#CatTravels: My first visit to Lānaʻi

By March 18, 2015 #CatTravels

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I’ve eaten stinky tofu on the streets of Taipei City, fed kangaroos in Brisbane in Australia and surfed the cold waves in western Ireland.

But I’ve never been to Lānaʻi.

Yes, the island that’s literally 80 miles away. If we weren’t separated by water, I could drive there in a couple of hours.

There’s really no good reason why I’ve never been to Lānaʻi. I’ve heard the stories and seen the photos of the two luxe Four Seasons properties there — Mānele Bay and the Lodge at Kōʻele — and have always wanted to visit. I imagined snorkeling in the calm waters of Hulopo‘e Bay, hiking along the oceanside path to Pu‘u Pehe (Sweetheart Rock), and just relaxing in front of the fireplace at the lodge.

But the cost — the hotel rates weren’t cheap — was a big deterrent for me, and I wound up using that cash to invest in trips to more exotic locales.

Still, Lānaʻi was always on my mind.

So when I got invited to fly there with a bunch of social media influencers to experience the updated service of Island Air and tour the multimillion-dollar renovations to the Four Seasons Resort Lānaʻi at Mānele Bay, I took it.

And I learned a lot, too.

Lānaʻi has been long known as the Pineapple Island because it was once an island-wide pineapple plantation. Now, it could be called Ellison Island, as tech billionaire Larry Ellison owns 98 percent of it, including the two hotels and airline. Unemployment has dropped dramatically and he’s already made major improvements to the island’s infrastructure. (Learn more from this story in the New York Times’ Magazine.)

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Island Air flies five times a day to Lānaʻi — it also flies to Maui and Kaua‘i, too — with an average one-way rate of $62, making this a great deal for interisland travel.

“I truly understand the importance of air to an island state,” said president and CEO Dave Pflieger (above) to us. “We’re growing and fixing this airline … There’s a lot of potential here and there’s a lot of work that needs to be done. (But) give us a shot. We’re a choice.”

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I’m sure some of you probably thought Island Air flew those cramped 9-seater prop planes. Actually, the airlines has a small fleet of 64-passenger planes like the one above. (This is an ATR-72 twin-engine turboprop, in case you’re wondering.) It’s spacious enough for the 30-minute flight. And really, what else do you need besides a comfortable seat and a complimentary cup of coffee?

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We arrived on Lānaʻi in the morning — along with produce, fish and other retail products that’s loaded on every flight from O‘ahu. We hopped in a van to get a quick tour of Lānaʻi City.

The entire island has about 3,000 people and is the smallest inhabited island in Hawai‘i. There’s one school — Lānaʻi High and Elementary School — that serves the entire island from kindergarten through 12th grade. There are three grocery stores and a bar and a smattering of boutiques and art shops — and that’s it. There are no shopping malls or fast food restaurants or traffic lights here. It’s a world apart from bustling O‘ahu.

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We stopped by the Lodge at Kōʻele, which is closed while the other hotel at Mānele Bay is being renovated. This hotel is a favorite of my friends, who prefer the mountain lodge feel — so different from what we’re used to — to the oceanfront Mānele Bay. This stunning retreat offers horseback riding, clay shooting and an archery range.

And the roads leading here are lined with majestic Cook pines, which only add to the country beauty here.

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Next, we arrived at the Four Seasons Resort Lānaʻi at Mānele Bay, immediately greeted by the smiles and stellar service for which this luxe chain is known.

I was eager to see the renovations — the price tag hasn’t been disclosed — to this already gorgeous hotel.

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Here’s one of the guest rooms (above), this one on the first floor and facing the garden. Everything from the walls to the in-room technology has been upgraded. These new rooms feature mahogany floors, teak walls and extra-comfy mattresses that were specially made for the Four Seasons. The windows are controlled by a touchpad, with blackout rolling shades for privacy.

The in-room refreshment area is stocked with beautiful glassware, a Nespresso coffee maker, and a customizable stocked mini-fridge. And the bathroom had an overhead rainshower, a TV embedded in the mirror, and a toilet that greeted you by lifting its lid. (And I loved that the seat was warm!)

The new look comes with a new price. While before, you could have gotten deals to stay here, the lowest kama‘aina rate is $800 a night. (The cheapest rack rate is $900 a night.) That’s well outside my price range.

