Spotlight :: A Trip Styler Guide to Lanai

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

You go to the Private Island to decompress and to replenish. Unhindered by glitzy boutiques, be-seen hotspots or camera-toting crowds, Lanai lets you be---be with nature, be your own explorer, be with your loved one{s} and, most importantly, be yourself.

Hawaii's answer to a far-flung escape accomplishes this pure vacation cocktail by keeping it simple and slow. With only 3,000 people and 29 miles of paved roads, there are no stoplights; only stop signs. The speed limit in town is a mere 20mph; on the 'highway' the limit inches up to a roaring 45mph. One gas station fuels the island. One car rental agency---same owner as the gas station {someone's a savvy business person}---offers Jeeps to visiting explorers. One town square hosts the hub of activity. Two grocery stores and a string of cafes feed the locals. Three hotels house guests.

Staying true to its tone, there are no big-operation tourist attractions. The island's natural assets are the attraction. In fact, the closest thing to a tourist activity I did was take a ukulele lesson {pronounced ooo-koo-le-le} from Aunty Irene, a longtime local, who taught me my favorite song, "somewhere over the rainbow," and to be in the moment---one of Lanai's richest exports.

In every destination I visit around the world, it's my job to select hotels based on service, style, amenities and location. In a never-before move, I'm recommending all three Lanai hotels for different reasons. Consider dividing your time between at least two for a distinct experience.

1/ Hotel Lanai
An 11-room boutique property perched above Lanai City's town square, aka Dole Square. As the former guest house of visiting Dole executives during the island's near 80-year stint in pineapple production, it's a slice of Lanai history dressed in original timber floors, cottage-aloha decor and paintings by local artist Mike Carroll who gave up his mainland life as an in-demand illustrator to paint Lanai's landscapes. Stay here to connect with Lanai's history and observe local life outside your doorstep. Includes breakfast, wifi and use of cruiser bikes. From $149/night.

2/ Four Seasons Resort, Lodge at Koele
Just a short walk from Dole Square, the Lodge at Koele overlooks a sweeping horse pasture contoured by rows of Lanai's distinct Norfolk Pines, which glow as the sun sets. Walking in, I was taken aback by the Lodge's stature and woodsy-chic design. Sprawling at least half a soccer field in length, the Lodge is anchored by two crackling fireplaces, clusters of leather couches and creamy wingback chairs worthy of an haute couture safari lodge. It's the kind of place where I could spend all day reading a novel and sipping scotch. Out back, a rectangular, estate-esque pool beckons alongside hammocks and a croquet plot. From $280/night. {TS update 2015; this hotel is currently closed.}

3/ Four Seasons Resort at Manele Bay
Fanning across the island's desert-climate southern shore, the Four Seasons at Manele Bay is posh without being proud. While the grounds are manicured to majestic status with orchids and plumerias peeking out of every corner, the environment is natural and beachy. Bigger-than-average rooms the size of backyard pools are decorated in muted tropical tones and each room has a lanai upon which to savor Lanai. From $400/night.

To make the most of your vacation, divide your stay between hiking, exploring and pool/beach time. Because I was there for four days, I split my stay between doing and being. My first two days were spent in town, where I popped into shops and galleries, went for runs along the country roads and hiked up to Kolo’iki Ridge in the Lanai highlands to revel in the valley vistas giving way to the ocean.*  When I wasn't on foot, I engaged my Jeep's 4x4 capabilities {and my driving skills} and cruised around the island to the likes of Shipwreck Beach, an 8-mile stretch of sand and reef where a World War II cargo ship rusts offshore; Garden of the Gods, a wind-swept, near-lunar landscape stacked in red-hued spires and boulders carved by the elements {gorgeous at sunset}; and the Lanai Animal Rescue Center, staffed a group of kind-hearted locals who love on and rehabilitate a rag-tag collection of 370 cats, each of whom has a name! Note: hotel guests can pop in by appointment to spend time with the cats and learn about the sanctuary. *Two hours return from the Lodge at Koele---speak to the concierge for a detailed map.

For my two seaside days, I floated between Hulopoe Beach and the Four Seasons at Manele Bay's pool and spa. By morning I'd clear my mind crunching along the shell- and lava-lined shore on Fisherman's Trail, and by evening I'd live every second of golden hour and scale the easy climb to Sweetheart Rock, an 80-foot cinder cone ridge towering over the ocean. From here---my current earthly happy place---I had prime seating to the greatest show on earth: a Lanai sunset, which plays nightly, around 6pm.

There are a few musts when it comes to munching in Lanai. Most of the upscale restaurants are attached to hotels, while local stops like Cafe 565 or Blue Ginger Cafe dotting Dole Square are good bets for grabbing a plate lunch or picnic. For the following selections you'll notice a tuna theme because I believe in eating local and fresh wherever I travel. For upscale indulgences, I recommend savoring a black Hawaiian lava salt-crusted ahi---so fresh it melts in your mouth---in the glow of tiki torches at Kailani at the Four Seasons at Manele Bay. Do NOT miss dining in the grand gathering place of the Four Seasons Lodge at Koele at Terrace, where I nibbled on a tuna and avocado terrine with taro chips. So taken by the crackling fires burning at either end of lodge, I asked my server if I could move to a leather chair by the fire. He gladly obliged and agreed my plan was fitting. Finally, designed by celeb chef Bev Gannon {who visits frequently}, the Lanai City Grille is frequented by locals as much as visitors for its warm service and local catch with a worldly twist. Case in point: I still dream about my ahi poke tacos served in a crisp wonton shell with goat cheese and wasabi crème fraiche.

Trip Styler Tips
1/ An efficient shuttle system transports guests between the hotels, to/from the airport and port and into town. Talk to your hotel about any applicable one-time fees for use. If you'd rather hail a cab instead, you'll be waiting awhile, as they don't exist on Lanai.

2/ If you rent a car, and I suggest you do for a day or two to explore the island off-road, read the sign in the rental agency about the current condition of the backcountry paths. On occasion, the weather can hinder these routes. Jeeps from $125/day.

3/ Lanai, like most of Hawaii, orients its activities around the day versus the night. On Friday nights, the Lanai City Grille is the biggest ticket in town, where local talent belts it out for Friday Under the Stars; otherwise, expect to spend your evenings watching the sunset, dining at your hotel, or grabbing a bite from one of the cafes in town.

[photos, videos & graphics by @tripstyler, taken while a guest of the Hawaii Tourism Authority]