report from the island of lana‘i, part 3 of 3: going off the beaten path

BLOG_LANAI_HORSES_05.2014With only 30 miles of paved roads on a chunk of land that’s 140 square miles in size, there are plenty of opportunities to go off the beaten path on the enticing island of Lana‘i. Sure, you can rent a four-wheel-drive vehicle and explore on your own, but it’s much more fun to go with someone who knows where all the good stuff is.

Happily, two such opportunities exist on Lana‘i: horseback riding with Lana‘i Grand Adventures, and hoofing it on your own steam with Hike Lana‘i.

Giddyup with Lana‘i Grand Adventures

Just a short distance from the Four Seasons Resort Lana‘i Lodge at Ko‘ele are the Stables at Ko‘ele, where I’m scheduled for a horseback ride with Lana‘i Grand Adventures. Stable manager Molly and guide Tyrel greet me and take me to meet my trusty steed Hickory who, on first glance, seems to be a good-natured sort. We actually make a rather fetching pair, with his light-colored coat, mane, and tail being a good match for my own blonde hair.

Molly and Tyrel have situated Hickory next to a step-up platform, which makes mounting him a breeze. So far so good! Tyrel hops aboard his horse, Pistol, gives me some instruction on how to “steer” Hickory, and we head for the hills, accompanied by stable dog Spur.

Tyrel is a recent transplant from Idaho, and comes from a long line of cowboy types. Dressed in traditional Western riding gear—long-sleeved red and white checkered shirt, denim jeans, cowboy boots, and wide-brimmed cowboy hat—Tyrel is the real deal.

Although history has proven I usually get stuck with the stubborn horse (or mule, like when I rode the Kalaupapa Trail on Moloka‘i), Hickory is very cooperative, and responds accurately to my novice rein skills. Tyrel tells me he selected Hickory and Pistol for our ride because they get along well; indeed, the two horses companionably walk close together as we make our way down the red dirt road on our way to “Red Wall Trail.”

The scenery changes dramatically when we enter a dense ironwood forest: there are thousands of these slender-trunked trees with long, gray-green needles as far as the eye can see. When we emerge from the forest, we pass by peek-a-boo view spots where you can see the tall mountain peaks on Maui and Moloka‘i looming in the distance.

Tyrel takes us to a stunning plateau overlooking the vast, green Palawai Basin, which was once covered with pineapple fields. Even Spur takes time to rest and admire the view—he sprawls in the dirt and contentedly pants while we take our break.

Back on the trail, I’m glad Tyrel and the horses know the way—the trails aren’t marked, and they all look similar to one another. We head down into a shallow canyon and Tyrel points out the immense, barren red dirt wall this particular trail is named for. Cowboys are known for being literal, and this is no exception.

Riding a horse inherently makes you slow your brain and take things as they come. It’s an ideal first-day activity for any visitor to Lana‘i, and excellent conditioning for the sleepy pace on this laid-back island.

Back at the stables, Tyrel praises my equestrian skills and presents me with my very own Stables at Ko‘ele pin. It’s akin to earning your wings, so to speak, and I proudly wear the pin during the remainder of my stay on Lana‘i.

Lana‘i Grand Adventures also offers horse-drawn carriage rides, which is another terrific way to enjoy the picturesque setting and beauty of the Ko‘ele area. Sixty-minute carriage rides under the Cook Pines and through Lana‘i City can accommodate up to four guests.

Trek Through an Ancient Hawaiian Village with Hike Lana‘i

My traveling companion, Janet, is a hiker like myself, and we eagerly meet our guide from Hike Lana‘i, Jon Montgomery, in the parking lot at The Lodge at Ko‘ele. We hop aboard his four-wheel-drive truck and head to the island’s south shore, where we’ll visit one of the most notable archaeological sites in the Islands—Kaunolu Village, a national historic landmark, and the largest surviving ruins of a prehistoric Hawaiian village.

Jon drives us past the rear of the Lana‘i Airport and onto a red dirt road that cuts a swath through old pineapple fields. He turns the truck towards the ocean at a sign pointing the way to Kaunolu Village and three wild turkeys scurry across the road in front of us. Janet and I are grateful Jon is driving—we hang on tightly to the truck’s interior handles as he deftly maneuvers through a lengthy series of deep ruts, then parks seemingly in the middle of nowhere.

After loading up our backpacks with water and snacks, Jon tells us this area was once the summer playground of King Kamehameha The Great. The King knew a good thing when he saw it—beautiful abundant seas, and cliffs rising to nearly 1,000 feet above sea level—and so he made it his fishing hangout.

This part of Lana‘i is arid and barren, and dotted with scrubby kiawe. Although it looks parched to us, Jon remarks, “This is the most lush I’ve seen this area in five years. It looks dry, but it’s not.”

We stop at large heap of rocks that Jon tells us is a ko‘a (fishing shrine). Many families maintained a personal shrine to gods of the sea and of fishing, making offerings to ensure success with their catch. “The elaborate nature of this ko‘a suggests it was the home of kupuna [elders] who’d perform ceremonies to ensure good bounty from the sea,” explains Jon.

As we continue making our way towards the ocean, our next stop is a fairly flat boulder which Jon tells us is a papamu (gaming board), where a game similar to checkers was played using alternating pieces of white coral and black stones. “Legend has it Kamehameha The Great never lost at this game, which indicates either he was an excellent player, or no one wanted to risk beating him,” Jon says.

We carefully pick our way down the trail, over rocks and through the kiawe, and feel a cooling breeze as we get closer to the ocean. We hike down a ravine that’s currently dry (Jon says it really runs during heavy rains), then climb up the back side of Halulu Heiau—a massive stack of rocks and natural cliffs which was once a holy site, and served as a refuge for those who broke ancient laws.

We hike across the heiau to a famous natural rock platform called Kahekili’s Leap. Jon says Maui’s high chief Kahekili would jump off this 63-foot-high cliff into the pristine blue ocean waters below, and then require his best warriors to test their bravery by following suit. Fortunately, we’ll not have to endure such a trial today, and we make our way to an overlook where Jon points out a cluster of tide pools where local delicacies such as black crab, uni, pencil urchins, and sea cucumbers are plentiful.

As we hike back to Jon’s truck on a four-wheel-drive road, we stop at an overlook where we can see Pu‘u Pehe (Sweetheart Rock), the famous landmark rock outcropping that watches over Manele and Hulopo‘e Bays. Although it’s possible to visit Kaunolu Village on your own, our experience has been greatly enriched by going with Jon from Hike Lana‘i. (Not to mention the fact that neither Janet nor I would have wanted to drive that road!)

–heidi pool

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