When it comes to diving, the waters off the Hawaiian island of Lanai hit all the C's: clear, calm and captivating. In fact, its nickname of the Pineapple Isle is woefully outdated at this point, so I propose a new one: the Diver's Paradise.
Lanai is home to 7,000 people and, after the pineapple industry moved out in 1992, relatively little activity compared with the four most populated Hawaiian islands. That means quieter, clearer waters with visibility regularly surpassing 150 feet and more than a dozen named dive sites, including areas with unique lava and rock formations.
"We have less human activity here and large marine preserves, so Lanai gets a ton of different marine life," said dive master Kristin Belew of Lanai Ocean Sports. "Our sites are generally calm and good for ocean activities all year, and we have some of the healthiest reefs in Hawaii."
Hosted by the Four Seasons Resort Lanai, I came to see these underwater destinations through the resort's dive program. Belew, who has lived on the island for six years and has been a scuba instructor for a decade, was ready to pick the best spots for a clear morning with a slight breeze.
We anchored at one of the island's most well-known sites, the 100-foot lava tube dubbed First Cathedral, geared up, dove in and started our descent. We turned the corner to the tube's entrance, and Belew waved with excitement for me to hurry, so I churned my flippers. Relaxing inside was a rare find: an ulua, or giant trevally, easily topping 100 pounds, with a bulbous head and wide body that narrowed quickly at its tail.
As it swam off, its silver skin glinted in a natural spotlight from a hole in the cave roof. The lava rock is punctured with small holes, casting shimmers of light like stained glass, giving the site its name. The traditional exit from First Cathedral is a hole just big enough for an adult human with an air tank, and when timed right, the surging current shoots you out into the open ocean.
Sister site Second Cathedral is a tube with more than seven different ways to enter and exit, offering divers plenty to explore, including a black-coral formation named the Chandelier. Later, at a site called Knob Hill, we saw a plethora of sea life, including whitetip reef sharks, lizardfish, bonitos, puffer fish, octopuses, dragon wrasses and numerous varieties of eels and morays. After just two days of diving off Lanai, it was clear why Belew had logged more than 1,500 dives in these waters and had no plans to move on anytime soon.
"I think the best diving in the whole state is here on Lanai," she said.
The scuba excursions on the Lanai V 45-foot catamaran are limited to one to four guests to maximize time in the water and tailor dives to the abilities and interests of the participants, and they are offered mornings throughout the week by the resort. The cost is $249 per person, with a light lunch and snacks included.