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Travel & Discovery

Lanai City: Budget Travel in Hawaii

Let me start off by saying I am far from a luxury travel type of gal. As much as I am sure I would enjoy being able to stay in fancy hotels with a Jacuzzi and room service, it’s just not in my budget or a necessity to me. For me, travel is all about the experiences, seeing the natural landscape, and living as much like a local as I can.

Let me just be honest here for a moment and just say that I never thought I would make it out to Hawaii. Between the pricey flights, high hotel rates, and higher cost of essentials (like food); I always assumed it would be out of my budget. Then, I got a lucky chance! A friend of mine travels for work and he offered to allow me to stay with him in Lanai City for a week. On top of that, he had a truck available for me to use at my leisure so travel on the island would be much cheaper.

morning hawaii lanai city

If you read any other travel blogs you have probably learned by this point that the cheapest way to travel is to live as much like a local as possible. Using websites like Couch Surfing to get lower rates on a place to stay in a local setting can save you hundreds of dollars. But if crashing in someone’s house isn’t really your thing, check out my last blog post on where to stay in Lana’i City.

So Why Lana’i City?

Lana’i is a much smaller island that does not see as much tourism as the bigger islands like Maui, Kaua’i, O’ahu, and The Big Island. Lana’i is great for anyone who’s either looking for a relaxing time on the beach or interested in doing some off-road sight seeing. The best part is access to all the beaches and views are completely free. Staying on Lana’i means you only have to worry about the basics; where to stay, what to eat, and occasional transportation. There’s no hidden costs, no extra fees, no toll booths, or parking fees.

Lanai city airport hawaii

Getting To Lana’i

There are only two ways to get to Lana’i; the more expensive route is to fly in or the exponentially cheaper route is to take the ferry. Which one you decide to take is completely dependent upon your budget and how much of a time crunch you’re on. The Lana’i airport does not have any flights earlier than about noon, so if you have an earlier connection, you will probably find this to be more of an inconvenience than anything else.

When I was making preparations to leave Hawai’i I wanted to avoid the high possibility of running into traffic on Maui thus missing my flight and being stuck with a high taxi fee. After talking to the staff at the Lana’i airport I learned that none of the flights actually go directly to Maui, they instead fly to O’ahu then connect to Maui (which made very little sense to me, but then again I am not a pilot). If I am to be completely honest with you I would say it’s worth it to fly into Lana’i if you can. I managed to find flights for $112 USD from Lana’i to Maui (this was during the off season and using a 3rd party website); which after ferry and taxi fees it works out to be about the same price or cheaper (depending on traffic and other factors). It is about a 2-3hour flight from Maui to Lana’i, but again, if time and money are a factor I would consider this route.

lahaina ferry maui lanai rainbow

That being said, the ferry is only $30 USD (one way) and is about 45 to 50 minutes long of a ride. Of course, you have to get to the ferry first. If you fly in to Maui, chances are you will be landing on Kahului airport (unless you are island hopping on a smaller flight) which is located on the oposite side of the island from Lahaina. Depending on traffic, the drive from Kahului to Lahaina will take around 45 minutes.

It seems all taxis in Hawaii (or at least on Maui) work off the same standard rate set by the state of Hawaii. A typical taxi ride from the airport to the harbor in moderate traffic will run you around $80 to $120 USD, which can make traveling to Lana’i cheaper. I have mentioned traffic a lot in this post because it’s completely unavoidable. This was not something I was warned about before going to Hawai’i. As of the writing of this post, Maui currently has one highway that allows for travel across the island and this is also the only way to get from the ferry to the airport. You have no other options and very very limited side streets to take to avoid the traffic. We nearly missed our ferry due to being stuck in traffic for almost 3 hours just trying to get back to Lahaina. And let me warn you now, traffic on Maui can happen for no reason at all. Just one person slowing down to look at the coast line can back up traffic for miles. Oh, also, this highway is one lane a lot of the way.

rainbow in maui hawaii

If you are worried about traffic slowing you down, adding to your fees, or possibly making you miss a flight I would highly recommend booking for flight so that you fly into Lana’i (make sure you book your flights in and out of Lana’i at the same time as booking your main flight so that it is a connection). If you are laid back and willing to take a gamble for the lower price, fly into Kahului and grab a taxi over to Lahaina. It is a beautiful drive and well worth seeing!

Where To Eat in Lana’i City

If you opted to stay in the historic Lana’i City Hotel you are just a couple steps away from the heart of Lana’i City. All of the shops and restaurants are right in front of the hotel so finding them won’t be an issue. If you choose to eat out, I recommend the Blue Ginger Cafe. It is less expensive than some of the other restaurants and their food is much better. I ate a lot of grilled Mahi from there during my visit and it was delicious!

