Lanai: how a Hawaiian island became the world's most expensive

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Nadja Beschetnikova
February 8, 2018

Lanai is the smallest publicly accessible, inhabited island in Hawaii.

The 140-square mile island with only 3,200 residents offers you a perfect escape from a turbulent everyday life. The intimacy of the secluded island charms you with its image of Hawaii you always wanted to experience. You’re sure to find serenity, adventure, and privacy on Lanai.
Only nine miles from Maui, the elite island has already drawn Jessica Alba, Will Smith, and Cindy Crawford to its shores. Literally, this 90,000-acre lies at your feet as a private paradise with zero paparazzi.

In 2012 the island was bought by Larry Ellison, the founder of Oracle Corp., for $300 million. He has agreed to buy 98% of the island of Lanai from David Murdock, a Los Angeles billionaire who controls Dole Food Co. and many other businesses under Castle & Cooke Inc. The rumored asking price was a jaw-dropping $600 million.

Lanai was formed about 1.5 million years ago by the volcano Palawai. The development of the island starts in 1922, when James Drummond Dole purchased most of the island for $1.1 million, a huge investment for the time. Dole, a pineapple mogul, expanded his business there, making out of Lanai the biggest plantation that produced 75% of the world's pineapples. Dole built all essential infrastructure, including a harbor and a small town to house his employees. The descendants of the recruited in the 1920s Filipino workers form the core of Lanai’s local population.

 There're several ways to reach the island. You can take one of the daily tours to Lanai from Maui, operated by the island’s oldest family-owned sailing company. You will be welcomed on board with hot cinnamon rolls - a family tradition that began in 1973. If freshly cooked breakfast, the rolls are served straight from the oven, and picturesque marine views are not convincing enough, you can fly directly into Lanai, where during high season, the airport is just a line of private jets.

Though Lanai is a private island, fortunately, his owner is not too greedy and shares its enticements with other people. Anyway, you must have a certain sum on your bank account to enjoy solitude and luxury of this lush nook. After all, $450 million, Ellison spent on the Resort Lanai project, should pay off.

There are only three hotels here, all of them belong to Ellison: two Four Seasons properties and one Hotel Lanai.

He invested $75 million to renovate the Murdock-built Four Season Lanai Resort, and this hotel is definitely the main fascination. The Four Seasons Lodge at Koele is slated to reveal its makeover in late 2018.

Four Season Lanai Resort reflects a combination of Polynesian and Hawaiian designs. The interior is adorned with bamboo furniture, decorative shells and multimillion-dollar Polynesian art collection. Many of the rooms offer breathtaking views of Hulopo?e Beach. Top-suits can be booked in the $20,000-a-night range. One of the 213 rooms is available from $1,150 per night.

Guests have access to the local-ingredient-­sourced Hawanawana Spa and Nobu restaurant, where a private sushi cooking class with the executive chef costs $500 per person. If you prefer to be served your food as opposed to cooking it yourself (even under the supervision of a high-level chef), you have a delicious choice from the menu. Daily from 6 pm to 9 pm you’re welcome to enjoy innovative Japanese cuisine and sweeping views of the Pacific shoreline. The chef perfectly mixes authentic locally grown ingredients with the best selection from overseas, e.g. wagyu beef is imported from Japan. 

The hotel has 45 suits, including four special suits, where you can enjoy the Hawaiian hospitality and renowned Four Season luxury at the highest level. Booking Ali‘l Royal Suite, located at the 2nd floor, you’ll get some lucrative bonus like two complimentary 75-minute spa treatments per stay, private lesson with a golf instructor or eight bottles of wine, selected by the Four Season sommelier. Each of the suits offers an expansive ocean panorama views. 

No matter how comfortable your room is, it's worth getting out. The outdoor space is lovingly arranged with koi ponds, swimming pools, waterfalls and botanical garden. Beach chairs, hidden throughout the lush landscape, provide desirable privacy if you feel like reading or just enjoying the beautiful melody of whispering wind and murmur of water. The service is here to make you feel as if you were the only one guest at the resort. ?

