A March 2002 trip
to Lanai by smmmarti guide
Quote: Lanai is a beautiful surprise and refreshing departure from what you might think Hawaii to be if you only visit Maui or Oahu. The Lodge at Koele at the top of the mountain feels more like the North Woods than a tropical island, and the gardens would put any Englishman into a swoon. Lanai is a unique playground for the royal sports, hunting, fishing, clay shooting, golf, croquet, tennis,horseback riding, but offers favored pleasures of the everyday man, such as swimming, surfing, beachcombing, kayaking and hiking, as well.
Lanai offers a surprisingly different experience from her neighbor islands. Situated at 1,600 feet above sea level, the Lodge at Koele is Hawaii’s premiere upcountry resort with an atmosphere more akin to an English hunting lodge than a tropical resort. At sea level, the glorious Manele Bay Resort offers golfers and beachcombers the ultimate secluded setting in which to soak up this idyllic island‘s remote beauty.
In spite of these luxuries, the island has the overall feel of a true plantation village. Tiny Lanai City, built around a downtown square, has a rural, laid-back charm. Outside of Lanai City and the two luxury hotels, there is refreshingly little to be found in the way of commerce.
Besides the extraordinary "Challenge at Manele" a Jack Nicklaus course on most serious golfer’s "must-do" list, the Cavendish Course is a nine-hole par 36 in the beautiful Cook pine region that almost anyone can enjoy, as it is free to the public (donations are accepted, however.) No visit is complete without a drive to the moonscape of the "Garden of the Gods", where red-sand, barren landscape highlights formations of giant stones that had mythical, eerie meanings for ancients.
Certainly one of the main highlights of a visit to Lanai is simply driving around, otherwise known as "the 4-wheel adventure tour." It’s a good idea to have a jeep while exploring Lanai‘s 100 miles of semi-paved and dirt trails that lead to spectacular scenery and intriguing finds. Frequent trains at the higher altitudes make good traction a must. Traveling the Munro Trail across the island’s high-ridge, trekking out to Shipwreck Beach or the Garden of the Gods, are typically the premiere adventures for visitors to the island and highly recommended.
A porter met us at the door with an umbrella and guided us inside to the hushed and tranquil aura of another world, another time.
Magnificent stone fireplaces flanked the giant entrance hall, diners glanced up from their conversations in the adjacent room. I must have said something unwittingly. Such as, "Wow!" Who knew that rugs could be woven this large. Everything appeared to be collectible and antique, yet warm and in keeping with the location on top of a mountain in Hawaii.
The gorgeous wooden floors hewn from native woods gleamed along the passageways and guided our exploration beyond the great room. To the left was a large yet surprisingly homey bar outfitted with sumptuous leather chairs and a view of the broad verandas which graced the full length of the hotel. Who minded the rain? We would just sit a spell and "soak" in the ambiance.
To the right, we found the concierge and reception desk hidden into an alcove just before we reached the game room, with a treasure trove of manly parlor games and trophies of the hunt. More views from the front windows revealed the manicured lawn bowling and croquet fields, vacant for now due to the rains, greening themselves in the showers even as we watched.
Around the corner the library was brimming with volumes and comfortable seating arranged perfectly for pondering your tone or gazing distractedly into the gardens, fit for a king, inspiring your own next turn of phrase.
When lead to our rooms, we found plantation style elegance with shuttered windows, bamboo ceiling fans, four poster beds, plump down pillows, and all colors of chintz and tropical patterns which blended together into a prime example of how to be chic in the tropics.
When the rains let up we walked the extensive grounds and played a round on the undulating putting course, strolled through the Japanese gardens, spent time breathing in the scent of the orchid filled greenhouse and couldn’t even imagine how you might improve on the glory of these grounds.
Taking it all in is such a heady experience it might require you relax by the small but adequate pool. Here, a uniformed server will discreetly bring you anything your heart desires. Once energized you might decide to enter the pool house which has been outfitted with workout equipment and free weights.
Even the most well-traveled guest will respond to the sublime balance of pleasures offered at this island get-away.
This hotel is the stuff of honeymoon dreams and could cause you to insist on second, third and fourth honeymoons and one every year following that.
There's a reason it was named the best Pacific Rim hotel in the world. I do believe it is.
