As the spinner dolphin swims, the island of Lanai is perched but eight miles off the western shoulder of Maui. From Honolulu it is a 20-minute puddle jump. In terms of atmosphere, though, Lanai is light years removed from the rest of Hawaii’s bustle.
Long, rolling fields of pineapple, softly blowing trade winds, tall rows of pine and eucalyptus trees, dramatic cliffs that drop off to a deep blue sea, rust red dirt and lush greenery-these are the elements that define Lanai. Oh, and there’s one other thing: silence. A beautiful, enduring silence. Stepping off the plane here is a step into another world. Slip off your wristwatch and put it in your satchel for the duration of your stay. You won’t be needing it on Lanai.
There are only a couple thousand residents on this wonderful island, and the map will tell you that it’s one of the populated Hawaiian chain’s smallest efforts at just 13 miles wide and 18 miles long. But, like those who live on Hawaii’s other diminutive island, Molokai, the people on Lanai are understandably glad to be here. There are no freeways, no high-rises, no fast food and no stoplights. Instead, you will find that life is pretty much as it was 73 years ago when James Dole-a young Harvard graduate and nephew of the Territory of Hawaii’s first president, Sanford Dole-acquired the island expressly to grow pineapple in his successful campaign to make “‘Hawaiian’ mean to pineapple what ‘Havana’ means to tobacco.”
Lanai remained a privately owned, sleepy island for many years, quietly going about its business of growing Hawaii’s signature crop. Few travelers visited unless they were the explorer type. And when they did visit, they managed to keep this beautiful island retreat a secret. After all, no one wished to ruin the charm of an island that boasted little more than a funky 10-room hotel, a equally funky nine-hole golf course (no phone, no starter, a mailbox next to the first tee to pay your five dollars if you so desired!), the best snorkeling in the islands, some hiking trails, a fantastic camping beach and a resident school of spinner dolphins that routinely plays with swimmers at picturesque Hulopoe Bay.
All that changed in 1990. With the pineapple industry in decline in Hawaii, a change was deemed necessary to ensure the island’s financial future. Owner Castle and Cook, headed by the indomitable David Murdock, decided that two world-class golf resorts would be the answer. Thus, with the opening of the Lodge at Koele, a posh, 102-room upcountry estate in Lanai City in 1990, and the 250-room Manele Bay Hotel in 1991, lying in classic Hawaiian splendor down at the beach, the future of Lanai changed forever. Some pineapple is still grown, but it is largely for aesthetic effect.
Both hotels are low-rise structures, appropriate on this sedate, plantation-flavored island. But the similarities in appearance stop there. The Lodge at Koele is styled after a classic English country manor. Spacious lanais surround the hotel, with plenty of rocking chairs provided to enjoy the cool, upcountry atmosphere, while chocolate-heart eucalyptus wood flooring, solid stone fireplaces and an eclectic abundance of antiques distinguish the indoor common areas. A magnificent Great Hall greets visitors upon arrival. The well-appointed guest rooms are large and all offer wonderful views of the surrounding countryside.