30 minute flight is short, the flight between Kahului Airport and Lana’i is even shorter: Offered once every afternoon by Mokulele Airlines, the total flight times is only 24 minutes. Or, if flying commercial just isn’t your style, companies such as MarJet offer private aircraft charters to Lana’i from anywhere in the Hawaiian Islands.
Now that you know getting to Lana’i is easier than you thought, you might be surprised to hear that getting around Lana’i is easy as well. Seeing as the island only has 30 miles of paved roads and many of the sites require 4WD, Jeep rentals are the most popular mode of island transportation. Rental Jeeps are available from both Dollar Lana’i and Lana’i Jeep Rentals, and the Jeeps at Lana’i Jeep Rentals are slightly cheaper at $120/ day (as opposed to $140-$170/day at Dollar Lana’i). When compared to rental car prices on other islands, the sticker shock can sometimes be a deterrent, but what’s different about Lana’i is that you only need a 4WD Jeep on the days you plan to explore. Whereas with Maui and Oahu it’s best to have a car for the duration of your vacation, the island of Lana’i is small enough you can experience many of its backroads, beaches, and historical sites in a single day or two, which means you only need to rent a Jeep for a short period of time. Since you might only be renting a 4WD drive vehicle for a day or two, you can also offroad in style by renting a Hummer from either Dollar Lana’i or 808 Hummers.
So what do you do if you only have the Jeep for a day but still want to visit Hulopo’e Beach or grab lunch up in town? If you’re staying at one of the Four Season’s Resorts, a one-time fee of $47.50/person will grant you access for the duration of your trip to complimentary transportation aboard one of their shuttles. Shuttles run frequently between Manele Bay Hotel to Lana’i City and the Lodge at Koele, and the two hotels are only 20 minutes from each other. The same service is available to guests of Hotel Lana’i, although the one-time fee is only $35.
The shuttle is a great service if you’re staying at one of the resorts, but what if you’re staying at a local B&B or caught the ferry over from Maui and want to travel into town? If you’ve rented a Jeep from Dollar Lana’i they will meet you at the harbor and shuttle you into town, and if anyone else would like to join it’s only $10/person. Similarly, if you would like to catch a ride on the resort shuttle, you can do so for a fee of $10/person for every time you ride. Given this service, if you’re staying in Lana’i City for the day at a small bed and breakfast, and your only plans are to go to Hulopo’e Beach for the day, you can ride the resort shuttle for $20/person roundtrip and save the money of renting a Jeep for the entire day. Since all of Lana’i City is accessible by foot, there’s really no need to rent a car if you’re just exploring around town.
Finally, if you’re on vacation and simply can’t be bothered with navigating and driving, Rabaca’s car service provides private transport to many places across the island, including tours off the beaten path, and this is another option for getting around town which is affordable, unique, and makes for a Hawaiian vacation few will ever experience.
So the next time you visit Hawaii and plan to visit your usual stops, consider making a side trip to the island of Lana’i. This exclusive getaway and enchanting landscape is truly closer than you think.