There’s something you need to know about Lana’i. If you want to see the most sites on Lana’i, you really need 4-wheel drive (4WD). In my research before our trip to Lana’i, I was surprised that there wasn’t already a quick and convenient list of places you can visit with 4WD, or a list of places you can visit without 4WD. So I’m doing both for you!
Read this first: Everything You Need to Know about Renting a Car on Lana’i
Why Do You Need 4WD?
Because most of the roads are not paved. If you choose a (less expensive) non-4WD vehicle, you can only drive on the 30 miles of paved roads on the island. Many non-4WD vehicles have GPS trackers on them, so the rental company will know whether or not you honored their agreement. And if you don’t, you’ll face huge fines.
But it’s more than just paved vs. unpaved roads. The unpaved roads aren’t just dirt, they’re rutted, rooty, rocky, sandy, and otherwise rough! Trust me when I tell you you’ll truly need the 4WD function on your car if you want to take Lana’i’s unpaved roads!
Helpful info: The Best Ways to Save BIG on Your Trip to Hawaii
What If I Can’t Afford 4WD?
You can still see a lot without 4WD! Lana’i and Hawaii in general are expensive places to visit. Do what you can, and if you want to splurge on a more expensive car or a special experience, there are ways to make it happen! Just weigh the pros and cons of spending more on your Lana’i rental car, and decide if it’s worth it to you. Check out my Saving and Money Page for all my strategies for saving for travel, spending effectively, and getting rewarded with points and miles!
Coming soon: The Best Places to Go on Lana’i WITHOUT 4WD
Where Can I Go with 4WD?
With all that said, let’s get to it. Here’s where you can go if you have 4WD on Lana’i!
This is a 5-mile loop just off Manele Road, about 1.5 miles from Lana’i City. It’s easy to find, and you’ll be rewarded at the top with views of the island. Standing at the overlook, about 1.8 miles into the trail, you’ll be looking into the historic caldera, or crater of the volcano that created Lana’i. Don’t worry, it’s long dormant! Continuing on the well-marked trail, you’ll also find a sacred heiau and the last remaining grove of pandanus trees. It’s a steep climb up, but once you get to the overlook, the rest is relatively flat.
Note: You can also park at the trail head and hike this 5-mile loop trail if you choose not to rent a Jeep.
Coming soon: Hiking Hawaii: Lana’i
Ka Lanakila Church at Keamoku Village
I love old Hawaiian churches. They’re usually simple, small, and beautiful. Often they’re painted (quite often green), or made with local materials like coral, stone, or wood. This one is about 5.5 miles down a dirt road. You’ll find it by taking Keomuku Highway out of Lana’i City, and keep going straight where the pavement ends, then turn right. The church was built in 1903 was used regularly until 1951.
Kaiolohia (Shipwreck Beach)
This is one of the more iconic spots on Lana’i, so you’ll want to make the effort to get here. The oil tanker you’ll see in offshore in Kaiolohia Bay was intentionally sunk here in the 1940s. Several other ships have also–intentionally and unintentionally–run aground here on the coral reef, and a hike along the coastline will show you more.
Note: If you choose not to rent a Jeep, you can park at the end of Kaomuku Road and walk 2.5 miles to Kaiolohia.
This lookout will take you to a 1700-foot elevation with views of Lana’i Hale, the highest point on the island. You’ll turn left at the first cattle gap on your way to Keahiakawelo (Garden of the Gods) and follow the signs for Kanepu’u. On a clear day, you can also see the West Mau’i mountains in the distance.
Kaunolu Village National Site
Experiencing this site was well worth the journey. To find it, you’ll keep going past Lana’i Cat Sanctuary and turn right at the road marker. King Kamehameha I made a summer home here, and once you get to the site, you’ll see why. The views of the coastline are stunning. You’ll see Lana’i’s tallest sea cliffs from Lele Kawa A Kehekili (Kehekili’s Leap), and you can still see the foundation of the King’s home and the Halulu Heiau (Temple of Halulu).
Keahiakawelo (Garden of the Gods)
This is a sacred place to native Hawaiians, but it got its more well-known name because someone thought it looked like Colorado’s Garden of the Gods. In fact, Keahiakawelo actually means “The Fire of Kawelo,” which sounds much more hard-core. Hawaiian tradition says that the landscape here was caused by a competition between two kahuna, or priests, one from Lana’i, the other from Molokai. Each kahuna had to keep his fire going longer than the other. The kahuna from Lana’i used all the vegetation from this area to fuel his fire, which is why it’s so barren here. Click here for more information.
Note: If you choose not to rent a Jeep, you can also get here via mountain bike.
More here: The Best Things to Love about Hawaii
Lana’i Cat Sanctuary
This ia a must-do! Unless, of course, you’re allergic to cats. It’s FREE to visit, you’ll get a bag of cat food to help you make friends, and you’ll get to snuggle with some very friendly felines. This sanctuary not only protects the cats, but also protects the island’s native birds and other wildlife as well. You can support the Sanctuary by shopping in their gift shop, or even “adopt” a cat in place for a month or up to a year!
Note: This one surprised me a bit! It’s just a little ways down an unpaved road, but if your vehicle is not a Jeep and has a tracker on it, you won’t be able to drive here. You could park on the side of the road and walk up, but make sure you’re not parked in the road!
Feline feline? The Ultimate Guide to Lana’i Cat Sanctuary
How often can you have a Hawaiian beach all to yourself? Not often! Polihua Beach is down a long, rough road, so this is one place where you will definitely be engaging your 4WD. At nearly two miles long, it’s the largest beach on Lana’i, as well as one of the largest in Hawaii. This is not a swimmable beach, due to rough surf and strong currents, but you might be able to see sea turtles on the shore!
Tips for Driving a 4WD Vehicle
If you’ve never driven a Jeep or other 4WD vehicle before, don’t hesitate to ask for suggestions and advice. Here are some tips to get you started.
- Don’t use 4WD when you don’t need it. That means don’t use it on paved roads. That also means you don’t necessarily need it when you’re traveling on flat, dry dirt. Save it for the hard-core obstacles and loose ground.
- Don’t wait until you’re stuck to use 4WD. It’s better not to get into a sticky situation than to wait until it’s too late.
- The Jeep sits up higher than you think. There were a few instances in the beginning of our trip when we weren’t sure if it could handle a rock ledge in the road. But by the end, we were letting the Jeep tackle much higher obstacles.
- Drive slow. When 4WD is necessary, slower is better than charging hard. Let your tires find their footing when they need a minute to do so!
More here: What to Know Before You Visit Lana’i
Want more about Lana’i? You’ll find everything you need and more on my dedicated Hawaiian Islands Page!
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