by Barry Osman
People and places stay in our memories for a number of reasons, their beauty, their excitement, the freshness of experiences yet to be had. That is probably why we all enjoy traveling so much!
One of the special advantages of traveling to Hawaii is that within an hour (or less) of travel time we can be on a different island, and Lanai is a different island worth taking time for.
1. The Island of Lanai – History
There is a special feeling of Aloha in Lanai, amplified with a sweet tenderness that you will feel at once, whether it is the lack of traffic (there are no stoplights and only one gas station), or the ethereal quiet at night (except for the whooshing of the pine trees or the occasional barking of the deer). Time moves slowly on Lanai, but sometimes you really do need to slow down. Often, visitors to Lanai, extending their vacation from other islands, will say that they wish that they had come to Lanai for their whole vacation, and that their visit to Lanai was like a vacation from their vacation.
A small village that was built in the early 1920’s as the only “town” on Lanai, 47 miles of coastline, 88,000 pristine acres and only 30 miles of paved roads, shared with less than 3,000 residents, makes for an amazing vision of what life in Hawaii was like “in the good old days”.
If all of this intrigues you, then a visit to Lanai will create lasting memories and steal your heart, as it did 25 years ago when billionaire David Murdock arrived and began the transition of Lanai from the world’s largest pineapple plantation to a world class luxury golf destination.
Featuring two award winning Four Seasons Resorts and two amazing golf courses, The Challenge at Manele Bay and The Experience at Koele, Lanai mixes uber luxury with tee shirt casual in a simple combination not seen anywhere else.
With 98% of the island now privately owned by Oracle billionaire Larry Ellison, the future of Lanai is uncharted as yet, but one thing that will never change is that sweet Aloha.
2. Visiting Lanai for the First Time
Expeditions Ferry is the best way to get to Lanai from Maui; clean modern people ferry boats depart from Lahaina with open air upper decks that will make the 45 minute ride one of the best parts of your visit; the whale watching(November through April) is unreal (and free), and the vistas of scenic coastlines of Maui, Lanai, Molokai, and Koohalawe are truly awe inspiring, and the crew are friendly and helpful.
My favorite day trip would be to take the 9:15 am departure from Lahaina that arrives in Manele Harbor(Lanai) at 10:00 am and then return to Maui on the 4:30 departure (arriving in Lahaina at 5:15pm.) This gives you the opportunity to dine in one of Lahaina’s great trendy restaurants (more on those in another story) and explore the night life (if you don’t fall asleep). Reservations and schedule: 800-695-2624.
3. Four Seasons Manele Bay & Lodge at Koele Hotels
When you arrive on Lanai by ferry you will only have a few transportation options. If you are staying overnight, there will be bellmen from the Four Seasons who will take you and your luggage to your hotel, either in Manele Bay or upcountry in Koele.
These shuttle buses are also available for day visitors at a charge of $10. per person each way . There are no taxis on Lanai but there are Jeep rentals (expensive but real fun for off-roading) available through Dollar Rent A Car (limited amount so reservations recommended:866-434-2226). You can also check with the hotel concierge about alternate rentals and guided private tours, try one of Neal Rabacca’s fleet of Chevy Suburbans, his expert local drivers (ask for Bruce) have in depth understanding and knowledge of Lanai and are very friendly. They can also pick you up at the dock.
4. Lanai Restaurants
Within walking distance of the ferry dock is Hulopoe Bay, a pristine marine sanctuary where you will likely encounter inquisitive dolphins who may follow and perform for you, along with an amazing assortment of sea life and tide pools in crystal clear water. Take the path up the hill where you can cool down with a delicious drink (and lunch) at the Manele Bay Hotel, poolside.
This spectacular Hawaiian-Asian fusion hotel boasts the many Asian art treasures that David Murdock installed when he built the hotel in 1989 at a cost of over 250 million dollars. The lobby overlooks the signature pool from above , Pu’u Pehe (Sweetheart Rock) and the blue waters of Manele Bay and the Pacific Ocean featuring the antics of spinner dolphins.
As you leave the ferry dock, you will know when you are approaching Lanai City, the curving road straightens up and a forever seeming line of tall pine trees embraces both sides of the road, welcoming you with cooler air (sometimes 15-20 degrees cooler than Manele Bay); locals call it natural air conditioning.
5. Lanai City – History
Next stop is Lanai City, although the word “city” is a bit of a stretch. Laid out by the early plantation bosses, the city is reminiscent of a small mid west town of the 1920’s—the streets are all alphabetically and numerically arranged in a tidy grid around a central park planted (in 1923) full of cook island pine trees. They now tower 85 feet tall over the little village, unchanged since it was first built. Awaiting landmark status as a historical treasure, the wooden town of Lanai City is one of the last remaining “plantation towns” of Hawaii and is a fun walk consisting of about two blocks on either side of the park.
The Lanai Culture and Heritage Center, located at the foot of the town, is a loving preservation of Lanai’s history and culture and a definite must see. Mikala is usually there along with local kupuna and volunteers, stop in Monday-Friday from 8:30am-3:30pm and Saturday mornings; 808-565-7177.
Although the town has few shops and restaurants those that are there are noteworthy and truly worth enjoying. These are all “mom and pop” operations, no national chains or franchises on Lanai.
One of the first buildings that you will see as you enter the town is the Dis ‘N Dat Shop. Built in 1928, this wooden building has been housing local businesses its whole life and since 1968, the Dis ‘N Dat Shop sign has hung proudly above the door. Outside is the owner’s 1959 yellow and white Nash Metropolitan, inside is one of the most interesting shops to be found anywhere, with 100’s of chimes, crystals and gongs hanging (and clanging) from the ceiling and Asian and pacific treasures, carvings and jewelry artfully displayed in Balinese hand painted showcases. Very cool, very friendly, they give out free postcards and candy, Frommer’s Guide calls it “our favorite” and very highly recommends it.
Across the park is the Mike Carroll Gallery, home to Lanai’s own plain air painter, Mike Carroll. Visions of Lanai by Mike and several other local artists grace this unexpected gallery. Mike’s wife Kathy, is usually on hand to spread her knowledge and aloha, and a good source of “where to go, what to do, and where to eat”.
Most of the shops take credit cards and are usually open Monday-Saturday from 10am-5:30.
6. The Lodge at Koele 5-Star Hotel
The Lodge at Koele is a short walk (or you can take the shuttle) from the village, passing grazing horses and the stable on the way up the pine tree bordered street. As the largest wooden structure in the state of Hawaii, the Lodge is an imposing country manor complete with dueling floor to ceiling fireplaces in the stately great room. The grounds are gorgeous, and a meandering walking path will take you past the Orchid House and Japanese Gazebo, around the lake and past the koi.
A stop at the central pineapple fountain while gazing out at the lake is a good excuse to order one of the Lodge’s famous cocktails, ask if Chicky is blending, he’s been serving up drinks at the lodge since 1990 and is happy to talk story with you about the famous and infamous visitors that he has met. Lunch in the great room is a must, if you have time.
7. Lana’s Unique Activities & Tours
On an island that is so slow paced, it’s good to know that if you have the energy, there are several unique activities to try, all in low density, very private circumstances. The best way to find out about the archery, sporting clays, horseback riding, off road adventures, hiking, snorkeling, surfing and hunting is to contact the concierge at The Four Seasons Resorts Lanai. Ask for Fran at Manele Bay : 808-565-7300. Often, yours will be the only footprints in the sand, the only diners in the restaurant, the only shoppers in the store, and that is truly what visiting the private island of Lanai is all about.