Situated on the northern coast of Lanai, Shipwreck Beach is a beautiful white sand beach. But it is a beautiful white sand beach that lives up to its name. This beach is located just offshore from where strong trade winds and huge channel swells crash atop shallow reefs and all three conditions combine to create dangerous conditions for boats. So dangerous that many ships crash and sink and further add to the reasons why this stretch of sand is called Shipwreck Beach.
Shipwreck Beach, also called Kaiolohia, is uniquely popular without being officially so. That’s to say that this beach isn’t readily supported by local parks departments or officials in that it has no dedicated parking lot nor does it have any facilities or stationed lifeguards. But what it does have is plenty of locals and tourists visiting it every day.
You will find Shipwreck Beach about a 30 to 45-minute drive north of Lanai City. You will follow the highway past Koele’s Lodge and then turn right onto Keomoku Road. This is a paved road that you’ll follow all the way down until you hit a dirt road and are forced to make a choice. If you have a Jeep or otherwise sturdy all-wheel-drive vehicle, you can take that further on over the sand dunes and onto the beach. But if you don’t, then you will want to park and hike the final mile.
The hike down the road and onto Shipwreck Beach is not easy. It requires scrambling across rocks and climbing up and down sand dunes. But once you crest that first big hill to overlook the bay, you are apt to find the experience well worth the unique sights. There, sitting straight ahead is the biggest and most noteworthy ship to sink just off of Shipwreck Beach: The YOGN-42.
This ferro-cement navy fuel barge is a massive WWII-era ship that served as a self-propelled fuel tanker. Ironically, while most of the other ships off the shore of Shipwreck Beach unintendedly found their way there, the YOGN-42 was scuttled on purpose. During that era, after the war was over, purposely and forever grounding the ship seemed to be the best (most economical) way of getting rid of it.
While some will turn back after seeing this hulking star of shipwreck beach, the YOGN-42 is far and away from being the only sight worth seeing. Shipwreck Beach stretches for a full eight miles and has a ton of other smaller wrecks and other attractions to see. After you hit the beach, you’ll see a handmade Shipwreck Beach sign and after passing it, there is a trail that goes inland to where hikers can view historically important Kukui Point petroglyphs. Or opt to continue down the beach and enjoy the many shells, rocks, old ship parts, and other odd debris that washed up onto the shore. Walk all the way to the end, and you’ll also get to explore a once-functional lighthouse and view another massive naval shipwreck.
As you probably expect, waters and offshore reefs that are powerful enough to wreck ships and keep massive cement boats forever grounded are not the type of waters one should swim in. Again, there are no lifeguards here and it is recommended for all to avoid swimming due to the rough natures of the currents and high wave conditions. Instead, the best way to enjoy Shipwreck Beach is with a camera or by appreciating the outstanding beachcombing the sands offer.
-Do not attempt to go down to Shipwreck Beach if you don’t have a four-wheel-drive vehicle. Most rental outfits will charge $500 or more for a tow and that experience is quite likely to ruin an otherwise beautiful day on Lanai.
-Bring a backpack or basket, water, and some snacks. At 8 miles, this is a long beachcombing hike if you want to go the full length and back again.