When you arrive at the start point for the Four Seasons Lanai UTV tour in the island's upcountry, they will offer you overalls. Take them.
There is no avoiding the clouds of red dust, and clumps of dirt stirred by the all-terrain vehicles as they bound over the unpaved trails. Depending on where you sit, as our group of reporters sponsored by the Lanai Visitors Bureau found out, the degree of redness will vary. Of course, getting dirty is half the fun, but if you let the dirt creep into your own clothing it will take days to get out and ruin everything white, our guides warned.
After reopening in early 2016 after an extensive renovation, the Four Seasons Lanai introduced new adventure activities, including guided and self-driven UTV (utility task vehicle) tours. Lanai, once covered in pineapple plantations, is slowly revealing its historical Hawaiian sites, including once hidden temples, as the land is restored.
The signs of Lanai's past as the "Pineapple Island" are immediately evident when we arrive at the UTV site. Poking out of the rust-colored dirt are little tufts of black plastic. They are scraps of the agricultural plastics used on the pineapple beds to protect them from excessive temperature changes and loss of moisture.
"Shows you what happens when you don't think about the future and what happens to the environment," said Elfred Bolo, our lead guide. Today careful preservation and restoration work is uncovering forgotten heritage sites while managing invasive species and introducing native ones. Work is also being done to improve the road and trail system, to allow for greater visitor access.
With beige overalls, helmet and goggles on, we loaded into our three off-road vehicles. A UTV differs from an ATV in that it has a steering wheel instead of motorcycle-style handlebars and is enclosed with a roof. We zoomed off, kicking up clouds of dust as we barreled over the undulating path gradually gaining altitude. We weaved through a lush valley in the Palawai Basin with a variety of plants and trees, including macadamia trees and strawberry guavas that we plucked off the trees to sample their tart, seedy insides. As we moved up in elevation we went through ironwood groves.
One of the highlights of the Four Seasons Lanai UTV tour is a scenic vista where, on a clear day, Maui, Kahoolawe and Hawaii Island are visible. Photo Credit: Tovin Lapan
The guides made routine stops to point out different features of the landscape, including a recently uncovered Hawaiian cultural site, Hii, a Hawaiian dryland agricultural area that had been covered over by pineapple cultivation for decades. We took a break at a scenic overlook where I shed my helmet and goggles and beat some red dust out of my beard. The panoramic vista, on a clear day, offers views of Maui, Kohoolawe and Hawaii Island, and served as the backdrop for countless selfies.
Later, we stopped by a series of massive boulders etched with petroglyphs of animals and people estimated to be more than 200 years old. From our UTVs it could be hard to make out the sometimes faint drawings, but Bolo carried an iPad with close-up photos to help the riders get a sense of what to look for on the rock faces.
While the petroglyphs could be difficult to spot, one thing that is almost certain to appear on the tour are axis deer. The tan animals with white spots dart in and out of the bushes and, according to guide Larry Icalla, have a tendency to wait until the last second before leaping across the path in front of one of the UTVs.
The UTV cultural tour costs $395 for a couple and $247.50 for an individual, with transportation to and from the tour start included. Special activity rates are available for Four Seasons Lanai guests. They also offer a custom sunrise tour, including stops at the mountaintop heiau (temple) Puu Makani and Naha lookout point to catch sunrise. Participants then have the choice of heading to Bench Lands for a cultural tour of the Waiapaa area or Hii. The sunrise tour, offered daily, runs $375 for an individual and $495 for a couple.