I did not have the luxury of dining at the hotel’s restaurant, though I have heard nothing but great reviews about it. I did, however, dine at Pele’s Other Garden and was highly disappointed. I ordered the chicken alfredo which cost $22 USD and it tasted like watered down canned sauce with rubbery frozen chicken on top. Naturally, I ate it anyway for $22 a plate! It also seemed to me like they do not put all of their dishes on the menu as I saw other customers receiving meals that were not listed. Their beers however were reasonably priced, so if you are looking to have a pint, they have a very small selection of craft beers on tap for $4 USD per pint.

Naturally, if you want to save money, cooking for yourself is the way to go. If you’re staying in a hotel though, chances are you do not have a stove available to you. Hulopoe Beach Park on the Southern side of Lana’i does offer picnicking and camping areas though, with a few small out door grills. You could easily cook up something on the grill since the weather is almost always pleasant! The grocery store is also located right in the heart of Lana’i City next to Dole Park.

Lanai city hawaii

What To Do On Lana’i

Lana’i as a whole is worth seeing and there is something beautiful at every turn. From the lush, decorative gardens to the rocky mountains, to the windy coastlines you can find something every were.

If you are serious about exploring Lana’i, the best way to do this is to rent a vehicle that has 4 wheel drive capability. Do not attempt to go off road on any other type of vehicle, you will get stuck. For the most part, it seems you can only rent Jeeps on this island, which is great for everything you could possibly want to do.

Lanai city hawaii cook pine trees

To the South of the island is the main highway and Hulopoe Beach as well as the Four Seasons resort. This is also where the ferry will drop you off at Manele Bay. The weather in the Southern part of the island seems to consistently be about 5 degrees warmer than in the city and far less rainy. Many people venture South to see the Sweetheart Rock, which is also viewable from the ferry while both departing and entering the Lana’i harbor. While driving the highway you will be surrounded by Lana’i Cook Island Pines which serve as a life source for the island. These pines draw moisture from the air and clouds, storing and pulling it back into the soil. They can store around 200 gallons a day per tree!

Sunset lanai hawaii

To the West you can find the Lana’i Cat Sanctuary, which I covered in a previous blog post, as well as the Lana’i airport and a couple scenic spots to grab coastal photos. The highway ends into private property though, otherwise it is a lovely drive.

Horses lanai hawaii

Going North you will find a lot more adventure. Leaving Lana’i city you will pass the horse ranch where you will see sprawling hills covered in grass and horses freely trotting. This is also where the main road goes from two lanes to one lane, so be prepared to share the road.

Hiking lanai hawaii

This path will take you past forested areas, mountain tops and rocky terrain. Do keep in mind though, that there are a lot of people who hunt on this island so be sure if you go off road that you are wearing something noticeable.

There are two different routes you can take. To the Northwest is the Garden of the Gods and Polihua Beach. The Garden of the Gods (which I was unable to make it out to) is know for its Mars-like appearance with red rocks and dry conditions. Polihua Beach is about an hour drive from Lana’i city, but it is a secluded beach perfect for sunbathing. It is highly advised not to do any swimming at Polihua due to the high winds and harsh tides. If you do make it out there though, chances are you will have the beach to yourself.

shipwreck beach hawaii lanai

If you go Northeast you will remain on a pathed one lane road for the majority of the drive down to the coast. This road zig-zags down the mountains providing ample spots to pull over and enjoy the view. From here you can access the famous Shipwreck Beach. while the majority of the drive will be on a nice solid road, getting to Shipwreck beach requires going off road. It is a slow drive, and very bumpy too, but easy to find since the path dead-ends right at the sign for the beach. To get closer to the ship you will have to travel on foot. I saw one man get much closer to the shipwreck than I was able to (or willing to I should say) but a couple other tourists and I couldn’t figure out how to get closer without climbing the rocks the extra mile or so. If you do head up to the Shipwreck, I recommend wearing a good pair of shoes. I made the mistake of going in sandals so I wasn’t able to climb very well.

Lanai city hawaii

You are also able to go fishing, snorkeling, hiking, and even hunting (with proper permits of course) on the island. If there’s anything I recommend, it’s to just get on island time and learn to relax on this island. Don’t try to cram everything into one day and just go with the flow.

Before You Go

Just a little word of advice before you adventure on Lana’i; many of the paths are single lanes with limited visibility around corners and over tall foliage. You will have to share the road! I, unfortunately, had 3 tourists try to push me off the road while I was driving here. Yes, most of the time the locals will move over for you since they have more experience with the roads, but that doesn’t mean that you won’t have to be the one to yield. In some areas you might be forced to back up to allow someone else to pass.

Also, if it has been raining heavily, be cautious when going off road. There are a lot of deep areas where vehicles have gotten stuck and dug out holes in the paths. Always try to take the higher path and avoid driving through in the rain.

As always, be respectful and pick up your trash. Leave nothing but footprints.

The Grand Total

Taxi + Ferry method: ~$120 USD
Flying into Lana’i: +$120 USD (added to total cost of flight)
Hotel Lana’i: ~$250 USD per night
Jeep Rentals: ~$125 USD (prices vary)
Food: $20 -$50 USD per week (depending on budget and food selection)
Activities: $0 USD

Not bad for a weekend in paradise!

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