The Needles

There are a few places in this world that deserve to be called paradise, and the West Coast of Lanai, and more specifically, a small sheltered area commonly known as Five Needles, is one such spot. The Hawaiian names for the general area are Honopu (angry mob or crowd) and Nanahoa (to gaze upon or with friends). Both of these names tend to suggest there was some human element to the needles, and visiting the area tends to confirm that suggestion.
Five Needles is today really only two and half needles, so the nickname has simply been reduced to "Needles." They are large spires which rise sharply out of the water like giant redwood trees with no branches and have a curious look about them, as though someone was peering around a corner to see what you’re doing. Volcanic creations, they were probably formed by lava flowing down the mountainside and breaking off as it cooled unevenly, with parts shearing off and the cores remaining. Rising tall and somewhat tenuously, they look as though a good wave or two would wipe them out, cutting them off at the base. They have endured for thousands of years, however, weathering storms and enormous ocean swells coming in unabated from the West.

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The remaining 2 1/2 needles at "Needles"

From a distance, the needles are barely perceptable up against the bluffs of the Western shore, camoflagued like a chameleon on a tree branch. Taking anglers there for the first time is always an opportunity to trick the untrained eye, because passing the area even a mile outside leaves the angler wondering where these majestic spires are, and further, approaching the needles from the open ocean to the West makes them undetectable almost until running aground on them. But once anchored in the normally calm bay, the beauty of these curious needles is readily apparent.

Situated approximately half way down the western shore of Lanai and nicely tucked into the bluffs away from the wind, Needles lies approximately eight miles to the Northwest of Manele Bay, seventeen miles south of Kaunakakai, and nineteen miles west (as the Iwa bird flies) of Lahaina. The terrain is very similar in appearance to the West coast of the Big Island, yet on a much smaller scale. The water drops to a hundred fathoms just over a mile out and the thousand fathom line is only twelve and a half miles offshore. There are also some FADS nearby which help raise the fisherman’s interest level. "K" buoy is approximately nine miles to the south, "CC" buoy sits about ten miles to the west, MC is about sixteen miles to the southwest, and for those looking to go out a ways, weather buoy 51027 is very reachable at about 25 miles out to the Southwest.

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Approaching Lanai, Manele Bay to the right, Needles to the left
with Maui and Haleakala in the background

The Lahaina charter boats regularly fish the area and the south shore of Lanai for Marlin, Mahimahi, and Tuna, and some Ono in closer along the forty fathom ledges are also rallied now and again. The area is very prolific in its fish production, however, what makes it that extra notch more special is the lack of fishing pressure because of the relatively few boats situated in Lahaina and Lanai. Thus, an overnight or three-day trip using the Needles as an evening refuge can lead to some great fishing and even better scenery.

Adding to the total package it is the relatively calm water during regular trade wind conditions. While spots in the Alenuihaha, Kaiwi and Pailolo Channels can reach 25 knots and kick up the seas on normal trade wind days, the winds in this region can be as low as five to ten knots, leaving to the seas calmer and much more enjoyable for fishing and anchoring.

Returning to the Needles after a day’s worth of fishing is a humbling experience. There are no facilities, and therefore, the boat needs to be self-sufficient. It is an open bight up against 500 foot bluffs which offer protection only from trade wind conditions, but for most months of the year, it is a readily accessible and peaceful anchorage. Of course, if the weather kicks up unexpectedly and the area becomes not so peaceful, boats can duck in to the barge harbor at Kamaualapau only three miles to the south.

Most of the bottom is white sand and provides good grip for anchoring. Boats should take snorkel gear and a skiff along to explore the coastline searching for Opihi and Limu, or just to poke in and out of all the rocks and small caverns along the shoreline. On the base of the needles themselves, there are several tide pools which contain all sorts of sea life capable of entertaining the curious mind for hours on end. Parts of the beach are sandy, while others are rocky and/or sharp and volcanic, and shoes are always a good thing to have on the feet and not in the boat.

There is no access to the needles from land (unless rapelling gear is procured), and though Lahaina tour boats will cruise up and down the coast during the day, it's almost a certainty that solitude will be achieved during the night when the stars are a sight to behold. Because there is no light source within fifteen miles of the area, the sky blackens as the sun drops, leaving an easel for stars to paint their portraits in bright and glimmering detail.

Spend a few nights at the Needles and fish your way to paradise.

Going to the Needles

Similar to most places in the islands offering only partial refuge from the elements, the Needles is best visited during the summer months when the trade winds more more predictable and the oceans swells from the South and West are almost non-existent. Travelling here at other times throughout the year is made possible by the relative safety offered by the barge harbor just down the way, so if things get a bit nasty, there is a place to hide.

Good planning is essential to a visit here. Plenty of food, drink, and ice is crucial if the boat is to support a group and preserve fish properly. Boats should also carry a skiff, dive or at least snorkel gear, and a pair of surf shoes is also handy. A butter knife is good for picking Opihi and Limu, and an open air mesh bag is good to transport them. Although Needles is close to Manele Bay, there are not too many services provided on the island in general. Lahaina is a good provision point for anglers stopping in the Needles, but the best bet is to plan a trip of a set length and provision for it accordingly.

The fishing is awesome, as the bottom contours provide adequate places to school the fish from currents and upwellings. But because access is so difficult, there are not too many boats working the area on any given day. Quite often a run to the nearest FAD during the summer Ahi runs yield a ton of fishing frenzy to the first boat arriving. And with Needles perfectly positioned for such a short run, it has the potential to make for a perfect trip.

Book a boat from Oahu or Maui to go to the Needles. Overnighters probably should come from Lahaina because of the time, but three and four day trips can originate from either harbor.


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