Taking the Ferry from Lahaina to Lanai | Hiking Lanaihale from Sea to Summit | January 3, 2020
Our last day of vacation began before dawn as we quickly and quietly packed up our tent and waited for our Lyft. We were thankful that after all our stress from the day before, the only unexpected expense that came from it was a $21 ride. In hindsight, it may have been better to simply keep the rental car one more day, get an even earlier start by returning it and then taking the first bus from Kahului to Lahaina. That may have saved us time and stress, but it’s debatable whether it would’ve actually cost less.
Anyway, we made it to the ferry dock with time to spare and found a place to refill our water containers. Curtis had reserved our ferry tickets the day before just in case it had any chance at being fully booked. There are several different ferries that leave from Lahaina every day, but we knew we’d need to take the first one at 6:45 in order to get the earliest start possible on today’s hike.
We sat on the top deck for our ~50 minute long ferry ride between Maui and Lanai. We loved every part of this — from getting to see several islands from a different point of view, to watching the sunrise at sea, to seeing a good portion of the cliffs along Lanai’s coast. I wish we could have this option to travel between more of the Hawaiian islands. We looked for whales but didn’t see any, as they usually use different straights, such as between Oahu and Molokai.
We arrived on Lanai around 7:30 at Manele Harbor and prepared ourselves for our hike. Our mission for the day was to hike across the island while hitting the highest point on the island, a distance of about 16 miles, in time to make our flight at 7:45 PM. We ate some of our snacks and threw away trash to make our backpacks lighter and made sure we had enough water for the day.
The first leg of the hike was a road walk to get out of Manele. We followed HI-440 North as it slowly ascended 1000′ to the center of the island. The road walk was only 3 miles, and the traffic light, as you would expect on the island with the smallest population. About a half-mile from our actual trail head, a man passing by offered us a ride, but we politely declined. We had walked this far, we might as well say we walked the whole thing, from sea to summit. Once at 1000′, the topography leveled out significantly and we made a turn off of the highway onto an old plantation road, and now an OHV track and the end (or for us, the start) of the Munro Trail.
Back in the late 19th through most of the 20th century, Lanai was known for being a producer of pineapples with the Dole Company, with most of the entire center of the island reserved for growing pineapples. But in 1992, due to rising labor costs, Dole ceased operations but continued to own most of the island until 2012 when the island (almost literally) was sold to Larry Ellison, a multi-Billionaire who intends to improve the island and make it sustainable.
All that to say, right now with the exception of the resorts, golf courses, and Lanai City, the island is vacant and undeveloped. As we walked the old roads between fields that used to grow thousands of pineapples, we felt alone, and we were alright with that. The road was flat as we walked north towards the summit ridge, the sun was intermittent behind the clouds, and we felt good, even with our heavy packs. There were a few points where different roads branched off of the one we took, and that made me a little concerned that we could find ourselves on the wrong path. We weren’t using AllTrails to conserve phone battery, so we had to consult Google Maps a few times to make sure we were on the right road. There were occasionally signs that didn’t make any sense or didn’t aid in helping us find our way. For example, we came across one that said “Panini Patch,” but didn’t see any paninis growing. How odd.
At about 6 miles in (3 miles from the highway), we reached the edge of the summit ridge and had our first (and only) look out over the windward side. Signs near here explained the history of the area and how, before the pineapple boom, cattle hands used to send their stock over the mountains at this point before they went down to the main harbor. A man named Munro owned a cabin near a now gone waterfall and would lead the cattlemen over the mountains. Before all that, this was considered a haunted site, filled with ghosts and spirits.
We took a much needed rest from our packs, took pictures, had a snack, and took a side trip a quarter mile out of our way to the south to an ancient Heiau. This gave nice views of the center of the island. You could easily tell where the highway was as it was treelined the whole way. Everything else was a burnt red with scrubby trees and grasses. It was also here where we learned that Lanai only receives 30-35 inches of rain a year, but that it receives over 100 inches annually of ‘cloud drip’. Looking to the West we knew we would be in store for this and we continued the steep climb up the summit ridge.
The next 2-3 miles quickly gained the remaining 1500′ or so to the top of Lanai on Lanaihale. We soon lost the sun as we entered into the clouds, and the wind coming up from the East was strong. But despite all of this we did not get wet, or at least not soaked as one would expect in a cloud. Instead wherever we walked we would hear and see the cloud precipitate out on the Norfolk and Cook pines, and whenever the wind would blow it would scatter this ‘cloud drip’. It was honestly really interesting.
We reached the summit where the trail leveled out nicely and we were able to enjoy the hike a bit more. Without AllTrails running, we weren’t sure exactly how far we had gone, and only vaguely knew how far we had to go. We figured that so long as the trail continued without branching, we would be fine.
We passed by some radio towers and decided that we must be at the summit, although there was no sign, geodetic marker, or post; not that there was a view or anything. And then the trail went down. Curtis found a nice machete on the trail, but left it for some other wanderer to have. I don’t think they let you take those in your carry-on.
Around this time (about 1:00 PM) the trail started getting windy and windy (ha, English). Since we had no frame of reference in the cloud, our minds began to play tricks on how far we had gone. We kept thinking that since we had made a turn, we were clearly coming near the end. Then Curtis would check his phone and see that we were still 2 miles out. If we were on a hard to follow trail that could have been dangerous, but thankfully we weren’t.
As we got near the end of the trail, we began to see more trail signs (none that made sense though, which was concerning at first) and indications of human life. Then we came out of the woods and found ourselves at a resort. An enormous ropes course resort complete with a Tarzan house in the center of a moat. There were also turkeys everywhere.
We made it as far as the main road and decided that was far enough. We didn’t have any plans in Lanai City and were bushed after hiking 16 miles, so we sat in front of the resort waiting for a cab, the closest thing to public transportation the island has. We had good conversation with the cab driver on the short ride to the airport.
When we went to check in for our flight, we were informed that we could transfer from our flight at 7:30 to one leaving in a half hour. Perfect! We made it through the VERY thorough TSA checkpoint (where they debated whether they should do bomb swipes on a package of unopened risotto… I guess being TSA at a small airport has its slow points). We thoroughly enjoyed our 30 minute sunset flight in a turbo-prop airplane, a first for both of us.
Back on Oahu, we got held up near our gate waiting for another plane to leave. Curtis opened the Honolulu bus app on his phone, because we had parked off of airport property and took a bus there to save money. It was then that he realized that for some reason, the bus schedule was ending early that night, and the LAST bus of the day would be arriving in 10 minutes. Suddenly, we went from thinking we were just happy to be home a few hours early, to being in a rush to get off the plane and make it to the bus stop on time! Once we were finally at the gate, we hurried off the plane and awkwardly ran through the airport, with big heavy backpacks and very sore legs from hiking all day. We came outside just as the bus was turning the last corner on the way to the stop and made it in the nick of time! We arrived back at our car, which was thankfully just the way we left it, and drove home, back to our sweet puppy. I’m kind of in awe that everything worked out the way it did, and thankful for another successful island hop!