Experience two worlds on one Hawaiian island
Posted on July 1, 2019
I wasn’t experiencing jet lag, and my feet were planted firmly on the ground, but I still found the view in front of me confusing. Straight ahead across a channel, the island of Molokai felt close enough to touch and, on the right, Maui floated in the clear blue sea. I’ve seen Molokai and Lanai from Maui more than once, so that made perfect sense. What had me blinking and shaking my head was the red earth under my feet.
My husband and I had driven to this point — the Garden of the Gods on the island of Lanai — through Baja-like terrain, and now I was standing on dusty, dry mud that seemed straight out of Central Australia. This view was in stark contrast with the stunning tropical gardens I’d walked through at our hotel just hours earlier. No wonder my mind was muddled.
I had looked forward to visiting Lanai, the only Hawaiian island I didn’t know, and I hadn’t expected any big surprises. I soon realized that this place, the state’s smallest publicly accessible inhabited island, has a unique story full of unexpected revelations.
A very quick history of Lanai
Polynesians have lived on Lanai since at least the 15th century. The island was a favorite fishing spot of King Kamehameha I, Hawaii’s first monarch. Missionaries started arriving in 1854. They were joined in 1862 by preacher Walter Murray Gibson, who bought most of the land on Lanai, some of it with church money. When it was discovered that he had recorded the land in his name, he was excommunicated, but allowed to keep the property. In 1922, James Dole bought the island from Gibson’s successors for $1.1 million and created an island-wide plantation. Dole Pineapple grew 75 percent of the world supply. Eventually, production was relocated to countries with more water and lower labor costs. The last pineapple harvest on Lanai was in 1992. In 2012, Oracle Corporation founder Larry Ellison bought Lanai from Dole’s successors for $300 million. Today, the island has a population of about 3,000, with 30 miles of paved roads. Lanai City has a dozen churches, one school, a hospital, and no traffic lights.
Where to stay and dine
Some of the most beautiful tropical gardens I have ever seen are thriving at the Four Seasons Resort Lanai. As we walked to and from meals and activities, I found myself stopping to admire red flowering ginger, delicate white orchids, huge plumeria, and gorgeous haleconia. I might have expected this floral wonderland on the wet side of the Big Island or on Kauai, but here it came as a pleasant surprise. In addition to the leafy plants, garden areas are enhanced with statuary, waterfalls, and inviting sitting areas.
The four-story hotel includes 213 rooms and suites replete with high-tech touches. Our favorite was the toilet lid that flipped open every time we walked past and the in-room iPad for ordering room service, making dinner reservations, and more.
Two beautiful lagoon-style swimming pools overlook a crescent-shaped beach. These and some large hot pools are nestled between tropical plants and surrounded by comfy chaise lounges. The spa is just steps away. For more energetic guests, the Four Seasons offers tennis courts, mountain bikes, archery, and horseback riding. There’s also a beautiful golf course overlooking the ocean. Bill and Melinda Gates were married on the tee box of the 12th hole in 1994.
Our favorite activities were driving over the island in a rented Jeep and checking out the rugged terrain and ocean views from various points. It was also fun to walk around laid-back Lanai City, which is home to some cute low-key cafes and lots of quaint older homes. We thoroughly enjoyed a snorkel sail excursion on a large catamaran, which gave us good views underwater and from the water back onto the land.
And the food! Hotel restaurants generally don’t serve exciting meals, but the Four Seasons’ One Forty, Nobu Lanai, and The Sports Bar & Grill were all excellent. Favorite flavors included the Ali’i Mushroom Soup at One Forty, which included fried shiitakes, spiced macadamia nuts, and sherry gastrique whipped cream. At Nobu, the Scallops Hokkaido were a big hit.
Just as I didn’t expect to find red earth and rugged terrain on Lanai, I also didn’t think I’d enjoy fine food on the Pineapple Island. Both were very welcome surprises. Elizabeth Hansen
Photography courtesy of Adams / Hansen Stock Photos & Four Seasons Resort Lanai