The irritating thing about most privately owned islands is that they are beautiful and exclusive—as in not open to the public. But that’s not the case with the Hawaiian island of Lanai, just 45 minutes by ferry from Maui’s west coast. It may be owned by Oracle billionaire Larry Ellison (he bought it last year from billionaire David Murdock), but he wants you to visit—and feel good about your stay. So Ellison is about to transform Lanai into what he calls “the first economically viable, 100 percent green community.” Ellison isn’t talking to the press about specifics, but the Maui News reports that he plans to add up to nine smaller hotels, in addition to an airport, tennis facilities, and improved infastructure for the local community.
But first, the island's only two resorts—Four Seasons Manele Bay and the Four Seasons Lodge at Koele—need to be brought up to the owner's green standards. So both will both be closed for renovations from June to December 2015. (Yup, both Four Seasons were sold to Ellison as part of the deal)
Come May, Lanai will temporarily become a day-trip-only destination. But if you can plan a vacation now, you should. Lanai is the perfect two-night add-on for an already planned trip to Maui, and if you stay at the Four Seasons Manele Bay you’ll have the added luxury of amenities for 300 guests (including new high-tech rooms and the first Nobu restaurant in the state) practically to yourselves. But come June, just the quaint 11-room Hotel Lanai, built in 1928, will be open for overnight guests—there are still rooms, but they’re going fast.
Miss the May window? That’s fine. You can easily experience a single-day tasting menu of what Lanai has to offer with round-trip ferry packages from Maui on LostOnLanai.com.
Armed with a map and a jeep rental, you can 4WD to the Sedona-meets-Stonehenge rock formations at Keahiakawelo, find uncrowded but consistent waves at Lopa on the northeast shore, or make a pilgrimage to the birthplace of cliff diving at Kaunolu on the south shore. Opt for the Lanai Cycles package and get whisked away from the ferry dock for a guided downhill thrill ride to Shipwreck Beach, plus a pedal around Lanai City, which is really just a town square with delights like Ohana Poke Market and Anuenue Juice Bar.
Travelers on a budget can keep things simple with a package for the round-trip ferry and shuttle to Lanai City only and stop in at the Lanai Culture & Heritage Center to get a Koloiki Trail guide. We suggest taking the Koloiki to Munro Trail (about 12 miles out and back) to hike through groves of guava and kukui nut trees. The route leads you to the rarely seen Naio and Maunalei Gulches. Check for 19th-century fortifications from when Big Islanders attacked and took over tiny Lanai.