One of Hawaii's lesser-known islands, Lanai, is about to make a big name for itself, as it has a big name behind it. Billionaire Larry Ellison, founder of Oracle, bought all but 2% of the island in 2012 for $300 million.
His purchase included its two luxury resorts: the Four Seasons Resort Lanai at Manele Bay and the Four Seasons Resort Lanai, the Lodge at Koele. In June 2015 the Four Seasons Resort Lanai at Manele Bay closed its doors for an extensive renovation, joining the ranks of the other shuttered properties on the island. Soon to follow was the Four Seasons Resort Lanai, the Lodge at Koele, which was closed to accommodate construction workers, leaving about 97% of Lanai's hotel space unavailable.
But there was a method to this madness, as Ellison had extensive plans to transform the island into an economically viable, green community, with the outlook for nine hotels, an airport and an improved infrastructure.
Following a multimillion-dollar transformation, the Manele Bay property reopened earlier this year as simply the Four Seasons Resort Lanai, and it has been awarded AAA Five Diamond recognition. The Lodge at Koele is expected to reopen soon.
First-timers to Lanai should start their journey at Hulopoe Bay, which is where the Four Seasons Resort Lanai is located. Hulopoe Beach has fantastic snorkeling and tide pools.
About half an hour north of Lanai City is Kaiolohia, or Shipwreck Beach. This eight-mile stretch is known for its shallow, rocky channel, which was the main inspiration for the beach's name. In fact, the hull of an oil tanker from the 1940s can still be seen along the coral reef.
From this beach, it's possible to see Molokai and Maui. For something a little more romantic, there's Polihua Beach, a secluded hideaway about 60 miles from Lanai City. Green sea turtles and humpback whales can be spotted from the shore. While swimming is discouraged due to its strong current, Polihua Beach is the perfect spot to soak up rays.
Lanai City is a charming town, home to shopping and inexpensive dining. Locals frequent the Blue Ginger Cafe, Canoes or Cafe 565 for authentic dining experiences. Lanai City is also where you will find the Hotel Lanai, an 11-room country inn that was the only hotel to remain open during the years when Ellison was renovating.
To get to Lanai, fly to Honolulu Airport, where you can connect to local airlines with service to Lanai Airport. There is also ferry service from Lahaina Harbor in Maui. The ferry trip is about one hour.