Two tales of modern Hawaii

LANA’I, Hawaii–There are only three paved roads on Lana’i and it takes less than an hour to drive all of them. The west road leads to Kaumalapau Harbour, the tiny port where supplies for the island’s 3,000 residents are landed each Thursday. The south road stops at Manele Bay and the Manele Bay Hotel, one of just two resorts on the island. (But the one with a measure of international fame, since it’s where Bill Gates got married in 1994.) The north road... well, the north road just ends. There’s a small gravel parking lot, then sand dunes, an empty shingle beach and the Pacific.

Lana’i has so few roads or resorts here because until the 1990s it was the world’s largest pineapple plantation, 8,000 hectares of fruit. When Third World competition made its pineapples uneconomical, the fields were allowed to go fallow. A decade later, most still are. Tourists are the next crop the island is hoping to raise, but with few fine beaches, no smouldering volcanos and only one small town, Lana’i City, it’s been slow to draw crowds.

So you may have the beach at the end of the north road to yourself. Or there may be a few beachcombers, because the stretch to the west is Shipwreck Beach.

The name comes from the effect the fast-rising wind and choppy water of Kaholi Channel can have on vessels, driving them onto a sharp coral reef. Many boats have met their end here, including the London in 1826, carrying gold bullion.

Most of what washes up on Shipwreck is flotsam, but every so often there’s something more substantial, like the rotting ribs of a schooner, or more evocative, like an old-fashioned silver fork. If anyone’s found the bullion, they aren’t telling.

About two kilometres down the beach are the semi-ruins of a holiday camp still occasionally used by the locals. If no one’s about it has a real Stephen King-novel feel to it: the cottage doors stand half-ajar, old mattresses are piled up inside.

The eerie camp sets the mood perfectly for the highlight of Shipwreck Beach, another kilometre on: the hulk of a huge ship, in profile to the shore, perhaps a half-kilometre out in the channel. Although almost fully above the water, it stands straight up, held in place by the coral that trapped it. The years have turned it ghastly, black and cadaverous.

The closer you get, the creepier it becomes. It may be the flat blackness of it, which can make it seem to be much closer than it is, or the all-too-fleshlike way bits of its skin have fallen off, or that it seems to almost hover above the water, defying natural laws. It seems aware of you.

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