The door creaked when I opened it. I took a big step and hoisted myself up into the drivers seat and shut the door. A cloud of red dust was stirred up with the slam of the door. I turned the key and the engine rumbled to life. The top was down, and life was good. I knew that my day ahead would be full of bumps, dirt, and adventure.
Ever since I sat in front of my TV as a teenager with 1 of the 3 channels tuned to the Dukes of Hazzard, I had a dream. I dreamed of having what Daisy Duke had. No, not the cut off jeans shorts, not the flowing brunette lockes, not the slow southern twang, or the rack…well…maybe the rack. Instead I mainly dreamed of having a jeep – like Daisy’s jeep named Dixie. As a slight tomboy, the Dixie seemed like the perfect car that was girly, yet strong. Today at the only car rental place in Lana’i, my dream was coming true.
Lana’i has over 100 miles of unpaved roads which means that the only thing that the rental car agency in Lana’i rents is jeeps. Beat up jeeps. Really beat up jeeps. As I picked up the our ‘Dixie’ for the day, the agent gave me a little map of the island titled Jeep Safari that sort of looked like a treasure map. She explained that they didn’t offer insurance which seemed slightly surprising for a rental agency – I wasn’t sure if that meant even insurance was too risky or that they just didn’t care. She pointed me to the white board that had the latest up to date information about the road conditions and which roads we were forbidden to go on. Of course the one I was interested in, the Munro trail, was forbidden. Apparently too many tourists had gotten stuck in the past.
Upon hearing this information, I asked the agent quickly what the instructions were for putting the jeep into 4 wheel drive. I’ve never driven an old 4 wheel drive vehicle before and had no idea how to do it manually. She told me that it wouldn’t be necessary as I should be able to get everywhere with the jeep in 2 wheel drive. I looked at her skeptically and she then decided to hand me a laminated set of instructions of how to initiate the change. I glanced at them and took them with me even though the agent didn’t think I needed them.
Dixie, Michaela and I rumbled down the last of the paved roads down the north side of the island which is known for it’s dry climate. This part of the island only gets 10 inches of rain a year – all in January and February – so the landscape was rather brown and dry. We headed to Shipwreck Beach with the top down and the wind in our hair reminiscing about our school girl crushes on Bo and Luke Duke. The twisty road down was paved, but once at the bottom the asphalt deteriorated into dirt and sand. At this point we were practically driving on the beach as the little sandy path hugged the coast line and occasionally you’d see rocky tidepools nearby. We stopped and parked to get a better look and after a few shots we came back to the jeep to realize the sand I parked in was too deep and we were officially stuck. The wheels had dug in and we weren’t going anywhere but down deeper.
Luckily I pulled out my little 2 wheel to 4 wheel drive instructions that I had to ask for and read them. Within the first sentence it clearly said that the car had to be moving to switch from 2 to 4 wheel drive. And lord knows we weren’t moving – now we were really stuck. Just as we were ready to get out and walk for help, another jeep pulled up with some locals. The guys stopped, surveyed the situation, got in the jeep, put it in 4 wheel drive and pull right out. I was left holding my laminated instructions with a steady anger rising towards the rental company. I asked our ‘rescuer’ about the instructions of having to be in motion to switch to 4 wheel drive and he confidently said – yes – but that’s just for manual transmission cars – not automatics. He took me over and showed me how to switch it in neutral and then into 4 wheel drive – and he was on his way.
I wondered if the rental car company wanted people to get stuck since there seemed to be a hefty fee involved with getting towed out. I honestly have no idea why they dropped the ball on providing accurate advice and instructions – but they did.
However – now since I knew how to put the jeep in 4WD – there was no stopping me! We picnicked on the beach with poke from the Ohana Poke Market while staring out at the massive rusted ship stuck on the reef. Strangely it wasn’t a ‘real’ shipwreck – in fact it was a failed project by the Navy who was trying to sink the ship, but it refused to cooperate and ended up lodged on the reef. It’s strange to see such a big ship rusted out and stuck just a little way off shore. If one had more time I’m sure it would be a super place to snorkel and explore.
However, we had a lot of driving left to do if we wanted to get to Garden of the Gods and Polihua beach for sunset. We left the shipwreck and drove back up toward the center of town and took a red dirt path that lead out to Garden of the Gods. This road was much dirtier and bumpier than the beach road – which basically meant it was more fun! We drove through old pineapple plantation fields and forests making a stop at Garden of the Gods. Don’t let the name fool you – there’s nothing lush and green – this is a rock garden – formed by wind erosion. The alien like landscape is stunning to take in and walk around and you’ll have lovely views of the island and Moloki.
There are varied explanations for this ‘divine’ rock garden:
“One Island legend tells us that the rocks and boulders were dropped from the sky by the gods tending their gardens. Another ancient tale explains that the rocks house the spirits of ancient Hawaiian warriors. And still another legend says that the gods enjoyed creating art, and this spot on the island is where they made their favorite sculptures. They created powerful winds to literally sculpt each rock formation (perhaps explaining why there is no vegetation in the Garden of the Gods).” – via Aloha-Hawaii
To me it felt like a giant game of marbles which would mean that the area should be called the Game of the Gods if you ask me.
We continued further down a deteriorating road and finally came to Polihua beach where the road ended and a sign instructed us to park our rental vehicle. Now this was paradise – a huge beach all to ourselves. We sat and took in the view with the smell of salt air and crash of waves in the background. As the sun went down on our off roading day, it was then that I realized that Daisy Duke never had a view like this.
See our ‘Dixie’ in action!
Dollar Rent a Car - make sure you ask for instructions on how to put in 4WD – and insist they show you if you don’t know how!
Disclosure: I was a guest of Visit Lana’i as a part of their New Media Artist in Residence Program. All views expressed here are my own honest opinions and do not reflect the views of Visit Lana’i.