Luxe Outpost

Mellow never had it so good

Mar 1, 2005
Outside Magazine

Going nowhere fast: fat-tire riding, Lanai

I WAS IN THE GARDEN OF THE GODS at twilight when the feeling first came over me. From Lanai's only town, I had driven half an hour north on a single-lane dirt road to this otherworldly plateau of red dust, pinnacles, and encrusted lava. I turned off the engine of the jeep but left the radio blaring rock from a Big Island station. Walking away from the car—at just the point where the trade winds began to drown out the electric guitar—I felt suddenly and deliriously alone.

Like many city dwellers, I fantasize about being stranded on a Pacific island. I read Robinson Crusoe as a kid and saw Cast Away the day it opened, but I'd never experienced the exquisite ache of loneliness that a shipwreck survivor might feel until that moment, standing at the northern edge of Lanai and looking out at the darkening ocean. Of course, this was an illusion. When I turned around, my jeep was there, with the Stone Temple Pilots singing an anthem to modern-day alienation. But all was not lost: I was still on Lanai.

Shaped like a teardrop, 18 miles long, and only 13 miles across at its widest point, Lanai has retained a sense of splendid seclusion. No theme-park resorts here. In fact, since the island was once used for growing pineapples and cattle ranching—and 98 percent of it is owned by a single real estate holding—development has been kept to a minimum. Lanai City, with a population of just 3,000, is tightly contained in less than four square miles and still looks like the 1920s pineapple-plantation village it used to be. About half of the island's coast is sheer cliff against ocean, and most of the land is arid—red dirt and low grass. There are less than three dozen miles of paved road, not a single mile of which runs along the coastline; nearly all shore access is by jeep trail, hiking, or rappelling. From almost any place on the island, I had to walk only 15 minutes and I could be deep in my thousands-of-miles-from-civilization reverie.

The illusion of utter isolation is a delicacy, but like ordering blowfish at a sushi bar, it's one you want carefully served with the poison excised. Which is to say that the thrill of feeling stranded can sometimes lead to restlessness if you don't have an ultra-luxe hotel to head back to at the end of the day.

Fortunately, Lanai has two such retreats. The low, Mediterranean-style buildings of the Manele Bay Hotel are terraced into a hillside next to the island's nicest strand, Hulopoe Beach. The most decadent suites—outfitted with four-poster beds—come with butler service, so I wasn't surprised to learn that, back in the early nineties, Bill Gates had rented the entire place for his wedding. Ten miles away, close to town, the Lodge at Koele, with its old-world hunting-estate decor, is an oddity in Hawaii. Because it's situated at 1,700 feet in the island's center, breezes are often cool enough to warrant use of the lobby's wood-burning fireplace. Both resorts have golf courses that are so well manicured and cleverly designed, with ocean backdrops and island greens, that they look like the virtual landscapes in a golf video game.

What I like best about Lanai is that it manages a perfect balance between what there is to do and what there isn't. Sure, you can hook up with scuba and fishing charters, sample world-class snorkeling off Shipwreck Beach (so named because a World War II Liberty Ship rusts on the reef), sea-kayak with pods of spinner dolphins in Kaunolu Bay, mountain-bike down the Munro Trail, and ride horses above Maunalei Gulch. But karaoke nightclubs and beachfront bacchanalias? If you use party as a verb, this is not your island.

In the end, your choices come down to a happily manageable handful: Should I play croquet or visit the sporting-clay facility to blow some plates out of the sky? Should I take a jeep down that dirt road or rent a mountain bike and go exploring? Should I get the alii banana-and-coconut scrub or the ki pola hoolu ti leaf wrap?

Still want more? Take your day planner and head for Maui.

Access & Resources
Hole Up: The 249-room, Mediterranean-style Manele Bay Hotel is the only resort on the water. Its spacious rooms open onto garden courtyards or overlook Hulopoe Beach, the island's best. Doubles from $400; 800-450-3704, » If you're into fetishizing the lifestyle of English lords and ladies, the 102-room Lodge at Koele, just north of Lanai City, is perfection. The largest wooden structure in the islands, it's modeled after old English hunting lodges, with a full croquet course and pros to teach you the game. Doubles from $400; 800-450-3704, » The oldest and most low-key of the island's accommodations is the 11-room Hotel Lanai, on the edge of Lanai City. Built by pineapple king James Dole in 1923 to house his execs, the plantation-style rooms have a warm charm. Doubles from $105; 877-665-2624,

Dine: The Blue Ginger Café; is a casual local favorite just across the street from Dole Park, in the center of Lanai City. Eat there two days in a row and you're likely to see the same friendly faces. 808-565-6363 » Henry Clay's Rotisserie, in the Hotel Lanai, serves hearty New Orleans fare at moderate prices. The small bar here is one of the few places where locals and visitors mingle. 877-665-2624

Get Out: Trilogy Ocean Sports Lanai is the catchall guiding service on the island. It leads catamaran-supported scuba dives to the walls and reefs below Lanai's rocky shores, rents jeeps to explore the island's mostly dirt roads, and arranges guided four-wheel-drive expeditions if you don't want to go it alone. Prices vary; 888-628-4800, » Thanks to the cliffs that cover nearly half of Lanai's 47-mile coastline, access to many beaches requires a hike or four-wheel drive. There is one notable exception: Hulopoe Beach, at the south end of Route 440, is not only car-accessible; it's continually rated as one of the most beautiful beaches in the world. On the west end of the beach, the Manele Bay Hotel keeps a stash of snorkel equipment in a kiosk for its guests. » Blast a couple of clay pigeons at the Lodge at Koele's sport-shooting facility. $150 for 100 rounds; 808-559-4600,

Shop: The Heart of Lanai art gallery sells island paintings by local artists and custom-made ukuleles. 888-565-7815

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