And for those who can’t imagine a vacation without shopping even in the wilderness, there’s a Jimmy Choo boutique.
Though the island is definitely a wrong destination if you’re eager for nightlife, there’s still an opportunity for evening entertainment except the posh dining. Ellison spent a large amount of money renovating different projects around the town, including restored Lanai Theater, which had not screened movies in over a decade.


If you’re a fan of outdoor activities, Lanai is the right place for you. The island is nominally divided into three parts: Central Lanai, North Lanai, and South Lanai.

Central Lanai is a heart of the island with Lanai City, where you can discover historical heritage, supported by the city’s annual Pineapple Festival, and unique local artists’ works.
If you want to be closer to nature, just go for a walk on the 12.8-mile hiking trail named after Georg Munro, the naturalist from New Zealand.

Horseback riding, offered for $195 per person, is one of the most exciting ways to explore the landscape with rolling green hills and majestically tall pine trees. The trail takes you to the Lanai’s highest peak at 3,370 feet, where you’ll be granted with overwhelming views.

If hiking and climbing are not your cups of tea, there’s another possibility to see the island from above. During the 20-minutes private helicopter journey, you’ll be astonished by exhilarating views over Lanai’s extinct volcano, Palawai, Hulopoe Bay, the forests of Kanepuu Preserve, the Martian landscapes of Garden of the Gods and the sandy shores of Polihua Beach. The short tour is available from $1345 per aircraft. If would like to see the world through the bird-eye perspective more often on your own, you can book private flight lessons. During a two- or four-hour training session, learn to perform basic flight maneuvers such as takeoff, cruising, and landing.

One of the most impressive sights in the North Lanai is Keahiakawelo (Garden of the Gods), located 45 minutes from Lanai City. The surreal Martian landscape with the rock towers is said to be the result of a keep-a-fire-burning contest of two priests, according to Hawaiian lore. The priest from Lanai was so eager to win, that he burned every piece of vegetation.

South Lunai is what many of vacationers come for. A perfect background for the relaxed sea-side holidays. Beaches with pearl-white sand and crystal clear water and Kaumalapau Harbor are the main spots of attraction. Will you be able to take any Sea World Park serious, after watching whales or dolphins just behind the fairway, surrounded by dramatic sea cliffs?    

?Southeast Lanai’s Kaunolu Point is said to be the birthplace of the modern sport of cliff diving.
The courage of the Hawaiian warriors, considered to be the inventors of the extreme activity, is celebrated at the annual Cliff Diving World Championships, held at the 80-foot ledge, the same spot where it all began. 

The island is a true paradise for the golf players. The on-site golf course was designed by former professional golfer Jack Nicklaus and features ocean views from every hole.

The course is accessible only for the Resort’s guests, so the ground is seldom if ever overcrowded. There’s no tee time, so you can enjoy the scenery as long as you wish. Which may inspire not only your sports victories. The fabulous ambiance with a Pacific Ocean view from, literally, every corner could make your romantic moment unforgettable.  Even the billionaires couldn’t resist the fairytale-like magic of this place.
Bill and Melinda Gates got married here on New Year's Day in 1994, reportedly during a ceremony that took place on the 17th hole.

If you’re tired of banal souvenirs, the island will surprise you with this touchy possibility. You can adopt a cat. Seriously. An animal rescue shelter on Lanai houses over 500 cats and the amount of these fluffy residents is only growing as there’re no natural predators for the cats on the island.

You can visit the shelter and make a donation. Does it sound tempting? Who else can boast that he is sponsoring a Lanai’s lion? That’s how cats are nicknamed at the island, but it sounds a bit more impressive). 

From yachting and snorkeling to cuddling a cat - this range of adventures even surpasses your expectations. 

And honestly, that’s exactly what you expect from the $300 million island.

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