Lanai's Four Seasons resorts offer elegance in a rustic locale


Much has changed on Lanai in the past decade. The pineapples are gone, the plantations transplanted to the Philippines and Malaysia. Thousands of acres of grasses and brush cover the Palawai central plain, which is the eroded crater floor of the volcano that formed the island a million years ago. 

Tourism is now Lanai's economic lifeline -- not any old tourism but the luxurious, Four Seasons variety. The brand manages the 102-room Lodge at Koele and the 236-room Manele Bay Hotel.

Manele Bay's units lie in low-rise, green-roofed elegance on the shores of crescent-shaped Manele Bay, where coastal hiking trails start at guest room doors.

The Lodge at Koele inhabits the cooler, upcountry base of Lanaihale, the central ridge that leads to the island's 3,340-foot summit. 

The eight-mile dirt road that climbs Lanaihale is accessible by rented Jeep. The ride is one of several off-road adventures that offer sweeping, panoramic views of the neighboring islands of Molokai, Maui and Kahoolawe.

Other scenic routes take visitors to Garden of the Gods, a rocky, Badlands-like landscape on the western end of the Palawai Basin, or wind their way to the north coast.

There, visitors can put the Jeep into four-wheel drive and head to Shipwreck Beach, named for the wave-battered, rusting hull of a cargo ship that went aground on the coastal reef decades ago.

At the north coast, there's easy coastal hiking and several places to take a swim.

Several suppliers offer escorted adventures on Lanai. EcoAdventure Lanai offers kayaking, hiking and bicycling adventures as well as Jeep rentals. Lanai Surf School & Safari provides history tours in conjunction with its surfing lessons. 

There are more genteel activities on Lanai, too. The Lodge at Koele offers sporting clays, with a 14-station range that welcomes novice and skilled shooters; lawn bowling; croquet; and horseback rides from the adjacent stables.

At Manele Bay, there are tennis courts and a spa.  

Both Four Seasons resorts have golf courses: the Challenge at Manele, on beautifully landscaped coastal acres, and the Experience at Koele, which covers hilly, forested terrain.

The readers of Conde Nast Traveler magazine recently voted the Lodge at Koele the best golf resort in the world. Manele Bay came in third. 

Manele Bay, which has been flying the Four Seasons flag for about a year, gets my vote as Hawaii's most beautifully landscaped property, rife with flowers in exquisitely maintained, themed gardens.

The grounds are also home to the remains of an ancient heiau, or Hawaiian temple, on a slight rise overlooking Manele Beach. 

Manele Bay and adjacent Hulopoe are protected marine preserves. Hulopoe's small harbor is a departure point for catamaran and raft runs along Lanai's unpopulated south coast, where sea cliffs rise more than 1,000 feet and luminously blue waters have attracted fishermen since Polynesian times.

Trilogy Excursions operates day-trip catamaran tours to Lanai inbound from Maui, about nine miles to the east. 

The Lodge at Koele provides a unique accommodations alternative in Hawaii. Located at an elevation of about 1,500 feet, it is cool at night and has a rustic feel suited to a mountain lodge. There are two grand fireplaces in the elegant grand room to ward off the chill.

The grounds are as beautiful as Manele Bay's, with broad expanses of lawn, gigantic trees and a winding path that is great for jogs or walks.

The two hotels offer a total of four dining options. A shuttle links the hotels throughout the day, which enables guests at Manele Bay to enjoy a meal at the Lodge and vice versa.

Al fresco dining at Manele Bay is recommended. Off property, the rustic dining room at the Hotel Lanai is an excellent choice.

The Four Seasons shuttle also provides transfers to guests arriving by plane and boat. Island Air provides service to Lanai direct from Maui and Oahu. Transfers in and out of Lanai Airport are quick and easy. Check-in and security took about five minutes each way for my Island Air flight. 

For more information, contact the Lanai Visitors Bureau at (800) 947-4774 or For Four Seasons Resorts Lanai, call (800) 332-3442 or visit For Island Air, call (800) 323-3345 or visit

To contact reporter Allan Seiden, send e-mail to [email protected].

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