Member Rating 4 out of 5 on November 14, 2000
Lodge at Koele
Visitors to the Lodge Dining Room are sure to be awarded a memorable dining experience beyond the majestic setting. They will also be titillated with delicously prepared food that tastes even more delightful as a result of all the other dining room amentities tossed into the experience, such as the unexpected crackle of a great, castle sized roaring fire in a classically decorated great room. What saves it from being just another stunning estate dining experince prepared by four star chefs and served on priceless crystal is the unfailing grip it has on the spirit of Aloha with the use of native produce and game. This is a hunting lodge after all.
Named the best restaurant on the islands by both Conde Nast readers and Zagat guide, the Lodge is most deserving of this status. Visting chefs regularly appear along with visiting first-class entertainers more than willing to make the out-of-the-way trek to this remote locale.
Member Rating 4 out of 5 on March 20, 2002
Dining Room at Lodge at Koele
Po Box 630310
Restaurant | "The Blue Ginger Cafe"
Once in the Jeep, I had headed directly over to the Lanai Hotel where I’d eaten before and been pleased but soon discovered it was only opened for dinner. Between the only other two choices offered in the town and therefore on the entire island, we decided the Blue Ginger with it’s blue painted clapboard and cute little gingerbread sign was a better choice of the two. We still weren’t expecting much. I mean, competition here is not exactly keen.
Upon entering the establishment we were instantly encouraged by the enticing looks of the huge baking sheets filled with pastries that were lain across the glass counters below the menus and across from the little antique (or just old?) cash register. A glance around and we found tropical printed oilcloth table coverings, yellow painted furniture and clean floors. Another pleasant surprise.
The menu was written in dry marker on a board hanging behind the fellow who had appeared suddenly to take our order. After explaining that we’d missed breakfast and that he had left his baking in the back to take over for the order taker who had obviously gone for a break during this service time lull, we settled on a fried egg sandwich for the breakfast seeker. Now, could you put the eggs separate from the bread in a sort of a Jack Nickelson solution to the issue, we asked? The man was not amused. Fried egg sandwich it was.
As I watched the steaming platters of meats, rice and macaroni salad parading out from the kitchen and being served up to what appeared to be every local in town, I was wishing I’d noticed the selection of plate lunches, a Hawaiian island specialty, before I instinctively ordered the hamburger and fries. When my food arrived, my regrets were abandoned as I bit into a hand-formed juicy real meat patty couched between the warmest, freshest baked yeast roll I’ve yet to find cradling a hamburger. The addition of the special sauce (we think it was some sort of mayo-mustard-pickle-ketchup combo) and melted cheese and I was satisfied once again with my choice.
The fried egg sandwich was similarly bedecked with shredded lettuce and special sauce and was snuggled between thick slices of freshly baked bread which this typically picky eater demolished within minutes. Then the egg-sandwich guy washed it all down with a chocolate shake. I had to sample this one solely for journalistic reasons. I proclaimed it terrific.
We all agreed that if you can only have two restaurants on an island, it's good that Blue Ginger is one of them.
Blue Ginger Cafe
409 Seventh Ave
Lanai City, Hawaii 96763
+1 808 565 6363
On our travels down the long, winding and wide-open trail toward Shipwreck Beach, we passed a group of fellows in the back of a pickup parked by the side of the road gazing into the open meadows in the distance. I got out to take the picture postcard perfect photo of Maui in the distance, but they didn’t seem the type to be contemplating the view. They waved at me cordially enough and once I was back at the Jeep, we realized they were the same group we’d run into in town a few hours back while they stocked up on their provisions. These were definitely the hunters, staking out the territory, my husband assured me, champing at the bit until tomorrow’s season opened on axis deer, ring-necked pheasant and any number of other game birds.
Recalling that the Lodge at Koele offers sporting clays and has an elaborately designed course set up for both archers and sharpshooters, one must put two and two together and realize there’s more to this sport than…sport. There’s also trophies and game to be taken down with a steady hand, keen eye and savvy touch.
On the road to the Garden of the Gods a mysterious landscape with collections of rocks piled systematically one on top of the other, we encountered a similar group as we had on the last trail to the Shipwreck Beach. Fellows in the back of truck beds scouting out the territory and not looking a thing like the tourists who typically traverse these rocky and rutted trails. No, they were not looking to shoot travel photos.