But who’s going to stay in the room?

We ventured outside, touring around the main lobby and pool area, which will all be completely different by the end of the year. (The hotel is closing from June to December to complete the renovations.)

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As lovely as these area are (above), they will be completely overhauled by next year. The hotel will boast a private adults-only pool with breathtaking views of the bay and a lobby area that will be transformed into a lush garden.

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The hotel took us to lunch at VIEWS at Mānele Bay, the restaurant at its world-class golf course. (Both the restaurant and the course will be open during renovations.)

This restaurant, with panoramic ocean views, features a menu robust with local ingredients, including greens and veggies grown on the island.

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We started (in order, from top) with the summer rolls, filled with shrimp, rice paper, basil, mint, cucumber, macadamia nut and mangoes; and the kalbi rib lettuce wraps with peanuts, rainbow carrots and radishes wrapped in butter lettuce.

The Makai salad is one of the restaurant’s most popular, featuring lobster, scallops and shrimp over Big Island-grown greens, mango, papaya, avocado and tomatoes, topped with lilikoi dressing.

The Baja fish tacos uses whatever fish is in the kitchen that morning, with a salsa fresco and a lime cream dressing. The Hulopo‘e Bay Prawn BLT is another favorite — particularly among the staffers — with prawns and bacon paired with caramelized onions and a creole aioli stuffed into a pita bread.

And I had the VIEWS Burger with aged cheddar cheese, guacamole, lettuce, tomatoes and bacon, with a side of thick fries.

We needed to walk after this.

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There’s a little trail from the hotel, across Hulopo‘e Bay and toward the point to a rock formation called Pu‘u Pehe (or Sweetheart Rock).

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Pu‘u Pehe is one of the most famous — and most photographed — natural landmarks on Lāna‘i. The story goes that Pu‘u Pehe was the name of a beautiful girl from Maui who was captured by a young warrior from Lāna‘i. He brought her back to these cliffs and, afraid of losing her, kept her hidden in a sea cave. One day, he had left the cliffs and a storm arose. Huge waves devastated the cave, drowning the girl. Stricken with grief, the young warrior retrieved her body and carried it to the top of the steep rock island for burial. He then jumped off the 80-foot summit to his death in the ocean below.

Hence, Sweetheart Rock. (The literal translation of Pu‘u Pehe is “owl trap hill.”)

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The rest of the group stayed behind while I walked back to the hotel to check out. I couldn’t stay overnight — which, if you consider the room rate, might have been my last and only opportunity — but that’s OK.

The trip was just meant to introduce me to what Lānaʻi has to offer. And though we only drove through the small town and stuck to the areas around the resort, I knew that beyond the bay and across the hills was more to be discovered.

So I’d better save my money now!

***

Thanks to Andrea Oka, Michelle Hee and Sonja Swenson for arranging the FAM tour of Lānaʻi on Island Air. And thanks to the awesome staff at the Four Seasons Resort Lānaʻi at Mānele Bay for the hospitality. Fun times! Hope to be back soon!

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#CatTravels: Trying luggage this time

By August 21, 2013 #CatTravels

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If you’ve ever travelled with me, you know I tend to underpack.

I try to fit as much as I can into a backpack or small duffel. When I went to Brisbane for a week and Fiji for 10 days, all I took was a backpack. And when I spent more than a month in Japan two years ago, I lugged around a duffel bag. That’s it.

But on this two-week jaunt to Europe, I decided to try a 20-inch check-in luggage roller. Nothing else. My only other bag is my little sling that fits a Kindle, notebook and not much more.

I will say, I could pack in a lot of stuff — with lots of room for souvenirs and omiyage — and it was easier to lug to Gate 10 at the far-flung United Airlines terminal.

So we’ll see. At least the bag fit in the overhead compartment. That’s a good sign!

Follow my #CatTravels adventures in Europe and Japan on Twitter @thedailydish and on Instagram @catherinetoth.

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#26acts you can do RIGHT NOW

By December 20, 2012 Musings, The Daily Dish

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It’s been five days since the horrific shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. — and, let’s be honest, it’s easy to forget what happened.

