Once a billionaire’s retreat, little-known Lanai island in Hawaii is welcoming visitors to uncover a wealth of luxury, world class relaxation and dining.
Lanai island has no traffic lights or stop signs. It is a telling mark on this untouched island; where the pace of your stay is entirely at your discretion. If you want to stop and unwind in what could be the last quiet outpost of Hawaii, your aloha spirit depleted from Mai Tai cruises and tourist trappings on the busier islands, you have certainly found your haven.
If you want to rise at 5am for a stunning sunrise hike with unbeatable views of the Pacific Ocean and mountains so untamed you think a Jurassic Park dinosaur may peek around the corner, simply start your engine and go. Don’t forget to refuel with yoga classes, meditation and goal setting – as well as all the raw dishes from cult restaurant Nobu you can handle.
Lanai is a 25-minute flight from Honolulu and the sixth largest of the Hawaiian Islands. Perhaps more relevant to our interests is the fact it is the smallest publicly accessible island, and one of the least known.
It was once the heart of the iconic Dole Pineapple Plantation, which fuelled the island’s prosperity and produced 75 per cent of the world’s pineapples until it closed in 1992. Then, in 2012, billionaire Larry Ellison purchased 98 per cent of Lanai to transform it into a bespoke tourism destination of luxury and sustainability. Two idyllic Four Seasons hotels are nestled into the island’s hectares of lush green plantations, each celebrating the two-pronged beauty of beaches and mountains.
It is a winning formula. In February, the US News and World Report declared Four Seasons Lanai the best hotel in the US, based on industry awards and guest feedback.
Many of the 3,000 residents of the island work at the resorts. Most came here for peace and quiet, although one employee – who moved from bustling New York City – remarks Lanai enjoys the conveniences of busier Hawaiian islands: “We still can get Amazon delivered here.”
After a five-year closure, the lush mountainside Sensei Retreat Koele relaunched as an adults-only getaway in late 2019. Spacious rooms drown in ample natural light, fitted with top-of-the-line appliances like Nespresso machines and Dyson hairdryers. The wraparound pool is an Instagrammer’s delight, with more than 250 metres of swim space. Given the retreat never intends to have its 96-room oasis booked to capacity, it can feel like your own private pool.
Upon check-in, you are introduced to your “sensei guide” who crafts a personalised itinerary. The staff attitude is as refreshing as the crisp air – they understand most come here to holiday and encourage you to fill your day with as much or as little activity as you prefer.
Spa treatments are a minimum two-hour affair and worth every indulgent moment. You (and a partner, if you’d prefer a joint experience) arrive to a private room before the massage begins. Your muscles will dissolve into putty, coated in an oil with a scent of your choice. Catatonic, your eyes open to a platter of fresh fruit, edamame and herbal tea. You can skip the snack to soak in one of four onsens or, in the spirit of Lanai luxury, you can do both.
While this is a wellness-focused retreat, there are no rigid health rules. Nobu is fully licensed with another onsite bar, where bartender Jim can come up with any strong concoction your spirit conjures (he mixes a mean margarita). He has lived here for 20 years and says, “I haven’t locked my door since 2003.”
About 20 minutes down a winding road (where there is more chance of stopping for deer than another car) is the Four Seasons Lanai beach resort, and complimentary shuttle service is offered between the two hotels. When I relay Jim’s comments about not locking his door, our shuttle driver responds, “We don’t even have a lock!”
The beachside resort has kept its structure deliberately low rise for uninterrupted ocean views across all rooms. Yet it still feels bustling after the stillness of Koele. It has an array of onsite dining options, including another Nobu and a second restaurant, OneForty, with a farm-to-table focus. Try not to think of the deer you spotted on the drive down and savour the venison carpaccio.
The golf course, designed by legend Jack Nicklaus, is a delight that will captivate fanatics and inspire amateurs with Pacific views from every hole. For the true rookie, you can borrow everything from a fully-stocked pro shop. The views are so breathtaking that Bill Gates (who, rumour has it, tried to beat Ellison to purchasing Lanai) married wife Melinda on the 17th hole. You may not beat the billionaires but, in this slice of paradise, you can certainly join them.
Hawaiian Airlines offers daily flights to Lanai from Honolulu Airport, or you can also book on the Four Seasons plane as a guest of the hotel for $US250 per person [$AU380].
Sensei Retreat Koele is all-inclusive for a three-night minimum stay, with rates available on request. The Beach Resort has rooms available from $AU1700.