Authentic, historic, inviting, peaceful – these are the words local artist Mike Carroll uses to describe Lanai. The small yet vibrant island has remained largely untouched by the kind of commercial development that has altered other Hawaiian locales. Natural beauty abounds, with landscapes that recall vintage postcards of forested peaks and secluded beaches.
It was the majestic beauty that first captivated Carroll, a painter with a studio and gallery in the central village of Lanai City. Years ago, the Chicago transplant and his wife, Kathy, celebrated their 20th wedding anniversary on Lanai. Both fell in love with the island, and, by the fifth day of their stay, they had decided to trade the Windy City for the more temperate breezes of Lanai.
Nearly two decades later, the island’s landscapes continue to inspire Carroll’s work. He paints with oils, and frequently ventures out in his 4x4 vehicle to traverse the dirt roads of the upcountry in search of his next painting. “I let the scene speak to me,” he says. “I feel like I’m channelling nature through my paintbrush.” His roving spirit is characteristic on Lanai, an island with few paved roads, most of which wind around Lanai City. Off-roading throughout the 90,000-acre island is the local way, and Lanai residents, including Carroll, encourage visitors to share in the action. “Start by exploring Lanai City,” he says, and then “book an off-road tour, or rent a jeep and discover the island’s hidden treasures.”
If you don’t bump into Carroll amid the upcountry pine groves or along a lava-carved coastline, you’ll find him painting on the porch of his gallery in Lanai City. The former pineapple plantation town is home to the island’s roughly 3,000 full-time residents and comprises a charming mix of local restaurants and boutiques, as well as the Lanai Culture and Heritage Center. Carroll and Kathy describe their hometown as “a time machine where Aloha is alive and well.” The Old Hawaii vibe emanates from neighbourhood cafés, where days begin with warm conversations over cups of coffee. Drivers greet one another with smiles and fluttering fingers as they cruise through town.
“Our community is filled with authentically friendly people who care about each other and Lanai’s visitors,” says Carroll. From the moment you set foot on the island, he says, you’ll “feel welcomed like ohana – family.”