Ferry Me

Expeditions takes locals and tourists alike to the Valley Isle

By: Marty Wentzel

Waiting in line on Lanai for the ferry to Maui, I counted the number of off-loading passengers who looked like Lanai residents. It was an easy task. Most of the locals carried huge cartons, used dollies to wheel major appliances off the boat, hauled construction materials or made repeated trips back on board for extra bags of groceries. The tourists merely strolled off with their luggage.

Expeditions the only passenger ferry service between Lahaina, Maui and Manele Harbor on Lanai has been making the 45-minute, open-ocean crossing for 17 years. While residents think of it as the only way to travel to and from the Valley Isle for shopping and visiting family, clients have discovered the benefits of boating from one destination to the other, while enjoying views of all the islands in Maui County.

Craig Newman started Expeditions in 1989, ferrying construction workers and their cargo in a 36-passenger boat. His timing made sense: Lanai was changing its economic emphasis from pineapples to tourists. The historic 10-room Hotel Lanai offered the island’s only traditional guestrooms, but then-Castle & Cooke executive, David Murdock, was investing hundreds of millions of dollars into the infrastructure, including two luxury hotels which opened in 1990 and ’91. In 2000, after Newman passed away, the employees took ownership of Expeditions, and Steve Knight became its president.

Visitors soon got wind of Expeditions and started booking it regularly alongside the locals. As demand grew, so did the vessels. In 1992, the firm introduced the 64-passenger Expeditions 2. In January 1998, it launched the 99-passenger Expeditions 3, boasting two decks and air conditioning. Late-2003 heralded the arrival of its current Expeditions 4 a state-of-the-art 149-passenger, 65-foot diesel-powered catamaran. Now running five daily roundtrips, the boat features a hydrofoil system that reduces resistance while increasing speed and maintaining stability.

Since its inception, Expeditions has never raised its one-way rate of $25 per person. On the other hand, one-way Maui-Lanai airfares have skyrocketed from about $35 per person in 1989 to the current high of $200 one way, with no direct service.

“What should take 20 minutes by air, can take four to six hours due to traffic, airport security and stopovers,” said Knight. “That’s a big reason our numbers have gone up over the years. More people travel to Lanai on the ferry than they do on airplanes.”

In the first quarter of 2004, the ferry carried 35,440 passengers. The same period of 2006 saw that number spike to 44,256 the best in the history of Expeditions.

Tourists have impacted Expeditions’ latest move: the introduction, later this year, of a ferry out of Maalaea Harbor to complement its longstanding service in and out of Lahaina, 13 miles to the north.

“Now that Four Seasons has taken over management of the luxury hotels on Lanai, it’s running two-island packages,” said Knight. “The Maalaea dock is far more convenient for people staying at the Four Seasons in Wailea (in Southwest Maui).”

For clients, the company has also tailored a series of packages encouraging day-trips and overnighters to discover Lanai’s visitor attractions. But judging by my recent experience, locals still love the ferry, and probably always will.

“We get tremendous support from the people of Lanai,” said Knight. “Our breakdown is about 65 percent local to 35 percent visitors. I don’t think Lanai could have survived without us.”


Expeditions Lahaina-Lanai Ferry

Expeditions runs five daily passenger roundtrips between Maui and Lanai from 6:45 a.m.-6:45 p.m. Rates are $25 per adult and $20 per child ages 2-11.

Its Explore Lanai packages combine roundtrip transportation on Expeditions, ground transfers on Lanai and accommodations or activities. The Accommodations Package includes a room at the Four Seasons Resort Lanai at Manele Bay or Lodge at Koele. Rates vary.

Golf packages at the Experience at Koele or Challenge at Manele cost $260. Sporting clay packages cost $134, with skeet shooting for $186 and beginning archery for $124.

The 4X4 Trekker tour, where clients take a guided tour of Lanai, costs $165 per adult for a half day and $228 for a full day. For each child, the rates drop by about $10.

The 4X4 Vehicle Rental package costs $176 ($52 per additional adult and $42 per child).

Commission: 15-20 percent