I didn’t want to think about it, really, enjoying the day as we were visiting the wonderful outposts and oasis’ that make up Lanai. Down at Hulopo’e Beach, an utterly perfect white sand model of tropical splendor adjacent to the Manele Bay Hotel, we dove into the waves, after watching some spinner dolphins frolic in the protected marine sanctuary along with a couple of locals who surfed the comfortable curls as they came round the lava rock point.
We envied the chosen few who had retained right to camp in Lanai’s only campgrounds for $5 a day right on the most beautiful beach one could possibly dream up. Running water, showers, toilets, grills and picnic tables resting under palm trees, are all included in the price and are the only amenities one could possible need in such a paradisiacal setting. (To reserve your piece of paradise, call Lanai Company at 808-565-3978 for advance reservations.) By now I had put the hunters completely out of my thoughts.
On our shuttle ride back from the rental car agency however, we were given a full-out introduction into the art and science of hunting on Lanai from our driver. He managed to site and point out every sort of game and fowl from the top of Lanai to the bay while keeping the van safely on our side of the road. Creatures that had been running and flying unnoticed right under my nose the entire day were suddenly visible as I learned what to look for. They were everywhere! Axis deer 200 meters in the distance standing naively in an open field. And another and another. Ring-necked pheasant scuttled under nearly every tree lining the side of the road. Quail and birds unique to Lanai we were told, make marvelous dinner. No wonder the hunters were salivating. Stalking prey here must be similar to shooting fish in a barrel.
Not that I underestimate the sport. Our driver explained that he hunts with bow and arrow (60 lb. pull crossbow) and also with firepower. I could sense his respect for the sport and the targets in the way he described both the skill required to hunt and his knowledge of the animals’ and their habits and movements. I realize that without natural predators these populations would become overcrowded and am confident the wildlife management of Lanai is a carefully considered and honored tradition.
This small insight into royal sport of hunting, a primitive tribal urge made safe and sane, a bonus to our day, offered another window through which to view the complex relationship between kindred spirits, the hunted and the hunter, and served to add another touch of fascination to our memorable day in Lanai.
We had made prior reservations, which is highly recommended, and the ferry operators also took care of our rental car reservations on Lanai. Other options for making the excursion include going through a tour operator (Trilogy takes their catamarans out and arranges special functions and entertainment to groups) or as advertised all over town at activities desks.
When choosing your method, plan to spend as much time as possible if you are only taking a day tour of Lanai, as the ferry eats up two hours of your time and the trip to the rental car agency in Lanai City is another 20-30 minutes drive from the harbor in a shuttle van. Also, be advised that you will be required to return the rental vehicle at least one hour and fifteen minutes prior to your ferry departure. Even if you arrange your visit so that you end up at the shore, you will need to go back up the hill (ugh!) much earlier than I consider it necessary to make the trip to the ferry dock. We ended up waiting almost an hour on the windy coast for the ferry’s arrival at the end of a long day.
So, in effect, if you take the 9:30 am ferry, you’ll arrive at 10:30 am and not be in your Jeep rental until 11 am. By the time you decide your route and get some provisions in town, which are essential since Lanai City and the hotels are the ONLY place to get food, water, or use the bathroom on the island, even if you take the last ferry home (6:45pm) you will now have about five hours to see four trails that take about five hours to drive round trip. This won’t leave you much time for enjoying the gorgeous beaches and hotels.
In the likely event you are caught in a downpour up on the Munro trail or anywhere in Lanai City, as has happened to us with every visit, you will miss out on visiting some of the most impressive sites on Lanai while waiting out the rains. And you should wait. Even Jeeps cannot navigate some of the ruts and rugged washes that occur during rains. The rental agency has a photo journal to prove it which shows Jeeps in red mud past their bumpers and on their sides moving with musdlides!
On one visit, we were at the top of the trail when a downpour wouldn’t let up so we went down the hill to the Hulopo'e Bay beach and waited for a clearing which came within hours. But by then, we had only two hours left before we had to return the car and had to make a choice of which of the four trails we wanted to travel most.
By the end of the day we had gone up and down the mountain four times before we boarded our ferry that night, spending too much precious time backtracking to be happily efficient.
My suggestion? Spend the night in the secluded wonder of Lanai. Really see the stars and hear the sounds of silence. Take your time and don’t worry about the weather which is sure to throw you off anyway. I enjoyed myself here even more when there was no hurry to catch a ferry and no penalty for missing the shuttle (the rental car agency will charge you $10/pp if you miss their cut-off time for returning the Jeep.)