"The number-one reason for the off-roading restriction in the rental agreement is the potential for damage to the undercarriage of the vehicle," says Payne.

Caught up in the excitement, I took a deep breath, grasped the floor-mounted shifter, put our Jeep into low range, slowly moved into reverse, and crawled out to the highway.

On pavement, our short time off the beaten path left us longing for more alone time. After a pleasant lunch and an afternoon swim in Hana Bay, we continued our trek circling the entire island, sections of which were unpaved and required a shift from two-wheel drive back to the Jeep's full-time system. And though there wasn't a soul around for many miles, I later found out we may never have been completely alone. Many rental-car agencies use a company called Air IQ to track fleets via satellite and determine not only where you are, but where you were. Had we been tracked, we would've been charged a per-mile penalty for where we strayed, plus the entire length of our rental. That said, this section of Route 360, which was conveniently omitted from our map, is arguably one of the most beautiful drives on the island. In an instant, you drop out of a tropical mountain rainforest into cattle country. After a few miles, the scenery changes back to ocean views.

As we continued the search for trails leading to the sea, we made a surprising discovery--it seems "wilds" are off-limits. Jeep trails, which are easy to find, are either chained off or posted closed. Kapu (the Hawaiian word for Keep Out) signs are posted for tourists as well as locals.

We eventually discovered what appeared to be a user-friendly road at the end of Kings Trail on the south side of the island, near Nukuele Point. Further down this road, we found something more ominous than chains or the posted closure signs. Two words that strike fear in the heart of even the most experienced off-road trekkers: "Road impassable." For a moment, I thought about ignoring the warning, but the gargantuan volcanic rocks that line the side of this road made me err on the side of caution. I flagged down a local who was motoring past the warning signs in a late-model Jeep Cherokee.