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A Stretch of Sand for Every Mood: The Beaches of Lanai

Posted on November 16, 2015

Story by Derek Paiva

Polihua Beach, with the island of Molokai visible across the Kalohi Channel. Photo credit: Hawaii Tourism Japan (HTJ)

I like Lanai’s beaches.

The 140-square-mile island with a mere 18 miles of coastline has only three of ‘em. Well, three beaches at the end of roads I feel comfortable sending friends behind the wheel of a Jeep on, that is. More on those roads later. But, first, about those Jeeps.

Besides a small operation renting Hummers, the only car rental option on Lanai is Dollar Rent A Car, which only rents Jeeps – an apt business model when one considers there are only 30 miles of paved road on the island and more than 400 miles of unpaved road. Trust me, you want a Jeep on Lanai.

Of these three beaches, two, Polihua and Kaiolohia, are located on Lanai’s north side, which faces the island of Molokai a mere nine miles across the Kalohi Channel and demand all-wheel-drive vehicles to get to. The third beach, Hulopoe, is reached via a paved road, neighbors a very tony Four Seasons branded resort on the island’s south side, and is highly swimmable and ripe for snorkeling. There are other Lanai beaches, sure. But I wouldn’t negotiate the roads to them without a Lanai resident behind the wheel. A bout of high surf or inclement weather can leave these roads Jeep-trapping muddy, partially washed out, impassible or all three.

Polihua, Kaiolohia and Hulopoe each satisfy a specific craving I have for my beach experiences on an island with – and I do mean this admiringly and with the utmost respect – mercifully little to do but peacefully explore the great outdoors or kick back on the beach, toes in the sand, happily catching up on my reading. For me, Lanai’s wonderful quietude, friendly residents (most drivers offer a pleasant wave of hello when passing by) and lack of urban distractions make it one my very favorite resident escapes.

But back to those beaches. If you’re staying on Lanai, trust us, you’ll want to spend some time on each of them, especially if you can rent a Jeep and set aside some time to really relax. Just going to Lanai for a day trip? Like me, consider your own personal beach experience cravings, then choose one of the ones below.

Polihua Beach
Best for: Kicking back on the sand, beach walking and being alone
Swimmable: No
Will you need an all-wheel-drive vehicle to get there? Yes. And the final six miles of Jeep trail on the way to Polihua is the definition of body rattling.
What’s in a name? The literal translation of polihua is “eggs in bosom.” Apt, as the beach is a favorite egg-laying spot for honu.

Visually, Polihua makes real the image many around the world likely carry in their minds of what the perfect Hawaii beach should look like. A 1.5-mile stretch of ample soft white sand? Check. Sunrise to sunset clear, blue skies? Check. No crowds and, very often, no one else but you and whomever else jumps in the Jeep? Check. It’s only downside (at least, for some)? Polihua’s crashing surf and ocean blue beyond are for beach viewing only. Strong offshore currents and a steep and quick offshore drop into open ocean make it unsafe for pretty much all ocean activities. That said, if you’re seeking what has to be one of the most beautiful places in the world to sink your toes in the sand, read a book (or two) and admire nature in solitude, Polihua is unparalleled.


Kaiolohia aka Shipwreck Beach. Photo credit: Hawaii Tourism Japan.

Kaiolohia aka Shipwreck Beach
Best for: Beachcombing and beach walking, skilled surfers
Swimmable: No
Will you need an all-wheel-drive vehicle to get there? Yes. But the coastline Jeep trail to Kaiolohia is a lot more comfortable on the posterior and easier to navigate than the Jeep trail to Polihua.
What’s in a name? Oddly enough, given the area’s nautical history, the literal translation of kaiolohia is “tranquil sea.”

Like Polihua, Kaiolohia is not a beach for swimming. It is, however, a beachcomber’s dream: eight miles of sand and shoreline socked by northeast tradewinds sending all manner of flotsam and jetsam, some wanted, much unwanted, on shore. Still, frequent community beach cleanups keep much of the junk from getting out of hand, making Kaiolohia great for wandering. The beach is wildly picturesque, too, with a rugged shoreline, panoramic view of Molokai’s south shore just across the Kalohi Channel and better sightlines of the beach’s titular offshore shipwreck the further you trek in. True story: Though the treacherous offshore reef here marked the end point of many a ships lifespan prior to modern navigation equipment, the U.S. Liberty class cargo ship still clinging stubbornly to the reef here ran aground only after U.S. Navy attempts to sink the obsolete vessel in the channel after World War II proved unsuccessful.


Hulopoe Beach and Bay, with tide pools in foreground; Photo credit: Hawaii Tourism Authority (HTA)/Dana Edmunds.

Hulopoe Beach and Bay
Best for: Swimming, snorkeling, surfing, bodyboarding, beach walking, tidepool exploring, kicking back on the sand
Swimmable: Yes
Will you need an all-wheel-drive vehicle to get there? No. And located just a short walk down a paved road from Manele Bay Harbor, where passenger ferries arrive and depart, Hulopoe is also the perfect beach for Lanai daytrippers.
What’s in a name? Hulopoe is believed to be a man’s name.

Lanai’s most popular beach combines two ingredients for a great Hawaii beachgoing experience near year-round: a wonderfully wide stretch of powdery white sand that is the best on the island for swimming, and an enviably crystalline bay nature made for snorkeling. Winter months bring idyllic surf for bodyboarders and rougher conditions for casual ocean users, but Hulopoe is always a great spot for folks with an affinity for all things ocean. Just off the sand on the bay’s east side, a collection of large tidal pools, which temporarily trap marine life during low tide, are a wonder to explore. Further east on the shoreline trail is the picturesque natural landmark Puu Pehe (also known as Sweetheart Rock), rising 80 feet from the offshore shallows. The shoreline near the sea stack is a go-to location for catching sunrises and sunsets, and, throughout the rest of the day, for scoping honu (Hawaiian green sea turtles) and spinner dolphins.


About Derek Paiva: Derek Paiva is an editor and writer on the Hawaii Visitors & Convention Bureau account team at Anthology Marketing Group. A lifelong Hawaii resident, Derek has enjoyed careers in magazine and newspaper journalism, and was editor-in-chief of Hawaii Magazine from 2010 through 2015. He has traveled extensively throughout the Hawaiian Islands, written about them exhaustively, and is always looking forward to exploring and learning new things about his home islands. He can be contacted at derek.paiva@anthologygroup.com.

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