Lanai and Molokai are the least populated of the major islands. Lanai doesn’t even have a traffic light and only 30 miles of Lanai’s roads are paved. The rest require a 4×4 off-road vehicle to traverse. Molokai has a population of only 7,000 who are mostly of native Hawaiian descent. Both appeal to those seeking seclusion or outdoor adventure.
Lanai can feel like two places: the luxury and amenities of resort life, including championship golf and then the remoteness of the island’s back-roads exploring nature’s treasures.
South Lanai greets visitors with its sunny weather and luxury resorts. Here is where you’ll find Hulopoe Bay – a stunning expanse of pearl-white sand and crystal blue waters. Most of the year, this protected bay is the best spot on the island for snorkeling and swimming. One of the highlights of Hulopoe Bay is its large tide pools located at the eastern side of the bay. Carved out of volcanic rock, these tide pools are well protected, keeping the waters calm for exploring. Acrobatic spinner dolphins can often be seen in Hulopoe Bay, while the winter months bring visits from humpback whales.
Central Lanai is made for hiking and exploring. The rustic Munro Trail – just north of Lanai City – is a 12.8 mile, one-lane dirt road where you can 4×4 for seven miles or hike the full 12.8 miles along a winding trail with beautiful scenic overlooks and waterfalls. The 1,600-foot elevation takes you through a rain forest, giving you stunning views of neighboring islands as you work your way to the top of Lanaihale, Lanai’s highest peak at 3,370 feet.
On the North side of Lanai, most of the roads are unpaved and the location of one of Hawaii’s most unique sights – Keahiakawelo, or Garden of the Gods. This otherworldly rock garden is populated with boulders and rock towers, giving it an eerie lunar-like appearance. Only accessible via 4×4, the rock towers, spires and formation formed by centuries of erosion are their most enchanting at dusk. The setting sun casts a warm orange glow, illuminating the rocks in brilliant reds and purples.
There are only two hotels on the island – the luxury Four Seasons Resort at Hulopoe Bay and the quaint Hotel Lanai in Lanai City. Many visitors opt for a day trip to Lanai. There is ferry service from Maui and tour operators provide 4×4 explorations of Lanai’s back road attractions.
One of Molokai’s most historic areas is Halawa Valley, located on the east end of the island. It is believed ancient Polynesians settled in lush Halawa Valley as early as 650 AD. This valley is blessed with beautiful vistas and towering waterfalls. Roughly two miles up the hiking trail into the valley is the impressive, double-tiered 250-foot Moaula Falls. The hike to the falls is considered moderately difficult and the only way to explore the area is with a guide because part of the trail crosses private property.
Moaula is a classic example of a Hawaiian waterfall. It ends in a large pool at its base that invites visitors for a cooling swim. If you’re considering taking a dip into the pool, drop a ti leaf into the water first. Hawaiian legend says that a giant moo (lizard) lives at the bottom of the pool. If the ti leaf sinks, the moo is in no mood for visitors. If the ti leaf floats, it’s safe to enter.
On the northern tip of Molokai is Kalaupapa National Park. Kalaupapa is only accessible by mule tour or guided hike. The guided mule tour is extremely popular and must be booked well in advance. You’re sure-footed companion will take you down the side of sheer cliffs, across 26 different switchbacks, taking in magnificent views to the once forbidden village of Kalaupapa. Once in Kalaupapa, you’ll learn about Saint Damien, a Catholic missionary who came to Molokai in 1873 to care for Hawaii's leprosy victims who were exiled to this isolated peninsula.
Molokai’s North Shore Pali are the tallest sea cliffs in the world ranging from roughly 3,600 to 3,900 feet. This rugged coastline is inaccessible by land, but you can book a helicopter tour for an up-close adventure. During the calmer waves of the summer months and with good weather, you can also charter a boat tour to see these breathtaking natural wonders.
Accommodations on Molokai are mostly vacation rentals, like condos or private beach homes. There is one hotel, Hotel Molokai located in the central area near Kaunakakai, the main town. Molokai is truly an outdoor adventurer’s paradise.
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