rediscover lana‘i: ‘ch-ch-ch-ch ch­anges’

Koele_HorsebackWhen gazillionaire Larry Ellison purchased 98 percent of the island of Lana‘i in 2012, its residents held their collective breath. Would he be anything like the previous owner, David Murdock, who reportedly strolled the streets of Lana‘i City dressed in all white, accompanied by his entourage, and who referred to Lana‘ians as his “children?” What about the wind farm envisioned by Murdock—intended to generate electricity for O‘ahu— which polarized the community, and provoked so much animosity toward him personally that he stopped showing his face at the annual Pineapple Celebration?

Thankfully, so far anyway, it seems Mr. Ellison may have the best interests of Lana‘ians at heart. In fact, some of the first things he did as new owner were to reopen and improve the community swimming pool that Murdock had closed to save money, refurbish buildings and refresh landscaping in Lana‘i City, and expand and remodel one of the island’s few grocery stores, Richard’s Market. Ellison also renamed his holding company Pulama Lana‘i (cherish Lana‘i), and appointed local boy Kurt Matsumoto as Chief Operating Officer. According to Pulama Lana‘i’s website, Ellison’s vision for the island is “to establish Lana‘i as an island powered by solar energy, where electric cars would replace gasoline-powered, and seawater would be transformed into fresh water and used to sustain a new organic farming industry that would feed the island and supply produce for export.” As Mr. Ellison’s primary representative in the community, Kurt holds regular informational meetings to share the company’s plans for the future, and obtain residents’ feedback.

My friend Janet and I boarded Expeditions Ferry for a weekend visit to “Hawai‘i’s Most Enticing Island.” The crossing from Lahaina to Manele Bay takes only 45 minutes, and provides some of the most spectacular scenery in all of the Islands. Upon arriving at the harbor, we notice the first enhancement: two friendly resort workers operate a “concierge podium,” where guests are checked in according to destination, and directed to the proper shuttle bus for transport. If you’re making a day trip to Lana‘i, the shuttle costs $10 per person for unlimited transfers between the harbor, the two Four Seasons Resorts, and Lana‘i City; if you’re staying longer, your hotel will add a one-time fee ranging from $35 to $47.50 to your bill.

It takes less than a half hour to travel from Manele Harbor to The Lodge at Koele, where we’ll be staying. After a warm welcome by the resort’s bellmen, and a traditional lei greeting, we enter the hotel’s Great Hall, where we see another Ellison enhancement: the brightly colored area rugs have been removed so that the lovely hardwood flooring can show its stuff, and the other English country manor-style decor that had been installed by Murdock has been replaced with sleeker, lighter, more Hawaiian-style furnishings.

Our room is much like I remembered from my last visit to The Lodge: red and yellow print bedspreads and window valances; multi-color striped carpeting, and the cheery blue and white tiles in the extra-large bathroom, that lend a distinctly European feel.

An in-room brochure entitled “What do you feel like doing today?” describes the multitude of activities available at or near The Lodge—ranging from land activities like horseback riding and carriage rides; to outdoor sports like golf, tennis, croquet, and lawn bowling; to ocean activities such as scuba diving, snorkeling, surfing, and stand-up paddling. Simply exploring The Lodge’s expansive, lush grounds, including a visit to the enchanting Orchid House, can be an idyllic experience.

Time For Tea

Janet and I have been invited to join Four Seasons Resort Spa Director Jaana Roth for afternoon tea, which may be enjoyed daily from 3 to 5pm ($27 per person) in either the Great Hall or The Bar. We’ve opted for the latter, and we three settle into comfortable leather chairs surrounding a round coffee (or in this case tea!) table.

Since we’re visiting during December, afternoon tea has a holiday theme to honor that very special time of the year. There are ten different teas to choose from—light, heavy, decaffeinated, and herbal—and we are presented with a delightful selection of festive cakes, canapés, and other decadent treats, like a yummy eggnog panna cotta that contains rum, on a dainty three-tiered display stand. When server Whitney brings our tea, it’s the perfect temperature for immediate sipping.

We particularly enjoy the smoked salmon finger sandwiches with dill cream cheese on pumpernickel bread; roasted ham sliders with pineapple chutney; Belgian tea cookies with chunks of pistachio; and mini pumpkin tarts.

While we nosh, Jaana tells us she was brought to Lana‘i from the Mainland by the Four Seasons management team specifically to oversee the development of state-of-the-art spas at both The Lodge and the Manele Bay Hotel. In fact, during our visit, the Spa at Manele Bay was closed for a quick facelift, prior to a full renovation scheduled for this year. At The Lodge, until the new full-service spa is built, couples or individuals may enjoy massages in-room, or in the private Koele Lani Spa, a guest room that’s been converted to a treatment room. Lucky me, I’ve been scheduled for a massage right after tea time!

Koele Lani Spa

Jaana introduces me to massage therapist Arlene, who leads me to the Koele Lani Spa suite, located in the north wing of The Lodge. A guest room similar to Janet’s and mine has been converted to a cozy enclave set up with two massage tables. After I change into a fluffy white robe and spa slippers, Arlene leads me to the room’s outdoor lanai, where she treats me to a luscious ginger-lemongrass foot scrub, followed by percussion to the bottoms of my feet with a stick to stimulate circulation.

Since it’s December, my treatment is a special Holiday Spice Massage ($140 for 50 minutes). Arlene deftly turns my body into absolute mush with skilled strokes utilizing a fragrant blend of essential oils: ginger, orange, and cinnamon. I’m beginning to smell like a holiday confection! When time is up, Arlene applies hot towels, then leaves the room so I can get dressed. And I’m supposed to function after this pampering?

Optimism Abounds on Lana‘i

Without exception, every Lana‘ian we spoke to on our weekend getaway expressed excitement about the changes taking place on their tiny island. As Janet and I poked into the shops and galleries in Lana‘i City, fresh coats of exterior paint and newly planted landscaping were evident, enhancing a town that already oozes beaucoup charm. We were told the island’s unemployment rate is around one percent, and that basically if you want a job you can have one. It was especially nice to see that nearly all of the pro- and against-windmill signs have been removed, indicating peace has once again been restored to this idyllic slice of paradise.

Stay Tuned

In upcoming issues, look for more tales from our trip to Lana‘i, including a seven-course omakase (chef’s choice) dinner at Nobu Lana‘i at the Four Seasons Resort Manele Bay, a horseback ride through the ironwood forest with Lana‘i Western Adventures, and a guided hike to the ancient village of Kaunolu with Hike Lana‘i.

–heidi pool

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