Most people come to the Hawaiian Island of Lana‘i for the snorkeling, palm trees, tropical drinks, and hikes on the ridge. 

But some people—my family included—came recently for a completely different reason: cats.

Our destination was the Lana‘i Cat Sanctuary, an open-air shelter at which nearly 500 cats run freely in an outdoor, 25,000-square-foot habitat. People can visit the shelter to interact with the kitties seven days a week. Many of the animals even are available for adoption—if you don’t want to take one home, you can “adopt-in-place” and sign up for regular updates from the center about your cat and its progress.

Inside the seven-foot fence, the area is dotted with a variety of cat boxes, pipes, tall grasses, and other areas on which the kitties can play. One fenced-in section, dubbed Kittengarden, is for kittens; another area, where the animals eat, is referred to as the Catfurteria (the latter was my daughters’ favorite).

Giant litterboxes are full of mulched needles from the island’s Cook pines. And for the cat haters among you, get this: It doesn’t smell, largely because staff members scoop droppings all day long.

The man behind this magic is Executive Director Keoni Vaughn. A native Hawaiian, Vaughn came into the job after years as an animal cop. He likens the luxurious facility to the “Furr Seasons,” a play on the Four Seasons’ brand. This is fitting, since Four Seasons Lanai sends many of its visitors to take the 30-minute drive from Hulopo‘e Bay and check things out.

As Vaughn explains it, the Sanctuary got started back in 2004 amid local efforts to remove feral cats from the wilds of Lana‘i because of the way they were threatening native birds. Once these animals were trapped humanely, they came to stay at the Sanctuary, which later expanded to accept abandoned animals, as well. All of the animals are spayed or neutered when they arrive (if they haven’t had those procedures previously). And all of the “residents” receive unlimited food and water, shelter, and regular medical treatment from a veterinarian who flies out from Oahu twice a month.

Visiting the attraction is like walking into the Wanda Gag children’s book, Millions of Cats. There are cats here, and cats there. Cats, cats everywhere!

Just when you think you’ve spotted all of them, one might leap in front of your face. Or scratch your shin. Or meow as it follows you around. One might even spot a (real, live) praying mantis and begin batting it like a toy.

But don’t take my word for it. Watch the video to see and learn more. 

The Lana‘i Cat Sanctuary Is a Hawaiian Paradise from AFAR Media on Vimeo.

Matt Villano is a freelance writer and editor based in Healdsburg, California. In nearly 20 years as a full-time freelancer, he has covered travel for publications including TIME, the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, Sunset, Backpacker, Entrepreneur, and more. He contributes to the Expedia Viewfinder blog and writes a monthly food column for Islands magazine. Villano also serves on the board of the Family Travel Association and blogs about family travel at Wandering Pod. Learn more about him at