The jeep 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 watching the Dukes of Hazard I had a dream. I dreamed of having what Daisy Duke had. No, not the cut off jeans shorts, not the flowing brunette locks, not the slow southern twang, or the rack…well…maybe the rack.
I dreamed of having a jeep – like Daisy’s jeep named Dixie. As a slight tomboy, Dixie seemed like the perfect vehicle that was girly, yet strong. Today my dream was coming true, I was taking an offroading adventure with Lanai jeep rentals.
Driving on Lanai
You’ll find only 30 miles of paved road on Lanai (and not a single stop light!). However, they aren’t lacking roads, it’s just that most of them are unpaved; specifically Lanai has 400 miles of unpaved roads. If you are going to rent a car on Lanai – it better be a 4×4, else you won’t get far.
Jeep Rental is the Only Way to Get Around Lanai
If you want to explore Lanai’s far reaches, then you better rent a Jeep. Luckily the rentals companies have Jeeps. Beat up jeeps. Really beat up jeeps.
Note: I rented my beat up jeep from Dollar Rental. However, they appear to no longer be operating as of 2020. Don’t fear, there are other Jeep rentals in their place in Lanai City. However my experiences with jeep rental in Lanai was with Dollar Rental, and I’m not sure what the experience with the other agencies will be like. Suffice it to say, make sure you ask a lot of questions before you take off!
Lanai Jeep Rentals…Know the Rules
As I picked up 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.
Then the obvious question was – why was I renting a jeep?
I looked at her skeptically and she 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.
Driving to Shipwreck Beach
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.
Stuck at Shipwreck Beach
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.
For the record – the locals in Lanai are incredibly nice!
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.
Poke Beach Picnic
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.
Drive to Garden of the Gods
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 Molokai.
Why is it Called Garden of the Gods?
There are varied explanations for this ‘divine’ rock garden:
According to Aloha-Hawaii, 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).
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.
Drive to Polihua Beach
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. It takes about an hour from Garden of the Gods to get to Polihua because the road is just so rough and slow.
Note: Check the road conditions to Polihua as it is not always open.
Now this was paradise – a huge beach all to ourselves. We first sat and took in the view with the smell of salt air and crash of waves in the background. We took a walk along the beach and stuck our feet in the water. Polihua beach is like a temptress – a gorgeous wide secluded beach that seems to go on forever. But the ferocious wind, waves, and undertow makes it something that mere humans can simply look at and not ‘touch’. It’s sadly forbidden to swim at Polihua due to the strong currents, and there is no one there to rescue you – so please don’t go in the water!
All of the guide books had said that Polihua meant ‘egg nest’ in Hawaiian. Sometimes you’ll see turtles at this beach, but we didn’t have any such luck. We had better turtle viewing luck at Lopa Beach.
I looked down at my legs and notice that I had a Lanai tan line…one of dirt from the offroading!
As the sun went down on our off roading day, it was then that I realized how lucky I was as I stared out over the waves at the setting sun. Daisy Duke never had a view like this.
Tips for Renting a Jeep in Lanai
- Make sure you know exactly where you are allowed to drive the Jeep, not all roads are open to the rentals.
- Know how to put the Jeep in 4 Wheel Drive!
- Make sure you know who to call if you have a problem
- Find out what the cost is to get pulled out if you get stuck
- Ask about insurance
You can book your Lanai Jeep Rentals at Lanai Jeep and Truck Rentals from Lanai City.
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.