9 miles away from Maui and only 45-minute air travel away from O’ahu, Lana’i is the only privately owned island in the Hawaiian Islands chain devoted to a lavish, peaceful Hawaiian living. (Photo by Juri Dagio)
By Juri Dagio | Staff Writer
In the past, Lana’i was known as a Dole’s pineapple farm nearby Maui. Since Dole discontinued its pineapple operations on Lana’i in 1992, it has become a dream destination for golfers and families who want to experience Hawai’i’s sereneness. In 2012, Oracle billionaire Larry Ellison bought 98% of the island with its remaining 2% owned by the state of Hawai’i. As of now, though the island still resembles the vast plantation that it was back then, there are several resorts built so that instead of pineapples, Lana’i now cultivates luxury, offering beautiful cliffside golf courses accompanied by hotel restaurants with breathtaking views.
I had the opportunity to visit family in Lana’i over winter break and was taken aback by its solitude and welcoming atmosphere despite its relatively small population. The cost of traveling there is almost impossible for college students. Nevertheless, if you have the opportunity, Lana’i is a vacation that deserves to be included on your bucket list.
According to hawaii.gov, most people (mostly Asians, Native Hawaiians, and Whites) who reside in Maui County, including on Lana’i, make their living by working on hotel resorts (working on building, grounds cleaning, and maintenance) giving the Aloha spirit to tourists. While many people speculate that Ellison may be transforming Lana’i into a play area for the rich, which could adversely affect the island’s rich natural beauty, new tourist resorts on the island provide employment for the local residents and contribute to the island’s increased tourism of 75,010 visitors a year, thereby benefitting Lana’i’s small community and increasing its international appeal.
Realistically, Lana’i is not a budget-friendly place to travel. Accommodations are limited to three places, including five-star hotel, Four Seasons Resort, that can burn a hole in your pocket. A room at Four Seasons Resort (Sensei Lana’i) costs an average of $2,000 to $3,000 per night. Two-star hotels, Hotel Lana’i and Dreams Come True are approximately $330 to $500 a night.
The island’s only settlement is a centrally located little town called Lana’i City. Though labelled as a “city,” it is far from what most people think an average city is like. The city (or the whole island) has only two operating restaurants, two grocery stores, three educational facilities including a small center of Maui Community College, several bars, and gasoline stations. Besides this, the rest of the island is essentially deserted ー just open grasslands, massive dry rocks, and unpopulated coast.
Just like an island that represents the old Hawai’i, Lana’i has only 3,000 residents, has no crowds, and no traffic. The island also does not have a single traffic light.
Lana’i is in the county of Maui since it is only 9 miles away from the island. The deep connection between the islands has been established even before Lana’i had its first inhabitants. In the 1500s, as said in a local legend, Kauluaau, a teenager whose father is a chief of Maui, sent him to the “evil” island of Lana’i for his bad deeds. The story goes that Kauluaau disobeyed the rules and uprooted every breadfruit tree he found on Maui. This teenage chief defeated the evil god, Pahulu, by exorcising the evil spirits away. Lana’i was deemed safe by Kauluaau to be visited by people on nearby islands.
Presently, there is a place on Lāna‘i called “The Garden of the Gods” where legends and myths come alive. It is a wide rock garden covered with strange and unique rocks that provide the garden with an eerie ambiance. An ancient legend says the rocks were dropped by gods tending their gardens in the sky, thus resulting in the name Garden of the Gods.
In addition to this, Mānele Bay Beach is also one of the island’s most visited sights. With its powdery white sand that covers the coastline and the almost navy-blue colored water of the ocean, it is one of the best spots to snorkel for incredible underwater reefs and to see schools of dolphins arching their backs swimming up and down. Moreover, you can snorkel with Hawaiian green sea turtles (honu) here.
With limited access to nearly everything, locals travel to Maui by boat and to O’ahu by a nine-seater plane to acquire healthcare and to go to shopping centers. The temptations of nightclubs and luxury outlets are nonexistent in Lana’i. Locals spend their free time fishing in Keomuku Beach for octopuses, giant trevally, and papio. It is also an activity to hunt deer and mouflon sheep with nearly 5,000 deer living there.
Ferries and planes are both available for travelers to get to Lana’i. The most common way to get from O’ahu to Lāna‘i Airport is through Mokulele Airlines, which a one-way ticket can cost about $70-$100. Those seeking a more fulfilling travel experience can fly from O’ahu to West Maui, then take a ferry from Lahaina (in West Maui) to Lana’i. The cost of the one-way flight with Mokulele Airlines may be $50 more in this case.
Though Lana’i might not make it to your travel plans this year, if you are looking to discover an unknown paradise, the island of Lana’i awaits.