Lanai Hawaii The Gathering
We just returned from a trip to the sixth largest island in Hawaii. Lanai is not your typical tropical island with coconut and rain trees, fragrant flowers on every corner, and rows of pineapple (although it once was the largest pineapple plantation in Hawaii). Instead, it is rugged, mysterious and isolated. The biggest challenge to the island is the lack of running water.
As a member of the Mormon Historical Society, our group departed from Lahaina, Maui on a ferry bound for Manele Bay. It is about a 45 minute ride on a good day. In the early days of the Mormon (Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints), new members from Europe and the Eastern United States were encouraged to join the saints in the Salt Lake Valley (Zion) to avoid persecution.
The Church sent missionaries to Hawaii in 1850, and many people joined. However, Hawaiian law did not allow them to migrate to Zion. Brigham Young, the prophet at the time, asked that the missionaries establish a gathering place in Hawaii for the new converts. The spot chosen for the gathering of the saints in Hawaii was on Lana’i, in the Palawai Basin. Jonathan Napela, a Hawaiian convert and judge, leased 6,000 acres which included the Manele Bay up to the mountain.
Similar to the Mormon pioneers, these Mormon saints underwent many hardships to gather to this new location. Our group rented five jeeps and began our journey through Palawai Basin. Our goal was to reach the top of the mountain on the island so we could look down at the basin to see it from above.
I noticed that the land was very arid, except there were long rows of pine trees. I was informed by our guide that these were Norfolk Island Pines. George Munro, a ranch manager, discovered that the trees could soak water out of clouds and fog, producing much needed moisture for crops. Then the pines were planted throughout Lana’i. Some are nearly 100 years old.
We left the paved road and took off on the Munro Trail. It was dusty and overgrown with thick brush. The further up the trail we traveled, the more tropical foilage appeared. There were times when there were steep drop offs on both sides of the trail, and I reminded the driver to keep his eyes on the road.
I was surprised to see some hikers along the trail. The guide informed us that there are two five-star hotels in Lanai - the Four Seasons Resort Lanai and the Lodge at Ko’ele. Many tourists come just to hike or to play golf at the world-class golf courses on the island. Jack Nicklaus is the one who designed them.
We advanced almost to the top of the mountain and because of the moisture, there were patches of mud which made us slip and slide. There were plenty of ferns, eucalyptus trees and beautiful views. You could see Maui and The Big Island. Then we abruptly stopped and learned that our leading jeep was unable to get to the top due to deep pot holes and slippery mud. Our guide said that it was only about a five minute walk to the top, so we all left the jeeps, and about twenty minutes later, reached the summit. It was well worth the effort when we realized we could see the whole Palawai Basin just off the ridge. It was an amazing site. You could see the blue ocean and breath-taking vista. We had a few moments of meditation, picture taking and telling stories. We then sauntered back to our jeeps. There were unfamiliar ferns and flowering plants.
We had lunch at the Lanai Mormon Chapel and listened to some informative presentations by members of the society. We learned that trouble at home in Salt Lake City required all the Mormon missionaries to return to the headquarters, leaving the saints under local leadership. Walter Murray Gibson, a convert and an opportunist, arrived in Lana’i, and stirred things up. He had dreams of creating his own kingdom, and set out to start it on this island. From 1861-1864, Gibson collected money from the saints to buy more land and put it in his own name. This charismatic individual deceived many of the members and had quite a following. Once the Mormon leaders got news of the antics of Walter Gibson, two of the Apostles and three missionaries, who had learned to speak the Hawaiian language, traveled to investigate. Gibson was excommunicated, but continued on his quest to create his own utopia, which never materialized.
Afterwards, we visited the Heritage Center, the Lanai Museum, and saw many pictures, maps and other Lanai historical artifacts. It was interesting to find that at one time Dole Pineapple ran a large pineapple field and that sugar cane had been grown on the island. Tourism is now the main income for the sleepy little island of Lanai.