History of Lanai

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Frothy whitecaps dancing on the iridescent water of the shimmering sea gave little clue of the events unfolding in the murky depths fathoms below. Far beneath the ocean floor, heat and pressure built until it no longer could be contained; molten lava spewed along the sandy bottom of the sea. Again and again throughout the eons the volcano relieved its pressure, building layer upon layer of hardened formations that would one day reach and penetrate the oceans surface. The forces of nature, with agonizing slowness, completed the gestation and birth of an island that would grow through the centuries to become a rare beauty, Lanai.

During its formative years, while man began voyages by primitive means, the island was considered the "home of demons" and given a wide berth by the ancient sailors. Massive explosions still lit the night sky and smoke belched from the crater. Voyagers from the Marquesas Islands were the first to venture into the territory more than 2,000 years ago. These Polynesian settlers found new homes on the other islands, staying away from the glowing land mass called Lanai.

Rock formations of a mysterious, unexplained nature are still to be found in the Garden of the Gods in the north central portion of the island. This isolated red plateau overlooks the Palawai Basin, the floor of the once smoldering volcanic birth mother; ancient Luahiwa Petroglyphs can still be viewed on its slopes. The first Polynesian settlers are also responsible for the lush plant life on the island, bringing sugar cane, banana, elephant ear, bamboo and breadfruit.


The laws of island society were strict, with wrongdoers punished by death or banishment to Lanai, the molten home of evil spirits. One day, according to island lore, the son of Chief Kaululuaau, committed a crime worthy of the strongest sentence, death. Pleas for mercy were heard and the son was exiled to Lanai with a mandate to rid the island of its dark inhabitants. Having achieved his goal by sending the vile spirits to Kahoolawe, he returned home as a hero touting the beauty of the island paradise. So it was, that Lanai became inhabited around 1500 A.D. Throughout the years, the residents of the island lived in relative obscurity enjoying the lush beauty of the tropics. King Kamehameha the Great traveled here to his summer home to partake in the excellent fishing.

Kaunolu Village is still a remarkably preserved ancient fishing village and home of Kahekilis Leap, which provides amazing views from 90-feet above the ocean. Warriors once proved their bravery by diving from the top into the water below - only 12 feet deep! Ancient petroglyph carvings can also be seen at this village on the south side of Lanai. Other popular fishing areas, then and now, are Manele Beach and Shipwreck Beach found on the northeast shore of the island. Rusting vessels, blown off course and pushed by strong currents, met their fate by crashing into the coral reef along the coast. One may still find artifacts washing ashore today. The WWII ship USS Liberty is one of the vessels still stranded on its reef.

Keomoku Village, once the population hub in the 1890s, now lies abandoned. The town prospered in its earlier years when the Maunalei Sugar Company announced great plans for sugar plantations in the area. While constructing a railroad along the coast, the builders destroyed a temple and bad luck seemed to hamper the project thereafter. The company ceased its efforts and closed in 1901. One of the few remaining buildings of the village is the Malamalama Church, which has been beautifully restored.


In 1922, James Dole purchased the island of Lanai for the purpose of pineapple farming on its fertile land. Large plantations formed and the island became the largest major producer for the industry. Amazingly, this small speck of land produced 75 percent of the worlds pineapples. In 1961, the Dole Pineapple Company merged with Castle & Cooke, and that entity took over management and ownership of the island. Most of the once-prospering plantations have moved for economic reasons and barren fields remain now; only about 100 acres are currently devoted to pineapple growing. Many colorful plantation homes remain in Lanai City, which was created by the Dole Company. It is still the only city on the island with a few businesses, and the news of the day is still posted on bulletin boards at its post office.


Lanai is the second smallest and one of the oldest of the eight major Hawaiian islands. Lanaihale Peak at 3,370 feet in elevation is the highest point on the island and provides the only place where one can view all of the islands in the Hawaiian group. The Munro Trail leads to the apex of the dormant volcano; the path is surrounded with wildflowers, pines, eucalyptus and ferns.

The island is 18-miles long and 13-miles wide, with only 29 miles of paved roads! The population of the island fluctuates from approximately 2,500 to 3,000 people, most of whom live in Lanai City. Of the 1,200 employed residents, most work for Castle & Cooke in their farming or hotel ventures. Lanai is part of Maui County along with the islands of Molokai, Maui, and Kahoolawe (which remains uninhabited to this day). The wildlife population on Lanai includes a herd of around 8,000 Axis deer, descendants of eight deer brought from India during the mid-1800s. Unfortunately, due to overgrazing, the wildlife, plants and forests native to Lanai are now in jeopardy.

Lanai is still the least visited of the Hawaiian Islands with only about 100,000 tourists per year. Bill Gates, who can travel anywhere he chooses, decided to spend his honeymoon on this beautiful and secluded island. From King Kamehameha to Microsoft mogul, this scenic isle is a favorite of the few who know about it!