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.)
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.”
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.)
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.”)
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!