First of all, we want to forget; meaning, we don’t like thinking about the tragic loss of lives at the school, particularly the 20 children who were slain. But it’s also the holidays. Most of us still haven’t finished our Christmas shopping or closing out end-of-the-year reports at work. We’re battling crowds at the mall, we’re stressing over holiday dinners, we’re trying to lose a few pounds so we can gorge at parties from now until the end of the year.

It’s a stressful time. Who has time to think of others?

Actually, doing something nice and thoughtful and compassionate isn’t that hard — and it doesn’t take that much time.

NBC’s Ann Curry encouraged us — via Twitter, no less — to commit to doing 26 (or more) random acts of kindness in honor of the victims of Sandy Hook Elementary School. If we can all do something for others, imagine the good we can bring to this world.

So here are 26 easy, simple, painless things you can do right now:

1. Pay for someone’s coffee at Starbucks. You’re there anyway. Make someone’s day.
2. Donate toys to children in need. My pals, ManoaDNA, are hosting its annual toy drive from 6 to 9 p.m. Friday, Dec. 21 at Gordon Biersch. All toys will be donated to the Toys for Tots Foundation.
3. Take food to your first responders. Firefighters, police, lifeguards, paramedics — they work hard to keep us safe. Say thanks in the best way — with food!
4. Put money in expired meters. In Brisbane, there are scantily clad women called Meter Maids who do this — and I think it’s genius. Make someone’s day by putting money into their expired parking meters. Trust me, it’s awesome.
5. Thank a teacher. Could be your child’s teacher or a teacher you had when you were in school. They do a lot of good in this world — and they never get thanked enough.
6. Donate to a relief fund set up for Sandy Hook victims and survivors. Visit this site for a list.
7. Give blood. Everyday hundreds of people’s lives depend of volunteer blood donors. A single donation can save up to three lives — and it only takes about an hour. Visit the Blood Bank of Hawaii for details.
8. Donate a coat. We’re lucky, it’s always warm here. But in other parts of the country — and world — it’s not. And staying warm is critical. You can donate a coat through organizations like One Warm Coat.
9. Give away your frequent flier miles. Check with the airlines to see how this can be done, but you can transfer your miles to someone who needs them — like military families.
10. Go caroling. Whether it’s around your neighborhood, in your office or at a hospital, singing Christmas songs can brighten up anyone’s day.
11. Buy a coworker lunch. Why? Because you can.
12. Stop and talk to a neighbor. We blaze through our daily lives and hardly take notice of the people around us — even the ones who live right in our neighborhood. Stop. Wave. Say hi.
13. Leave a note. Tape a thank you note to a coworker’s computer screen. Leave a random note with a five-dollar bill on a stranger’s car. It’s a nice pick-me-up during these stressful holidays.
14. Let someone pass you in line. If you notice the guy behind you at the grocery store has just a couple of items, let him go. Or if the mother of two behind you at Macy’s is struggling with her kids and purchases, give her a pass. It’s a nice gesture that doesn’t cost you anything.
15. Give a compliment. You’d be surprised how much saying something nice can impact someone.
16. Feed the hungry. You can volunteer at a shelter or soup kitchen or donate food to the Hawaii Foodbank. Every bit helps.
17. Help your parents. They might not ask you for help, but I bet there’s something you can do for them. Run an errand, clean the yard, give them some cash.
18. Visit your grandparents. If you’re lucky enough to have grandparents still alive, pay them a visit. They’ll be glad you stopped by.
19. Help a stranger. If you see someone in need, help. Maybe a couple is struggling to get the door open while holding a bag of groceries and two kids. Open it and smile.
20. Pick up trash. When you see litter, pick it up. Or get a group together — maybe during your lunch break or over the weekend — and clean up a section of a park or beach. Do your part.
21. Help a sick friend. Stop by and help with household chores, bring over some dinner, or just send a card. Being sick isn’t fun; knowing someone cares can make you feel a little better.
22. Send a thank you note. All those gifts you’re getting this Christmas? Someone gave them to you. Send that person a note. Handwritten is best.
23. Pick up the tab. The next time you have lunch or drinks with a friend, pick up the tab. Or buy the table next to you — strangers are OK! — an appetizer or dessert. You’ll make that person smile.
24. Babysit (or dogsit) for a friend. Offer to babysit (or dogsit) to let that person have a little time off, even if just for a couple of hours.
25. Mend a fence. That grudge you’re holding? Let it go. That person you’re mad at? Go make peace. You don’t need to harbor these toxic feelings.
26. Pass this on. Do something — then inspire others to do the same. Let’s see what kind of difference we can make!

