It’s time to indulge your inner Indiana Jones by adventuring Lana‘i.
Don’t expect a smooth ride to the far corners of the island. Only 32 miles of paved road exists on this entire chunk of land. So you’ll have to choose — do it yourself in a rented 4-wheel drive from Dollar Rent-a-Car Lana‘i, Cheap Jeeps or the Four Seasons Resort.
There are two roads to follow, both out of Lana‘i City. Polihua Road, stretches to the north through wild dry country through Garden of the Gods to Polihua Beach. The other, Keomoku Road, drops to the coast to Shipwreck Beach and petroglyphs in one direction, and to Keomoku, an abandoned village.
Let’s take the morning run to isolated Polihua Beach. Afternoons heat up. Take Läna‘i Avenue out of town past the Lodge at Koele, scheduled to re-open in late 2018. Turn left between the tennis courts and stables. This is Polihua Road. Even at slow speed, you’ll send up a red dust rooster tail. Dirt roads branch off left and right; stick with the main one going northwest.
Within about 6 miles, you’ll come to Kanepu‘u Nature Preserve, a dryland forest with sandalwood, olive, and ebony. A self-guided tour to the 590-acre tract is available at the entry.
Moving on the landscapes changes dramatically, at Keahiakawelo, or Garden of the Gods. It looks like Mainland U.S. cowboy country. Buttes, towers, and turrets, ranging from ochre to purple, punctuate the landscape. Tourists probably laid the little rock stacks, much to the annoyance of locals. Bring binoculars to spot axis deer and mouflon sheep, which roam widely.
Polihua becomes a “Trail” here, so prepare for spine jolts. Your reward will be a 2-mile red-sand stretch, one of the most isolated beaches in the world. Local families come on weekends and leave their barbecue grills in the kiawe thicket. But don’t plan on a swim. Currents and riptides make the water treacherous.
Then it’s time to drop to the coast. You start on paved Keomoku Road. It will crest a hill with a fantastic view of Moloka‘i. Switchbacks along Maunalei Gulch take you to the bottom, about 8 miles from Läna‘i City. Turn to the left, and you’re off the pavement now.. Within a short distance, you’ll come to a series of makeshift fishing shacks. It’s called Federation Camp, built by Filipino people in the 1930s. The camp is still used.
In little over a mile beyond and you’re at Kaiolohi‘a or Shipwreck Beach. There’s a pullout for parking and chances are one or two other cars may be there. Kaiolohi‘a means choppy. If you look at the ‘Au‘au Channel and then at the rusty hulk of a World War II-era ship just offshore, you’ll understand both names. The raised cement platform belonged to a lighthouse that stood here. Kiteboarders often take advantage of the high wind to soar over the water.
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Nearby are the Kukui petroglyphs, still visible but fading from the weather. Look for the trail at the beach sign on the rock. Hawaiians lived here from the 15th —19th century and carved or incised these symbols. Follow the path. In about 100 yards you find petroglyphs on boulders on the right. Stick-figure men with a wide stance of legs and dogs with curved tails are common. The figures called birdmen earn their names for the wing-like arms and bird-like heads. A sign with an expert’s text is informative.
Drive back and continue beyond the junction to Keomoku village site in about six miles. Expect it to take about 30 minutes. Don’t try if it’s been raining because the soft sand becomes a sink hold. Our driver Garrett Yoshikawa skillfully fishtailed through. He is Lana‘i native and told stories of his grandfather who had a garden near Keomoku. He brought the empty track to life. This spot is one of the most magical on Lana‘i.