Escape to Lanai Island, Hawaii’s lesser-known destination. Photo / Four Seasons Lanai_Don Riddle
Lanai may be best known for two luxury resorts owned by Oracle software billionaire Larry Ellison, but for Kiwi travellers there are more affordable ways to explore Hawaii’s sixth-largest island. Farewell Oahu, we’re off to Hawaii’s lesser-known Lanai Island, writes Brett Atkinson.
What to see
Although Team New Zealand’s America’s Cup nemesis in 2010 and 2013 owns 98 per cent of Lanai, most of the 364sq km island can be accessed by visitors. Start by exploring tiny Lanai City, a grand name for Lanai’s only settlement, and a reminder of when the Dole Corporation grew pineapples here until the 1980s. Historic 1920s plantation houses now feature cafes and restaurants, and compact Dole Park is framed by Norfolk and Cook pines introduced from Norfolk Island and New Caledonia. From Lanai City, it’s 8km south to one of Hawaii’s best beaches at Hulopoe Bay. A 1km path at the southern end of the cove leads to Manele Bay and spectacular views of Puu Pehe, also known as Sweetheart Rock, and the inspiration for a local legend involving star-crossed lovers. Other beaches to explore include isolated Halepalaoa on Lanai’s east coast. You’ll need a 4WD to get here but look forward to views across to Maui. From December to April, breaching humpback whales are a common sight. Further north, Shipwreck Beach features the rusted hulk of a World War II navy fuel tanker – actually beached here deliberately – and more than 10 other vessels that foundered here.
What to do
Equipped with a high-clearance 4WD, another favourite Lanai destination is Keahiakawelo. Also known as the “Garden of the Gods”, this exposed plateau in the island’s northwest was formed by a volcanic eruption, and the windswept landscape of sienna- and terracotta-hued rock formations is a pretty good South Pacific stand-in for Mars. Also worth exploring is the vast archaeological site of Kaunolu, high above Lanai’s sea cliffs on the island’s southwestern tip. The remains of an ancient Hawaiian village include a sacred temple, and nearby, at Kahekili’s Leap, Hawaiian warriors tested their bravery by jumping 25m into the ocean below. Lanai’s modern leap of faith is now on the zipline crossing Kaiholena Gulch at the Lanai Adventure Park. Guided e-mountain bike tours leaving from the park are a good way to venture to quiet beaches and learn about island history.
Where to eat
From pricey sushi and sashimi at Nobu to steak, seafood and Hulopoe Bay views at One Forty, the island’s two Four Seasons resorts have six different restaurants to choose from. Recommended for casual visitors to the hotels is the poolside Malibu Farm eatery. Most ingredients come from Four Seasons’ sustainably-run Lanai farm. Try the grilled local fish with miso tahini for lunch. In Dole City, options include Blue Ginger Cafe – the saimin noodle bowl is a Hawaiian classic – while Asian and Pacific flavours merge at Ganotisi’s Pacific Rim Cuisine. Courtesy of Lanai’s multicultural local community descended from plantation families, both Korean kalbi short ribs and Japanese tempura shrimp feature on the lunch plates menu. At night, Dole City dining action moves to the charming dining room at the Hotel Lanai’s Lanai City Bar & Grill.
Where to drink
Housed in a historic plantation house in Dole City, Coffee Works is the best way to kick off another Lanai day. Organic beans from the Big Island’s Kona Coast are blended with coconut and macadamia nuts, and brunchy snacks include acai wellness bowls and breakfast burritos. For cold-pressed juices and tropical fruit smoothies, order in advance by text with the Lanai Wai Juice Truck. Follow them @lanaiwai on Instagram for contact details and occasional specials like Vietnamese summer rolls. Happy hour at the Lanai City Bar & Grill runs from 4pm to 6pm, a great time to indulge in a cocktail and a few pau hana (literally “stop work”) bar snacks. Team the ahi tuna poke tostada with the mezcal, pineapple and chilli wizardry of the Poblano Escobar cocktail, or ease into an island sunset with an IPA from Oahu’s Lanikai Brewing Company. Valley Isle’s Ohana Citrus kombucha from nearby Lahaina is non-alcoholic but does have the addition of a relaxing hit of CBD.
Where to stay
Four Seasons has two luxury resorts on the island, one overlooking Hulopoe Beach, and the spa-and-wellness-oriented Sensei Lanai amid Lanai’s inland forest of Cook pines. See fourseasons.com/lanai/.
More affordable, and probably without the occasional visit from Tom Cruise or Elon Musk, is the Hotel Lanai. From 1932 to 1990, it was the only hotel on the island, and its hardwood floors and plantation-style rooms have been given a boutique makeover. See hotellanai.com.
Getting there and around
Direct air transfers from Honolulu with Lanai Air (lanaiair.com) can be booked when confirming accommodation at Four Seasons’ two resorts. Go Lanai (go-lanai.com) runs passenger ferries linking Lanai to the port of Lahaina on Maui. Crossings take an hour and Go Lanai can arrange 4WD tours and visits to Lanai Adventure Park for day trip visitors. To rent your own 4WD transport to explore Lanai’s beaches, forests and unsealed roads, contact Lanai Cheap Jeeps (lanaicheapjeeps.com).
For more information, visit gohawaii.com/