Spotlight :: A Lesson in Lanai

[trip style = sun + luxe + active/adventure + beach]

Like a supermodel, Lanai is splashed in mystique. From afar she's private and exotic; up close, she's approachable and genuine. To be intimidated by her otherworldly beauty and seemingly hard-to-approach position is to miss one of the most unique islands in Hawaii.

Trip Styler Tip :: Lanai is reachable via 40-minute passenger ferry from Maui or a short flight from Oahu or Maui.

I'm a lover of all things aloha, and Lanai has been at the top of my Hawaiian vacation list for awhile {read: nine years}. I don't have a very good excuse for failing to visit, either. From the West Coast, reaching Maui is an easy, direct flight, and from there, I never calculated how simple it is to take a small step over to the Private Island until my visit in September. It's so close to Maui that some hotel staff commute, as does the Fedex truck for its once-a-week drop-offs.

I arrived by air from Oahu and hopped on the inter-island guest shuttle system---there are no cabs---past the iconic and pointy Norfolk Pines lining the road. The shuttle took me to the only car rental agency on the island, Dollar Rent-a-Car, where I picked up my Jeep for the week. You don't need a rental car for your whole stay, but renting one for a day or two allows you to navigate the near-abandoned beaches and lunar landscapes. Plus, there are only 29 miles of paved roads covering the island's 141 square miles, so the Jeep's 4x4 capabilities lend themselves to the bumpy stretches leading to these stunners.

Lanai is in a unique position. It's one of the only Hawaiian islands that's privately owned. Back it 1922, James Dole {of pineapple fame} purchased part of the island to grow pineapples. As his business grew, so did his island holdings. For years, Lanai was known as the Pineapple Isle, at one point producing 75% of the world's pineapples. On Shipwreck Beach---one of the remote places I took my Jeep off roading---I found beach huts built back in the "pineapple days." These basic but dreamy Swiss Family Robinson-style structures served as family gathering places for fishing and surfing. People still use these abodes today, evidenced by the housewares hanging from the rafters and the surfboards leaning against the roofs.

Once pineapple production was sent overseas, David Murdock purchased the island plot in the mid-eighties with the vision to shift the fledgeling fruit production {and profits} into tourism. He built two hotels, a grand and woodsy lodge near the town of 3,000, and a waterfront property, now both Four Seasons resorts.

In 2012, news broke that Larry Ellison, one of the USA's most wealthy CEO/playboys, purchased Lanai. With the help of a local leader, he's invested in local services like rebuilding the community center and pool, as well as tourism, updating both hotels, and even going so far as adding Island Air, one of the main airlines serving Lanai, to his arsenal.

With this change in ownership, direction and cachet, Lanai has a new name: the Private Island. As a result, some publications will tell you it's full of jetsetters who drink martinis at 10am, golf with pros and use their private jets like most people use their cars. This tale, while partially true but barely visible, is not an accurate representation of the island's soul. It's one of the most down to earth destinations I've ever visited.

It's a place you go to experience a different Hawaii, to dip your toes into seawater lapping onto deserted beaches, to hike up to soul-searching viewpoints and, at night, decide if you want to savor a picnic and the sunset from Sweetheart Rock or nibble on sashimi at Nobu. Like I said, this supermodel is as approachable as she is exotic.

Stay tuned for Thursday, when I'll go into where to stay, where to eat and what to do.

[photos and video by @tripstyler]