First discovered by Captain Cook’s crew in 1779, The Island of Lanai is also known as the Aloha state’s most exclusive island. Hawaii’s 6th largest island in size (and population) is home to about 3,000 residents, who live mostly in Lanai City (now, there’s a misnomer).
Lanai set its sights—in the late 1980s—on becoming a high-end retreat for the well healed. The transformation was successful in a number of ways that transcend the obvious intention. Now, Hawaii’s “private” island is owned principally by Oracle founder Larry Ellison, who is crafting yet another reinvention of the island.
Lanai boasts two reasonably dazzling luxury resorts. The Manele Bay Hotel is situated at the island’s most stunning cove beach. The Lodge at Koele, at 2,000 feet of elevation, offers what Conde Nast Traveler calls, “the No. 1 lodge in the world.” Along with the two resorts came some interesting attractions and amenities, like 36 holes of world-class golf (now reduced to 18 holes), seven dining venues, a spa, Lanai Pines Sporting Clays (one of Hawaii’s hippest attractions with clay shooting, air rifle target range and archery), plus the standard array of resort goodies.
But even with the emergence of the posh hotel and lodge, Lanai has not lost the charm of a small island. Lanai City’s public square still hosts a Farmer’s Market every Saturday morning and is home to a handful of nifty shops and galleries, three food markets and five eateries led by Hotel Lanai, which is one of only two or three dinner spots in town. The others are breakfast and lunch oriented.
With the Experience at Koele NOW SHUTTERED INDEFINITELY, only the Challenge at Manele, designed by Jack Nicklaus, remains viable and playable. It overlooks the ocean, is generally quite warm and dry, and features a multitude of Nicklaus signatures along the cliffs hanging above the blue Pacific.
Unfortunately, Lanai is a Four Season’s operation at both of the locations. This means service and amenities, but it also means prices so lofty you’ll need to consult your banker (or take a second mortgage) before making reservations. There is also a problem getting to and from Lanai, with limited air service only from Island Air and a $25 charge for each golf bag to and from Lanai. In other words, getting to and from Honolulu International Airport (HNL) and back, combined with your ground transportation to and from your Lanai lodging, can easily cost more than $500 for two persons.
The good news is Ellison is trying to change the “lift” situation, by acquiring Island Air and shaking things up with more flights and new aircraft. It’s a wait and see right now, but with only 18 holes, the question becomes, do you want to fork over the dough for a visit?
If you really want to visit this lovely island, we recommend you do it from Maui via ferry and be prepared for sticker shock to the max once you arrive. Golf via the ferry will cost about $379 per-person and golf as a guest of the hotel or lodge is about $275 per-round. The best advice we can offer is visit The Big Island if you really want great golf, a terrific variety of fine lodging (including the best oceanfront resort hotel value in Hawaii) and the best beaches anywhere.
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