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#FBCookiesSwap: Swapping thumbprint cookies

By December 12, 2012 Food

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Last year I participated in the first-ever Great Food Blogger Cookie Swap, hosted by bloggers (and my Instagram and Twitter pals) Lindsay of Love and Olive Oil and Julie of The Little Kitchen. More than 22,000 cookies were delivered to hungry stomachs all over the country — and my kakimochi chocolate chip sweetheart cookies went to three different food bloggers.

The Great Food Blogger Cookie Swap 2012This year I didn’t make the cookie swap deadline — blame Brisbane! — but I did manage to send out my local-style version of thumbprint cookies to the following: Janet Kalandranis (@foodbeautyful, http://foodbeautyful.blogspot.com), Hannah Cordes (@bluekaleroad, www.bluekaleroad.com), Rachel Williams (http://williamskitchen.blogspot.com).

The difference this year, though, was that, as part of our participation in the virtual cookie swap, we each had to donate $4 to Cookies For Cancer, a kick-ass charity that raises money for cancer research through cookie sales. OXO matched the donation dollar for dollar — can you believe that? — and gave us all a free Be a Good Cookie Spatula. Total win-win.

So here’s the recipe for the cookies I swapped. And later — I’m in Hilo today — I’ll post about the cookies I received.

There’s nothing like cookies to put you in a Christmas mood!

Special shout-out to the bloggers who sent me deliciousness in the mail: Sarah from Seattle (http://cookcanread.wordpress.com), Stephanie from Salt Lake City (http://munchimunch.blogspot.com, @smunchimunch), and Joanie from Texas (www.zagleft.com, @zagleft). Loved the goodies! You really made my Christmas!

Ingredients

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The key to the ingredients is making sure your butter and eggs are kept at room temperature. The butter should be soft to the touch, allowing more air to be beaten into your batter. Room-temperature eggs will combine more easily with other ingredients and whip to a greater volume. It's all good.

Thumbprint Cookies
local-style and slightly modified

Ingredients:

1 cup butter (2 sticks), room temperature
1/2 cup sugar
2 eggs, room temperature
1 tsp. vanilla extract (I used the one from the Hawaiian Vanilla Co.)
Pinch of salt
2 cups flour
Your favorite jam or jelly (I used lilikoi jelly and Kula strawberry jam.)

Directions:

Cream the butter and sugar on high speed for about three minutes — or by hand. But cream it well.

Separate the eggs. Add ONLY the egg yolks and vanilla extract to the butter mixture.

Add the flour and salt. Mix until JUST combined.

Place the dough in the refrigerator for about 30 minutes. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Roll the dough into balls about 1-inch diameter. Place balls on cookie sheets lined with parchment paper.

Using your thumb, press down the center of the dough ball to make a small well. Fill with jam or jelly.

Bake about 12 to 15 minutes. Cool on a wire rack.

For more, check out the site and follow on Twitter @fbcookiesswap.

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#CatTravels: Going ‘native’ on Gold Coast, West End

By December 3, 2012 #CatTravels

On our second-to-the-last day in Brisbane, we decided to get out of dodge.

We hopped on the train and headed south to the Gold Coast, out to where the locals hung. We met up with a friend (and native), Kay Russell, who took us on the insider’s tour of the area. We definitely learned a lot! (That’s another blog!)

And when we got back to Brisbane, we headed straight to another local spot, Tukka Restaurant, to sample some native berries, nuts and meats, including kangaroo. (OK, I didn’t actually eat the kangaroo. I just couldn’t. Not after I hand-fed some of its relatives!)

This was exactly what we had wanted to do — see the local hangouts and taste the unique offerings of Australia.

It was an adventurous day for us, and we lived to blog about it!

Catching the TRANSLink

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We decided to ditch the Brisbane CBD (central business district) and head somewhere new. So we made plans with a friend who lives on the Gold Coast to visit her. So we hopped on the very convenient TRANSLink to get there.

Follow my adventures in Brisbane on Twitter at @thedailydish and Instagram at @catherinetoth.

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