Beautiful Out-Of-The-Way Places In Hawaii

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LANAI, Hawaii -- People go to Hawaii to get away, but sometimes people have to get away from Hawaii, too -- for instance, when the crowds on Waikiki Beach resemble those at Disney World.

At such moments, you can climb off the Hawaii tourist grid by heading to outlying island of Lanai: tiny, slow-moving Lanai, with barely 3,000 residents and not a single traffic light.

Or maybe to Molokai, an even more rustic island that has actually scaled back its tourist infrastructure.

Nearby Maui is the easiest jumping-off point to both isles. Maul is hardly unknown, of course, but it's rarely overrun, and some recent changes add to its already considerable allure.

Getting there is not half the fun. Travelers can reach the small airports on Lanai and Molokai from Maui or Honolulu. Both Hawaiian Airlines and Island Air fly those routes, but fares have risen since the demise of Aloha Airlines in March.

It's more interesting to go to the outlying islands by sea. The Expeditions company runs ferry boats five times a day between Lanai and the lively old Maui whaling town of Lahaina. Expeditions also operates two boats a day (except Sunday, when there's no service) to Molokai, 90 minutes away from Lahaina; round-trip tickets cost $80.

The Lanai run costs $50 round-trip and takes 45 minutes over often-choppy waters. The ride can be rough, but the payoff is hugely enjoyable: Pods of spinner dolphins cavort near the ferries, leaping out of the water in unison and darting under the boat, putting on a show all their own.

As the ferry nears Manele Bay, you catch sight of the signature look of the Hawaiian Islands: Rugged mountains shrouded in clouds, sheer cliffs, golden sandy beaches fringed with green palms rustling in the trade winds, white-capped surf and ocean water changing from aquamarine to darkest blue as you move out to sea.

After making landfall on Lanai, you can rough it, or you can pamper yourself.

If you want to rough it, it's best to rent a Jeep and explore the backcountry on the island's miles of unpaved tracks, or put on sturdy boots and hike.

Some popular destinations for drivers include 3,400-foot Lanaihali and the dramatic sea cliff Sweetheart Rock, accessed through stands of ironwood and pine trees.

Another popular choice is the Garden of the Gods, with its otherworldly formations of red rock and unforgiving landscape. On clear days, the views of water and sky -- and Maui and Molokai -- are spectacular.

Pampering can start just up the hill from the harbor at the Four Seasons Manele Bay Resort, with its breezy patio seating and hanging gardens. A shuttle bus runs from the resort every 30 minutes along a road lined on both sides with pine trees.

The shuttle stops at the modest, 10-room Lanai Hotel in grandly named Lanai City, where most of the island's residents live. There's nothing much to do in Lanai City, but maybe doing nothing is the point.

Just past Lanai City is the Four Seasons Lodge at Koele, a large, handsome wooden compound built in a mountain retreat style and flanked by the Experience at Koele golf course, designed by Greg Norman. The hotel also includes an old-fashioned croquet field. There's no booking; you just walk over and pick up your ball and mallets and whack away. The lodge's Terrace restaurant is a good spot for lunch.

Once privately owned by the Dole Food Co., which grew pineapples there, Lanai remembers its heritage with a July 3 Pineapple Festival in Dole Park, Lanai City. Local food, music, crafts and the history of Lanai's pineapple plantations are on the agenda.

The neighbor island of Molokai recently cut back its offerings to tourists. Determined opposition by local residents prompted the owners of Molokai Ranch, a 60,000-acre spread where cattle had been raised for generations, to shut down this past spring. The owners also closed an 18-hole golf course and shuttered two of the island's three full-service hotels.

The recently renovated Hotel Molokai is now the island's only full-service hotel, but visitors can rent condos and time-shares in the town of Kalaupapa.

Molokai is the least developed major Hawaiian island, due in part to the presence of a treatment center for quarantined victims of Hansen's disease (leprosy) from 1866 to 1969. Present-day Molokai is thus best enjoyed by adventurous travelers who don't need or want much in the way of creature comforts.

Exploring the countryside on horseback is a popular choice, and a mule-back ride down the 1,700-foot cliff to Kalaupapa National Historical Park is another challenging choice. All-terrain vehicles also help visitors reach otherwise inaccessible parts of the island. The Lahaina Cruise Co. rents out vehicles and local guides are available for hire.

Nearby Maui offers many modern comforts, though it has its share of adventure travel, too. One recently developed activity is ziplining: You strap yourself into a nylon harness and zip along a wire strung high above Maui's now-fallow pineapple fields, the wind in your face, tree-covered terrain in your eyes. Kapalua and Haleakala are popular places for ziplining; several vendors offer the service.

Back on terra firma, Maui's Fairmont Kea Lani Hotel has just opened Ko restaurant, an eatery that offers updated versions of Hawaiian plantation food, such as the savory Filipino filled-pastry lumpia, and fresh, local fish such as sweet-fleshed ono.

The hotel's breezy Lobby Bar is a great place for a drink even if you're not staying there. Bucolic Polo Beach is a popular spot for weddings or just slathering on the sunscreen and lolling in the sun.

Some 40 miles northwest of the Fairmont's Wailea location, the Ritz-Carlton Kapalua Resort has just finished a $160 million renovation, and does not disappoint. Its fine dining restaurant, the Banyan Tree, offers eclectic, Asian-inspired cuisine and serves some of the finest fresh seafood dishes in the Islands. Lush, palm-studded grounds slope down to the Pacific and a lovely stretch of sandy beach.

 

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