I could say a lot about Lanai, the smallest and least developed of the primary Hawaiian islands. So I will. For starters, just getting there is fun. In January, after I covered the Hyundai Tournament of Champions, in Maui, my wife and daughter and I took the 45-minute ferry ride from Lahaina, on the western end of Maui, to Lanai (the ferry runs five times a day, every day). We spotted humpback whales. If we’d flown to Lanai from the mainland, we could have relaxed while awaiting our connection at the Four Seasons Lanai’s own airport lounge in Honolulu.
As a longtime PGA Tour beat writer, I’m used to some pretty cushy workplace environments, but the Four Seasons Lanai is the nicest place I’ve ever been. If you can’t relax on the mainland, you go to Maui; if you can’t relax on Maui, you go to Lanai; if you can’t relax on Lanai, call your shrink.
Here are nine reasons to visit Lanai as soon as you can:
1. It’s your own private island. O.K., not really. It’s actually Oracle founder Larry Ellison’s private island. He bought the place in 2012, but he’s happy for you to visit, and the point is there are hardly any people—about 3,100 residents, with just one public school—compared to the hustle and bustle of Maui. (Yeah, you don’t realize there’s hustle and bustle in Maui until you feel any remaining stress seeping out of you in Lanai.) Lanai City, a 25-minute shuttle ride from the Four Seasons, features a cool theater, restored in 2014 with carpenter gothic architecture that honors the heritage of the island, and the recently reopened Lanai City public pool. Both were mothballed for years, then refurbished and reopened by Ellison. Lanai City is otherwise pretty sleepy unless you rent a Jeep and go on a 4X4 off-road adventure.
2. The Four Seasons Lanai. It’s spectacular, and the employees are friendly and down to earth; one of them picked us up at the ferry terminal in a plush Mercedes SUV, a sign of more decadence to come. The hotel’s open-air lobby features grand murals and antiquities honoring Lanai’s history, and looks out onto the pool area and the ocean. On our walk to our room, along a boardwalk that meanders through native vegetation, we passed sculptures, lively koi ponds and the fenced habitat for tropical birds (the hotel employs its own bird keeper). Our daughter loved the birds. The hotel rooms themselves are one of a kind. Ours featured two beds and a cute chase lounge for our daughter; electric blinds; a TV embedded in the bathroom mirror (don’t ask me how); and a $5,500 toilet.
3. That’s right, a $5,500 toilet. The lid sees you coming and opens up like a clamshell, revealing a heated seat. If you want that seat to open up, too, you press a button. There’s also a bidet, a flush sensor, and some other functionality I never explored. (At the time of our visit, about half of the hotel had been updated with such state-of-the-art rooms; the rest will most likely be done by December.)
4. Poolside pampering. When I visited, there were two hot tubs that had been sunken into the main pool, and there was a hotel employee who came around offering to spritz me with Evian water, or set up a chase lounge for me, or clean my sunglasses or cell phone, or get me a cocktail, water, sunscreen, chill towels, a magazine or a Kindle. Although I never once felt cramped for space while swimming, the resort is hoping to complete an expansion by its peak season in December, resulting in an additional (infinity) pool and square footage, allowing everyone room to splash about or chill out.
5. The golf course is much improved under new director of golf Scott Ashworth, who brought in a new superintendent and restored the Jack Nicklaus-designed Manele Golf Course to its full glory. The par-3 12th hole, 202 yards from the tips, is situated high atop the red cliffs, and any left miss will wind up in the Pacific Ocean hundreds of feet below. The 13th and 17th holes also play along the cliffs, but you can see the water and the occasional spout of the whales below from virtually every spot on the course. Greg Norman-designed Koele Golf Course is also a unique play, when it’s open. (The course is part of the second Four Seasons resort on the island, the more mountainous, up-country Lodge at Koele, but both are closed for remodeling and renovations.) At 2,000 feet elevation, it features cooler weather and much different scenery, including deer, sheep and pheasant. Nicklaus is renovating the Koele course, which along with the Lodge at Koele is expected to reopen in 2016.
6. The 1,100-foot beach. It features white sand, chase lounges and umbrellas, and a kiosk where the attendant will set you up with a beach chair and a towel, or a mask, a snorkel and flippers, or pretty much anything else. Ham and goat cheese sandwich? Coming right up, sir!
7. Some of the world’s best underwater sightseeing. My daughter and I clasped hands as we snorkeled in the clear waters of Hulopo’e Bay in front of the hotel, and we saw plenty, including butterfly fish and green sea turtles. Closer to the ferry dock than the Four Seasons, the Cathedrals dive area is world-renowned and features lava tubes filled with fractals of sunlight and colorful reef fish.
8. The hike to Sweetheart Rock. Departing from the back of the hotel, this trail wends its way along the beach, around a series of tide pools and up rocky cliffs. Unless you’re an ultra-marathoner, the climb is more than enough to get your heart rate up and make you feel as if you’ve actually gotten some exercise. We checked out the tide pools along the way, then headed up the path that meanders along the cliff’s edge until we were about as high as the top of Sweetheart, Lanai’s most recognizable landmark. Manele Golf Course also affords a sweet view of Sweetheart.
9. The food, with its emphasis on locally sourced ingredients. We had equally terrific meals, including fresh seafood and locally-grown vegetables, at the Kailani restaurant, perched above the pool area and with expansive views of the ocean, and One Forty American Steakhouse (yep, I recommend the steak), on the edge of the beach itself. We didn’t even get around to checking out Nobu Lanai, which some say offers the best sushi in Lanai, if not all of Hawaii. Next time. That was the other takeaway from our visit. With sporting clays, archery, and community art classes at the Lanai Art Center, there’s an endless array of activities and options — too much to do all in one stay. One of these options involves setting up your own private dinner on the beach — your own private table, your own hula dancer and/or ukulele player (if you so desire), and your own menu you can design with the resort’s chef. Next time.