Our visit to Lanai started in Maui at the Lahaina Ferry docks where we boarded the Expedition for the 45-60 minute trip across the channel. (There are ferries departing Maui at 6:30, 9:15 and 12 and returning to Maui from Lanai at 2 pm, 4:30 pm and 6:45 pm. The fare is $25 adults each way and $20 for kids.) The boarding point is directly across from the Pioneer Hotel and just adjacent to the Carthaginian ship and white lighthouse.
We had made prior reservations, which is highly recommended, and the ferry operators also took care of our rental car reservations on Lanai. Other options for making the excursion include going through a tour operator (Trilogy takes their catamarans out and arranges special functions and entertainment to groups) or as advertised all over town at activities desks.
When choosing your method, plan to spend as much time as possible if you are only taking a day tour of Lanai, as the ferry eats up two hours of your time and the trip to the rental car agency in Lanai City is another 20-30 minutes drive from the harbor in a shuttle van. Also, be advised that you will be required to return the rental vehicle at least one hour and fifteen minutes prior to your ferry departure. Even if you arrange your visit so that you end up at the shore, you will need to go back up the hill (ugh!) much earlier than I consider it necessary to make the trip to the ferry dock. We ended up waiting almost an hour on the windy coast for the ferry’s arrival at the end of a long day.
So, in effect, if you take the 9:30 am ferry, you’ll arrive at 10:30 am and not be in your Jeep rental until 11 am. By the time you decide your route and get some provisions in town, which are essential since Lanai City and the hotels are the ONLY place to get food, water, or use the bathroom on the island, even if you take the last ferry home (6:45pm) you will now have about five hours to see four trails that take about five hours to drive round trip. This won’t leave you much time for enjoying the gorgeous beaches and hotels.
In the likely event you are caught in a downpour up on the Munro trail or anywhere in Lanai City, as has happened to us with every visit, you will miss out on visiting some of the most impressive sites on Lanai while waiting out the rains. And you should wait. Even Jeeps cannot navigate some of the ruts and rugged washes that occur during rains. The rental agency has a photo journal to prove it which shows Jeeps in red mud past their bumpers and on their sides moving with musdlides!
On one visit, we were at the top of the trail when a downpour wouldn’t let up so we went down the hill to the Hulopo'e Bay beach and waited for a clearing which came within hours. But by then, we had only two hours left before we had to return the car and had to make a choice of which of the four trails we wanted to travel most.
By the end of the day we had gone up and down the mountain four times before we boarded our ferry that night, spending too much precious time backtracking to be happily efficient.
My suggestion? Spend the night in the secluded wonder of Lanai. Really see the stars and hear the sounds of silence. Take your time and don’t worry about the weather which is sure to throw you off anyway. I enjoyed myself here even more when there was no hurry to catch a ferry and no penalty for missing the shuttle (the rental car agency will charge you $10/pp if you miss their cut-off time for returning the Jeep.)