The little island of Lana’i

Puu Pehe – Sweetheart Rock in Lanai

We were in the early stages of Hawaii trip planning last year when my niece Rachel’s husband, Ben, became the pastor of the United Church of Christ congregation in Lana’i City, Lana’i. Although Ben arrived ahead of the family, by early summer they and their two daughters Eliza and Emi were settled in, and Rachel started work for the Lanai school system. We didn’t want to miss seeing them, so we inserted a night’s stay in Lana’i into the middle of our Maui week.

Lana’i is the smallest inhabited island in the Hawaiian islands and is roughly shaped like an apostrophe. In the early 1920’s it was purchased by Dole Corporation and became the largest pineapple plantation in the United States. The pineapples are gone now. Business magnate Larry Ellison owns the whole island. He took over an existing Four Seasons hotel, and is now trying to transform it into a more health-and-wellness-focused enterprise.

You can get to Lana’i two ways: by airplane, or by ferry from Lahaina in Maui. We chose the latter option, and joined the day-trippers heading for the beach on Lana’i with their coolers and beach chairs. Several people were also headed to the Four Seasons with enormous suitcases. The ferry takes about an hour, and we enjoyed the ride.

A look back at Maui and Lahaina

On the ferry to and from Lana’i, we spotted many whales. On a whale watch tour, the boat stops when a whale is sighted so that everyone can watch it, ooh and aah, and take pictures. A ferry boat doesn’t stop or try to get close. When we first saw a whale on the ferry, I tried to angle for the best picture. For the most part, they were too far away. I gave up, and discovered that I really enjoyed seeing them a lot more without trying to get a picture when they appeared over the water. I just let the whales be, observed them, and scouted for others in the sea.

A puff of water on the glistening sea is all I captured of this whale before I put the phone down.

When we arrived in Lana’i, Ben and his youngest daughter Emi were there to greet us. It was about eight miles up from the harbor to the town of Lana’i City. “City” is really a misnomer for this little village without any stoplights!

The UCC church, with their home – the parsonage – on the right.
Dole Park, across from the parsonage, looking much like the Wisconsin that they left behind

The businesses of Lana’i City are the “houses” lining the park.

The court house!
One of the two grocery stores

The groceries on Lana’i come by barge. If the barge runs late the week that it is expected, the store shelves start to run thin.

Ben and Rachel drove us up further on the mountain for some great views.

Maybe you can just make out the “shipwreck” on Shipwreck Beach at the bottom of this picture. It’s an abandoned barge.
The “breezeway” between the islands of Molokai and Maui
Former pineapple fields
Ben, Rachel, Eliza, Emi, and…wait! What’s Cal doing in the family photo??

We visited Lana’i cemetery.

While we were there, Rachel and Ben did some great “tag teaming”. From the cemetery, we went off with Ben and the girls to hike a trail that Ben wanted to explore and hadn’t been on yet. Rachel met us at the bottom, when we finished, so that we didn’t need to make a round-trip hike back up the mountain.

Rainbow Bark Eucalyptus trees, the first that Ben had seen on the island
Looking down on Lana’i City

The picture above gives a closer view of the Cook pine trees. I’d seen them on the other islands, but not as much as I did on Lana’i. They are what gives the island that “Wisconsin” feel.

Remember that scene at the beginning of the “Sound of Music” where Maria twirled and burst out with “The hills are alive!”? That’s exactly what this little meadow full of wildflowers felt like. We had been hiking through the woods, and then came upon this. In actuality, it is the old golf course for the Four Seasons. We could see golf balls embedded in the path. Larry Ellison has already transformed part of it into two different ropes courses. I think this one looks like an absolute blast:

Has it happened that you saw something on Facebook, and years later, it still stuck in your mind? That happened for me when I saw the Lana’i Cat Sanctuary posted several years ago. The founder, Kathy Carroll, was dismayed about the number of feral cats running all over the island. Having the cats at the sanctuary not only cares for their health but also controls the numbers, and protects the bird population. There are over 600 cats at the sanctuary. Seeing it on Facebook was one of those “ohhh, I wish I could visit” moments and I was purely tickled that I could see all those cats, and the sanctuary, in person!


You could adopt the cats, and I picked out a couple that I would have loved to take home, but Rachel and I agreed that any cat would be happier here. Lots of friends to play with, people that visit for affection and attention, trees and structures to climb on, hammocks and other warm places to nap, and food to eat…what’s not to love?

Two cats in a mango tree
A volunteer came into one of the enclosures we were in, and all the cats in there came running!

I could post a whole lot more cat pictures but I will spare you for now. I was delighted to meet Kathy in her husband Mike’s art gallery in Lana’i City, and we purchased one of his pictures to put in our our RV.

My roots are in the midwestern United States. I can’t imagine being able to enjoy every Sunday afternoon at the beach, but that’s what Ben, Rachel, and their girls do. What a great place for kids to grow up. They got into suits, packed up snorkeling and beach gear, food, and off we went to Hulopo’e Beach. Rachel walked us up onto the bluffs, where we were standing on ancient lava flows, for the view of Sweetheart Rock that you see at the top of this blog.

We had fun exploring the tide pools. The more I looked, the more I found: brightly colored fish in the deeper pools, sea cucumbers and anemones clinging to the rocks, crabs, and shells. There is more life in a tide pool than you can ever imagine.

The tide pools at Hulopo’e Beach

By the time we returned to the beach, there was not much time before we needed to catch the ferry, so we didn’t change into our suits. As I’ve said in earlier blogs, we have our suits, but we’re never in the sea!

A great photo taken by Eliza

A large part of Ben’s congregation is made up of families from the Micronesian island of Kosrae. They are mostly employed by the Four Seasons hotel. It happened that on the Sunday morning we worshipped with them, they were celebrating Ben’s one-year anniversary. This was followed by a potluck lunch. Because of Covid, several of the ladies prepared plates for everyone and delivered them out to the church lawn. Mixed in with some of the typical food on my plate were several Kosraean delicacies. It was another of those times when I had no idea what I was eating, but it was all delicious.

Of course, the pastor’s family received a lot of the extra food. Rachel packed a little box for each of us along with an American cupcake. When we arrived off the ferry and back in Lahaina, we dined sumptuously under the big banyan tree. It was a wonderful finish to our Lana’i weekend, and we are very grateful to our hosts for having us. It’s always special to share family time in unexpected places!

Next time – our last stop, the Big Island

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