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Set just nine miles away from Maui, Lanai might be one of Hawaii’s best-kept secrets. With remarkably little development and a population of less than 3,000 people, it’s possible to have stretches of this small island all to yourself during a stay here. A former pineapple plantation that once produced a majority of the world’s pineapple supply, Lanai offers a one-of-a-kind Hawaiian vacation experience that includes everything from beach days and horseback riding to hiking and off-road excursions.
Lanai has an undeserved reputation for being hard to get to. It’s true, there is no direct service to Lanai from the continental United States, but if you fly into Honolulu International Airport (HNL) or Kahului Airport (OGG) in Maui (both major hubs), you can connect to several local airlines that fly to Lanai Airport. Flights are on small planes that typically carry less than a dozen passengers and offer stunning views of Hawaii’s coastline.
I’m also a huge fan of the Expeditions passenger ferry that runs between Maui’s Lahaina Harbor (the boat departs steps from Lahaina’s Massive Banyan Tree) and Manele Harbor on Lanai. The ferry offers its own spectacular island views and during whale season, approximately December through May, you’ll likely spot humpbacks during the 45-minute voyage.
When compared with Maui, Oahu, Kauai and the Big Island, accommodation options will seem limited, but don’t let that rule out a stay on Lanai. Along with a handful of bed and breakfasts, Lanai has three hotels, two of which are part of the Four Seasons brand. The trio of hotels is owned by Larry Ellison, billionaire cofounder of software giant Oracle. Ellison owns 98 percent of the island.
Hotel Lanai was built in the 1930s as lodging for Dole pineapple plantation executives; today, the Lanai City property features 11 guest rooms. Adults-only Sensei Lanai, A Four Seasons Resort is only an option if your kids are 16 or older.
However, when planning a vacation the entire family will enjoy, the best option is without a doubt the Four Seasons Resort Lanai. Located on the island’s southeastern coast, overlooking a protected marine preserve, Hulopo’e Bay (and neighboring islands Maui, Molokai and Kahoolawe), the Four Seasons Resort offers a stunning location that wows guests from the moment they arrive.
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With everything you could want or need at your fingertips, this kid-friendly luxury hotel has mastered the art of the family vacation. Guest rooms are spacious, boasting a private terrace or balcony and either garden or ocean views.
Kids could easily spend all day at the lagoon-style pool that overlooks the ocean. Doting staff ensure there are always sunscreen and dry towels when needed. A second, adults-only pool offers a spot for parents to unwind when their kids head off to the property’s supervised children’s program, Kids for All Seasons.
If you can make it through the pool area with the kids, Hulopo’e Bay is just steps away. For a majority of the year, this stretch of blue water and soft white sand is the primo beach spot on the island for swimming and snorkeling. Everything you need — from umbrellas and lounge chairs to sunscreen — will be waiting. Be on the lookout for Acrobatic spinner dolphins. They like Hulopo’e Bay too! And as an added perk, yoga is offered on the beach most mornings.
A number of trails can be easily accessed from the resort. Take advantage of jet lag and make the sunrise walk just past Hulopo’e Bay beach to Puupehe or Sweetheart Rock. Look and listen for the moaning of uau kani (wedge-tailed shearwater) seabirds nesting at the natural landmark. According to Hawaiian folklore, a warrior leapt from the top of Sweetheart Rock and took his own life after his lover drowned during a storm.
The resort is designed so there’s really no need to ever have to leave. In addition to a spa with eight treatment rooms and an assortment of fitness offerings, there are a handful of restaurants to choose from: quick and easy grab-and-go offerings at The Break; casual poolside dining at Malibu Farm; steak and seafood at One Forty; and Japanese at Nobu Lanai. However, the Four Seasons Love Lanai Experiences make it easy to do some exploring during your family’s time on the island. The newly opened Lanai Observatory offers a tour of the night sky, and staff share stories that offer an understanding into how Polynesians used the stars to navigate across the Pacific Ocean.
Horseback riding offers the chance to traverse wooded valleys and remote trails. Snorkeling, sailing and scuba excursions are available for those wishing to maximize time on the water. There’s even an adventure park with obstacle courses and zipline adventures for kids ages four and up.
Frequent shuttles from the Four Seasons Resort make the trip to the charming plantation town of Lanai City. Here you’ll find a handful of shops, restaurants and Dole Park, a town square of sorts that boasts a large grassy field and small playground.
If exploring solo is a priority for your family, be sure to rent a jeep or similar four-wheel-drive vehicle. Driving here is distinctly different than on all of the other Hawaiian islands. Lanai has 400 miles of road, but only 30 are actually paved, and there are no traffic lights.
Kaiolohia, or Shipwreck Beach, is roughly a 30-minute drive from Lanai City. Numerous ships, including a still-beached oil tanker from the 1940s, have met their fate along this eight-mile sandy stretch.
To show the kids how rugged and remote parts of the island can be, visit Keahiakawelo. Sometimes referred to as the Fire of Kawelo or Garden of the Gods, the desolate but very photogenic rock garden, about a 45-minute drive from Lanai City, looks and feels like another planet.
Editor’s Note: For review purposes, Dana’s stay was organized by the Maui Visitors & Convention Bureau. As always, our opinions are our own on Ciao Bambino. Photos by Dana Rebmann.
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