When you’re driving the straight, pine-tree lined road between Manele Harbor and Lanai City, don’t be surprised if a flock of turkeys are hanging out by the roadside.
Unlike neighboring Maui or Molokai, where wild turkeys are only found in isolated pockets, Lanai is awash in wild turkeys that scuttle across the island. Introduced to the Hawaiian Islands as early as 1790, wild turkeys exploded in population when hundreds more were introduced in the early 1960s. Lanai’s dry habitat is perfectly suited to these wild, Rio Grande turkeys, whose native habitat is western Texas and the plains of northeastern Mexico.
It isn’t just wild turkeys, however, that you’re likely to spot on Lanai. The island’s population of Axis deer is potentially as high as 10,000, and you’re likely to see one when driving the dusty dirt roads of the Palawai Basin. First introduced to Molokai in 1868, Axis deer were brought to Lanai in the early 1920s, and hunting is now a popular pursuit for many island locals. Native to India (where they’re known as chital), Axis deer weigh up to 150 pounds and are known for their speed, agility, and ability to easily hop over fences. Be on the lookout when driving out to Polihua Beach, as well as driving the coastal road between Kaiolohia and Keomoku. It’s even common to spot deer by the harbor when taking the evening ferry to Maui!
Mouflon sheep, on the other hand, aren’t as easily spotted. Only hunters and serious hikers will usually encounter sheep, although occasionally you can spot some when hiking out on the Koloiki Ridge trail. With their curling horns and stoic appearance, they seem more suited to the Rocky Mountains than the slopes of a tropical island, but they nevertheless make their home on Lanai—so be on the lookout when hiking.
Unfortunately, much of the native birdlife has long since gone extinct, but one exception is uau, or Hawaiian Petrel, that inhabit the lush, misty cloud forest at the summit of Lanaihale. Visitors are rare on Lanai’s highest peak, but if you happen to make the 12-mile, round-trip, hike all the way to the summit, be sure to stop, look, and listen for the rare, endangered birds.
Finally, while Hawaiian Spinner dolphins are frequently spotted in the waters of Hulopoe Bay, other species include Bottlenose dolphins (which are twice as large as the spinners), as well as Pantropical Spotted dolphins that live off the Kaunolu coastline. Sometimes you can even find whale sharks and manta rays when snorkeling or diving at Kaunolu, which is best accessed by boat as part of a professionally guided tour.