Lana‘i, referred to as the “secluded” island, is a tranquil place steeped in legend in ancient times and a place where neighbors know each other’s names in modern times.
Since the end of pineapple cultivation in 1992, Lana‘i has become a world-class visitor destination.
Legend of Kaulula‘au
The mischievous son of a West Maui chief, Kaulula‘au was banished to Lana‘i for some of his pranks, like pulling up all the breadfruit saplings at his father’s village in Keka‘a. At the time, the island was said to be haunted by man-eating spirits and ghosts, and the chief thought that his son would not survive in that hostile place. But Kaulula‘au outwitted the spirits and chased them away, bringing peace to the island. When the chief looked across the ‘Au‘au Channel and noticed that his son’s fires were burning along the shore, he sent men in canoes to investigate and they brought Kaulula‘au back since he was redeemed by his courage and cleverness.
The Dole Years
In 1898, a Harvard graduate named James Drummond Dole got off a boat in Honolulu and saw his future. In 1901, he planted his first pineapple fields on 12 acres of land in Wahiawa. During the two-year wait for the pineapples to ripen, Dole built his own pineapple cannery. After the first harvest was canned and shipped out, Dole’s business flourished.
In 1922, Dole paid over one million dollars (a staggering sum of money in that era) for the entire island of Lana‘i. At the time, it was the largest real estate transaction in Hawaii’s history. He purchased Lana‘i because its weather was perfect for growing pineapples, and later bragged to friends that the island was worth at least $20 million.
Dole converted much of the island into a huge pineapple plantation. A deep water harbor constructed to allow export of the pineapples, and Lana‘i City was built for plantation workers. The town still looks much like it did when it was first built with a large park as the town center encircled by mom-and-pop stores and majestic Norfolk pines, and plantation style homes branching out from there.
Rise of Tourism & Status
When David Murdock purchased Castle & Cooke in 1985, he became the owner of Dole Food Company and consequently, owner of 98 percent of the island of Lana‘i.
In 1990, construction began on two luxury resorts - Manele Bay Hotel on the coast at pristine Hulopoe Bay, and The Lodge at Koele on the misty mountainside above Lana‘i City.
Until that time, the only hotel on the island was Hotel Lana‘i, overlooking Dole Park in Lana‘i City. This picture-postcard inn features 11 rooms, a cottage and a full-service restaurant, Lana‘i City Grille, a perennial favorite.
In 2012, billionaire Larry Ellison bought Castle & Cooke’s 98 percent share of the island. His vision is to create for Lana‘i an ultimately sustainable, environmentally responsible and self-sufficient community. He established a management company, Pulama Lana‘i, to oversee the transformation.
After a major renovation and expansion, Four Seasons Resort Lana‘i, reopened this year at the Manele/Hulopoe Bay location. It now boasts 217 guest rooms and suites, a new spa and wellness experiences, innovative dining at Nobu Lana‘i and One Forty, luxury retail boutiques, and the Jack Nicklaus signature Manele Golf Course. A wide array of activities are offered through the resort: snorkeling in a marine sanctuary, hiking and horseback riding upcountry, off-roading in a Polaris UTV across red dirt roads, and Hawaiian cultural adventures.
In 2017, the highland country manor, Lodge at Koele, will reopen after its rejuvenation. Koele Golf Course is currently being enhanced and will reopen later this year.
The island’s only airport offers multiple flights daily from Honolulu International Airport and Kahului Airport. By sea, visitors can easily travel from West Maui across the channel to Lana‘i via the Expeditions passenger ferry. Expeditions offers several round-trips daily along with golf packages for Lana‘i courses.
By sea, your arrival is at Manele Bay, a small boat harbor on the south coast. Once you’ve docked there, it’s just a short hike to nearby Hulopoe Bay, which is a Marine Life Conservation District and a mesmerizing snorkeling or scuba diving experience.
The highest peak on the island at 3,370 feet is Lana‘ihale. On a clear day, you can see the islands of Maui, Molokai, Hawai‘i and O‘ahu from the summit. The only way up is to hike the pine tree-lined Munro Trail, a challenging dirt path that winds in and out of valleys and forest growth, but the experience and views are worth the effort.
Lana‘i features several cultural sites where wonderfully preserved petroglyphs can be seen. Luahiwa and Kaunolu Village are two such places. A good map and local advice are necessary, as is a good deal of patience. Renting a four-wheel drive vehicle is recommended, if you want to reach many of the island’s historical sites.
On the north end, seven miles from Lana‘i City, is the Garden of the Gods. Here, you’ll find bizarre lava formations in an eerie, Mars-like landscape. At sunrise and sunset, the sun’s rays shine directly on the formations, creating a dazzling lightshow that is truly worthy of the gods’ attention.
Shipwreck Beach, white sands running along Lana‘i’s northern coast, is a solemn testament to the powers of nature. During World War II, many warships ran aground on the jagged reef, driven onto it by the powerful winds that blow through the Pailolo Channel separating Lana‘i and Molokai. One of these unlucky ships still rests almost entirely intact on the reef offshore, and provides an underwater world of marine life. Walking on the secluded beach, you may encounter a snoozing Monk Seal.
Lana‘i is an island of serenity and natural beauty that entices you to explore.