Lanai Petroglyphs

Lanai Petroglyphs - Large Pictographs With Unknown Meanings
Local Expert's Rating:
4.5 / 5
The Bottom Line:

Enjoy a short hike (less than a mile round-trip) to take in the ancient Lanai Petroglyphs just minutes from Shipwreck Beach and Kukui Point. This short but rugged hike offers incomparable views of the ocean, along with glimpses of ancient Hawaiian stone structures and, further down in the valley, faint but well-preserved petroglyphs painted on the basalt rocks in the Poaiwa Valley. 

- The Local Expert Team

It can be hard to imagine what life was like for the native islanders several hundred years ago, but visitors to the island of Lanai can still see the works of their hands. Hiking to the Kukui Point Petroglyphs in Lanai City is an unforgettable vacation highlight for those who don’t mind a hot, somewhat rough hike over lava rock. Want to see the petroglyph site for yourself? Here’s what you need to know. 

The Kukui Point Petroglyphs are located on Lanai’s north shore between Shipwreck Beach and Kukui Point. Enjoy the scenic drive up toward the island’s north shore and plan to stop at the iconic (and somewhat eerie) Shipwreck Beach. Park at the Shipwreck Beach parking lot and from there, you can follow the coastal trail about half a mile northwest toward Kukui Point. On Google Maps, the Kukui Point Petroglyphs are simply labeled “Lanai Petroglyphs.” 

This hike gets hot and rugged, despite its short length; many visitors are surprised at just how hot the sun feels on this stretch of land, especially if you’re visiting during midday or early afternoon. Bring a hat, sunscreen, and plenty of water! Sturdy shoes or hiking sandals are also a must; thorns and sharp lava rocks along the trail make it an unpleasant experience for visitors wearing flimsy flip-flops. Although this is a coastal hike, there are some short, uphill sections, so come prepared for the experience!

Along the way, the trail is marked by multiple cairns (small piles of rocks). You’ll also see an informative sign giving a little more background and history about the area you’re visiting, as well. 

As you walk up the coastal trail from Shipwreck Beach, you’ll wind along lava rock and basalt outcroppings down toward a small valley (called Poaiwa by locals), which is where the petroglyphs are located. You’ll need to look around a bit to see the ancient artwork, which is scribed on the smooth sides of basalt boulders in the valley. 

Hawaii has a rich and varied history. Spend some time admiring the Lanai Petroglyphs, and you’ll see some of the most puzzling artifacts from the island’s past. If you look around as you hike up the trail, you’ll also see the ruins of ancient Hawaiian homes–or, at least, the footings for the foundations they were built upon. This area was once home to a thriving village, and you’ll almost feel like you could step back into history when you’re walking along the coast with the sea wind in your hair. 

A few of our favorite features at the Lanai Petroglyphs include:

Hunting Scene
The hunting scene is Lanai’s most prominent petroglyph, and you’ll immediately notice it if you go to see the carvings around Shipwreck Beach. The scene depicts 13 men, a horse, a dog, and a cow/pig, and is one of the largest pieces of artwork that you’ll ever view.

Axis Deer
One petroglyph of a man, a dog, and an axis deer is particularly insightful to the carving’s past. Dogs were brought to Hawaii by the first Polynesian settlers, and Axis deer came from India during the mid-1800s. Thus, this particular petroglyph is likely from the mid- or late-1800s. Others were likely carved before and after this one.

Women and Children
Although less prominent than men, women, and children are also depicted throughout the petroglyphs. See everyone in society fishing, cooking, and even having fun — the surfing icons are especially popular.

Southern Petroglyphs
Head to the petroglyphs on Lanai’s southern side for the best photographs. The scenes aren’t quite as large as those around Shipwreck Beach, which makes it easier to zoom in on particular carvings. Most of these are also carved into the southern side of boulders, which ensures that they’re well-lit by the sun at all times of the day.

Insider Tips:
-Check the weather before you visit, and consider planning your trip for first thing in the morning or a bit later in the afternoon for a bit of respite from the midday heat.  
-Bring a picnic to have a Shipwreck Beach when you go to see the Lanai Petroglyphs around here. Strong currents make swimming at the beach too dangerous, but it’s just about 100 yards from the petroglyphs, has a shipwreck visible from land, and is a fun place to picnic.
-As you traverse the roads to either set of petroglyphs, you’re traveling along old banana plantation roads. The roads are fun to explore but become dirt at points — make sure you have a four-wheel-drive vehicle if you venture here on your own.
-If you plan your hike to the petroglyphs to coincide with low tide, you could also wade well out to sea toward the old shipwrecked vessel that’s been marooned just off the coast for over 70 years.