Once called the Pineapple Island for its production of 75 percent of the world’s crop, Lana’i has transitioned from a small-town fruit factory to a Hawaiian haven, where one of the purest versions of aloha is found.
With only 3,200 people and 30 miles of paved roads, there are no stoplights or cabs. A slothful speed limit (reaching a roaring 20 mph in Lanai City) keeps traffic simple and slow between the island’s one gas station, two grocery stores, and three hotels. And most of the island—well, 97 percent—is owned by billionaire Larry Ellison, giving Lana’i a new nickname: The “Private Island” (thankfully, though, there’s no golden entry ticket, we’re all invited).
Wonderfully lacking in mega-operation tourist activities, the island’s natural assets—think: unspoiled beaches, 360-degree-view hikes, and otherworldly landscapes only reachable by 4×4—are the main attraction. On one of our past visits, my most touristy endeavor was a ukulele lesson from a local known as “Aunty Irene.” Keen on learning “Somewhere over the rainbow” (my favorite tune), I ended up gleaning much more than a song from my string session. I discovered how to live in the moment—one of Lana’i’s richest souvenirs.
From the pine-topped mountains to the abandoned beaches and standout stays, here is where to live in the moment amid Lana’i’s unique scenery.
Numerous destinations promise unspoiled beaches, when in reality these swaths of sand are swarming with sunbathers. This is not the case on Lana’i, where a myriad of beaches actually deliver on the promise of private. Take Shipwreck Beach, a stretch so deserted you could skinny-dip anywhere along its eight miles of sand and reef. Here, a World War II cargo ship rusts offshore. Perhaps the best part of the beach: You need a 4×4 to get there.
Out-of-this world landscapes
The Garden of the Gods is a wind-swept, lunar-looking landscape with red earth-hued spires and boulders carved by the elements. Visit at sunset for a surreal exposure.
Only a small portion of Lana’i is developed, which means there are numerous hikes worth exploring. To marvel at the wooded upcountry, head to Koloiki Ridge from The Lodge at Koele. Weaving through rugged trails lined with Ironwood trees, large boulders, and giant agave plants, this two-hour (round-trip) hike culminates on Koloiki Ridge, where eye-popping views of Maui and Molokai await.
One of the first things you notice after touching down at Lana’i’s tiny airport is the exotic-looking Cook Island Pines punctuating many of the island’s roadways and ridges. Introduced to the island in the early 1900s for their capacity to capture water from passing clouds and fog, the unique trees are more than just pretty—they bring in enough moisture at high altitudes to add upward of 200 inches of drip to the destination.
With 47 miles of coastline marked by plunging cliffs, hilltops gently cascading into the sea, and sugary shores, Lana’i’s diverse fringe is one of its main attractions. As is the case with Shipwreck Beach, the rest of the coast is best explored with a 4×4 vehicle from the island’s one and only rental car agency.
The exclusive escape
Fanning across the island’s desert-climate southern shore, the Four Seasons Resort Lana’i (my top-pick hotel du moment) is posh without being proud. The grounds are manicured to majestic status with orchids and plumerias peeking out of every corner, and the hotel, which just underwent a multimillion-dollar transformation, blends the indoors and outdoors with teak and mahogany finishes, artisan-made wall coverings sourced from bark, and a free-form lagoon pool complete with waterfalls and lava rock grottos.
Home to the world’s only NOBU that sources greens from its own on-site garden, NOBU LANAI is a treat for all five senses. With its sleek and breezy post overlooking Hulopoe Bay, it’s possible the views and alfresco environs are second to none. Inside, the meticulously prepared and ultra-fresh dishes, such as tuna poke salad, don’t need a boost—they’re that delectable. Alternatively, for a deep-dive into the local food scene, hit Dole Square in Lanai City, where a budget-friendly plate lunch or picnic provisions are always at the ready.
It’s rare to find hotel rooms as well groomed as the dwellings in the Four Seasons Resort Lana’i. While most quarters have views—always a plus for a beachfront stay—and finishes that will make you wish breakfast in bed would last an eternity, the promise of posh goes way beyond ocean vistas and design. Enter a 75-inch, platinum bezel LED television, wearable key wristbands (so you don’t lose your room key while playing in the waves), Blu-Ray players, and an in-room iPad Air that doubles as a concierge. The iPad even provides complimentary access to more than 3,000 newspapers. Now that’s service.
On Lana’i, there are copious almost-private perches to watch the sunset—a key benefit to having a 90,000-acre footprint and only 3,200 residents. The sweetest spot, aptly named Sweetheart Rock, doubles as the end of a stunning hike. Towering above the Pacific Ocean, the volcanic ridge is the ultimate viewpoint from which to watch the sun tumble below the horizon. For prime seating for the greatest show on earth, get to the top by 5:45 p.m.
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Select images courtesy of Four Seasons Resort Lana’i, the remaining via Trip Styler.