Although unsafe for swimming, wild and beautiful Shipwreck Beach remains a favorite stop among many visitors to Lanai, “Hawaii’s Most Exclusive Island.” Beachcombers come for the brilliant shells and other treasures that wash up on shore. Amateur and professional photographers alike thrill at the magnificent views of neighboring Molokai, which rises across the Kalohi Channel. And the beach’s eight-mile stretch of sand offers a great spot for sunbathing, picnicking, fishing, walking and exploring.
The Kalohi Channel is known for having powerful currents and numerous reefs, and many ships have met their watery demise here—hence, the name “Shipwreck Beach.” The first documented shipwreck occurred in 1824 when a British vessel, Alderman Wood, met its fate. Just two years later, an American ship, London, sunk here. The London was said to be carrying a large cargo of gold and silver, and it is uncertain how much was ever recovered.
Perhaps the most famous resident at Shipwreck Beach is the World War II Liberty Ship, whose rusted hulk still clings to a reef near the shore. This was not the result of an accident. After World War II, this vessel was given “residence” as an economical means of disposal. Made of concrete, the ship was one of 22 ferrous-concrete oilers built between 1942 and 1944. None of these vessels were given names.
Need to Know
Again, Shipwreck Beach is not suitable for swimming. Strong trades coming through the Pailolo Channel between Maui and Molokai create a venturi-like funnel, creating rough waters and dangerously powerful currents in the area.
Located along the northeastern coastline of Lanai, Shipwreck Beach is accessible by 4WD vehicles. From Lanai City, take Highway 44 to the end of the road, then turn left on the dirt road to the parking area near the lighthouse ruins. The beach fronts the ruins and stretches for several miles.
A remote hiking trail (Kaiolohia-Kahue) originates from the beach, and petroglyphs can be seen 100 yards inland from the parking area.