Lanai is Hawaii’s little gem, with no crowds, idyllic landscapes and a bay where dolphins come in to play with the tourists
Someone forgot to tell the giddy dolphins of Manele Bay
they’re supposed to play hard to get. Instead, practically every day they frolic and fling their way across the sea’s surface with infectious joie de vivre
, completely unfazed by the presence of grinning tourists, treading water and aching to join in the fun.
Hawaiian spinner dolphins, around two metres from nose to tail, are particularly playful, though according to animal experts, they come inshore to rest, so swimmers aren’t encouraged to try to get too close. But even at a respectful distance, their enthusiastic above-water acrobatics are mesmerising. They chuck themselves high in the air and whizz around as many as seven times before plunging back into the ocean.
They slap the waves with tail or head as the mood takes them, thought to be about communication – ‘Here I am, and I’m going thisaway’ - and apparently they also do it just because they can. I really like that idea. Whatever the cause, these little mammals provide reason alone why your next holiday should be in this exact place.
Formerly both a cattle ranch and a pineapple plantation, Lanai calls itself Hawaii’s Most Enticing Island, and that’s no surprise. The third smallest of the US state’s eight main islands, the tiny, pristine paradise lies a 25-minute flight from the busy, built-up capital, Honolulu on Oahu. There couldn’t be a greater contrast between the two. Lanai is only 13 miles wide and 18 miles long, with a population of around 3,000.
The island’s community is centred around the quaint old plantation town of Lanai City – somebody’s got a sense of humour, as it couldn’t look less like a city for most international visitors. For tourists, apart from one guesthouse, there are two fabulous and very different luxury resorts, both Four Seasons: one at Lanai Manele Bay
and the Lodge at Koele
Four Seasons Manele Bay
is, in a word, fabulous. It has 236 luxurious guest rooms and suites, though you’d never think it had that many, as the atmosphere of the place is boutique and intimate. Some rooms overlook the gorgeous landscaped gardens; others have beautiful views over Manele Bay, Hulopo’e Bay and the Pacific Ocean beyond. Each has cosy comforts including melt-into bed and marble bathroom, luxury touches such as LCD TV and high-speed internet access, and private terrace or balcony.
There’s a fantastic pool, a spa offering pampering including Hawaiian speciality lomi lomi massages, restaurants serving delicious local cuisine, and a choice of comfy bars and lounges to relax. And, a short walk away, there’s a wonderful soft-sand beach where you can go snorkelling or sit in comfort on a sun lounger and watch that amazing marine life I mentioned earlier. From December to April, Lanai is also the home for migrating humpback whales, and whale and dolphin boat excursions are available.
The other Four Seasons property on Lanai is the Lodge at Koele
, a gracious country manor within the island’s central highlands, hidden in greenery and surrounded by lawns, in complete contrast to its seaside sister. The Lodge
has 102 rooms and suites, some with stone fireplace, a comfy-cosy lounge to read and take in, and grounds to explore that hold an orchid house, old Hawaiian church and riding stables. You won’t be surprised to learn horseback riding, croquet, bowling, tennis and hiking are on offer to guests, and there are also two championship golf courses.
Seeing the sights
Stay at both resorts and it feels like you’ve been to two separate countries, not two resorts on the same island. The whole place offers a gentle playground for visitors, and Four Seasons certainly know how to look after their guests, whether you’re there for your honeymoon, special celebration or treat. But there is some sightseeing to be done on four-wheel excursions, should you tire of being busy doing nothing – nothing too taxing, though.
Highlights include the strange lunar-like landscapes and giant rocks of Keahiakawelo, the so-called Garden of the Gods. Hikers will love the picturesque Munro Trail for views of neighbouring islands Maui, Molokai, Kahoolawe, Oahu and Hawaii’s Big Island. Or there are plenty of less energetic walks to be done.
There’s also Sweetheart Rock, a towering rock rising out of the sea between Hulopo’e Bay and Manele Bay, with a bit of sad story attached. According to legend, a jealous warrior from Lanai kept a beautiful maiden hidden in a sea cave near the rock, so no other man could see her. One day a storm came in and she was drowned. The heartbroken warrior buried her body in a tomb at the top of the rock that can still be seen today - then leaped to his death.
Cheer yourself up with a little retail therapy in Lanai City, which has many delightful little shops and art galleries, including that of artist Mike Carroll, where you can buy a painting of your favourite view to take home as a lovely souvenir. Mine, of course, is of Manele Bay – and it had to have dolphins in it.