Until now this had been the island that tourism had shunned.
No luaus, no condos, no discos, no puka bead salesmen.
No fast-food joints or stretch limousines. Just sweet privacy, a stunning beach and a single 10-room hotel.
Although the population is beginning to stir, locals still don’t bother locking their doors and motorists leave keys dangling in the ignition. Store owners go home at noon for a siesta, and dawns are greeted by the crowing of roosters.
No one can recall a major crime on Lanai--and a couple of cars at an intersection is considered a traffic snarl.
It’s why Wolfgang Windolf dropped off the world with his girlfriend the other day. The German vacationer was stressed out by Waikiki. On the island of Lanai he discovered the gentleness he’d been seeking, an island that’s asleep by 9 p.m. Weekdays and weekends.
Generally speaking, this is how it’d been--until recently.
Lanai was the choice of that rare vacationer who sought nothing more than a beach and a book.
Now with its discovery by the developer, a requiem is being held for the old life, the quiet, serene life that’s been the island’s hallmark.
The voice of the bulldozer echoes across Lanai and soon the peacefulness known for an eternity will be replaced by prosperity. With two major hotels on the rise, can Hertz and Avis be far behind? Not to mention the tour operator, the golf pro and the dive-shop owner. Already, tons of freight is arriving at the harbor.
Discovered first by sailors and later by missionaries, Lanai, unlike neighboring Maui, has continued to slumber. The Mormons sailed off in the 1800s after failing to establish a colony. Disappointed, the Chinese disappeared when sugar didn’t pay.
In 1921 the island was bought by Jim Dole, who hired Drydock Smith of Honolulu to dredge up a harbor. Following this, pineapple was shipped to Oahu and visitors were ferried from Maui.
Until Dole came along, though, all that prospered were mosquitoes. Dole got out his flit-gun, blew away the insects, imported laborers and planted his pineapples.
With 18,000 acres under cultivation today, Lanai is known as the “Home of the World’s Largest Pineapple Plantation,” providing hundreds of jobs for both the island-born and the immigrant. During summertime, harvesters take to the fields round-the-clock, 24 hours a day.
Generally tourists still overfly Lanai, while the few who stop often complain of boredom. One can rent a Jeep and explore Shipwreck Beach or drive up 3,370-foot Mt. Lonaihale to take in the sight of the neighbor islands.
After this there is little to do but zero in on the bar at the 10-room Hotel Lanai and chug-a-lug a Dole Daquiri or a Lanai-Tai, a combination of pineapple and rum that’s guaranteed to decelerate one’s pace and slow down the heartbeat.
Now with tourism being introduced, Lanai’s nine-hole golf course will be expanded to 18 holes. Bus companies have their eye on the island, and field workers are looking anxiously to jobs in the hotels.
Castle & Cooke, owner of Dole, will operate the new hotels with Rockresorts--the 250-room Manele Bay Hotel on the ocean and the 102-room Victorian-style Lodge at Koele with its collection of Pacific art, heavy timbers, beamed ceilings and stone fireplaces. Rising on 21 acres in Lanai’s highlands, the Lodge at Koele will send guests off to pick fruit on the hotel grounds.
Low-rise and low-key, the Lodge gives promise of providing the ambiance of a plantation owner’s palatial home. From rockers on the veranda, guests will take in sunsets and focus their attention on rows of pineapple sloping away to the Pacific Ocean.
Tea will be served in the afternoon and music recitals are being scheduled. Other guests will study artifacts gracing a wall in the trophy room and nature walks will lead to macadamia forests and orchid gardens.
Old Lanai will be but a memory.
Besides golf, guests can choose from tennis, croquet and lawn bowling. Or else go off in search of chukar, partridge, quail, wild goat, axis deer, sheep and wild turkeys.
Down at Hulopoe Beach sun worshipers from the Manele Bay Hotel will soak up rays on the white-sand beach that’s framed by lava cliffs; from villas and suites, they’ll take in Lanai’s stunning sunsets.
As a hideaway for honeymooners the Manele Bay Hotel will provide dancing on a terrace facing a fountain and a reflecting pool; a man-made waterfall is in the works along with ponds, potted plants and palms. By day guests will snorkel, do day-trips by boat and scuba dive in the clearest waters in Hawaii.
As the last holdout in Hawaii’s string of islands, Lanai had until recently generated little change.
Without so much as a moped to disturb the peace, the island remained detached from the 20th Century, save for a few cars and Jeep rentals and the little Hotel Lanai. I recall on my last visit taking off in a Datsun with cannibalized parts and barely making it back to Oshiro’s, the entrepreneur who keeps the fleet running.
With more than 90% of the island owned by Castle & Cooke, Lanai remains a company plantation. And because there’s little other than pineapple to support the population, youngsters take their leave for Oahu and the mainland after finishing school. Now there’s hope in the hearts of parents that their progeny will return for jobs in the new hotels.
Lanai City, which is little more than a scattering of shops and a bakery, rises on a hillside surrounded by Norfolk pine.
Jerry Tanigawa, who operates a grocery-cafe in the center of town, is looking forward to the introduction of tourism on Lanai (“People will be spending more money.”), but not everyone is as enthused.
Postmaster Cecil Hera wishes that the old life could continue, describing tourism as “a trade-out, a sacrifice for money.”
With a population that for years has remained a steady 2,200, give or take a few islanders, a five-fold increase is anticipated within the next decade.
Outside of a few home sites, Castle & Cooke holds the mortgage on nearly the entire island. As a result, the value of private plots is rising. One woman turned down $300,000 recently for her clapboard shack, gambling that land prices will continue to rise.
After being divorced from developers for so many years, Lanai has lost none of its aloha spirit. Neighbor knows neighbor. Indeed, nearly everyone knows everyone else on the island. Particularly familiar are the shopkeepers and public service employees. At last count the lineup on Lanai included three stores, a park, one school, a couple of service stations and a small airport.
With tourism getting a foothold, new homes are being built and more than one celebrity is considering settling on the island.
As a good-will gesture, Castle & Cooke donated a $3-million recreation center to Lanai, complete with a swimming pool, gymnasium, tennis courts and a football field.
Still, on a recent Sunday the only action on the island was at the nine-hole golf course where Dodge Baybayan and several of his cronies sat drinking beer in the shade of a ramshackle clubhouse.
The greens fees are $5, Baybayan said. Winking slyly, he admitted: “But nobody pays.”
Baybayan confessed that the money goes instead into a kitty to keep the refrigerator filled with beer.
Meanwhile, back at Jerry Tanigawa’s S&J; Store, locals were filling up on $1 hamburgers, $2 bowls of saimin, beef stew ($3.50) and 50-cent cups of coffee. Next door, others were lining up at Dahang’s pastry shop.
Until the new Rockresort hotels open, though, Lanai’s finest meals are turned out at the 1920s Hotel Lanai, whose menu lists Korean short ribs, New York steaks, beef teriyaki, shrimp tempura and mahi-mahi. Appetizers consist of a single choice: French fries dipped in catsup. It’s that sort of place.
The hotel is reminiscent of Mary Pritchard’s old Rainmaker Inn in Pago Pago. Rooms are simple. No TV, no telephones. But what difference does it make? The beds are comfortable, the showers work, the staff is all smiles and new draperies keep out the morning sunshine when a factory whistle screeches at 5 a.m. to rouse pineapple workers throughout the little town.
Rates, including tax, figure out to about $55 a night. But hurry. Before long the old Lanai will be but a memory. Already the theater has closed.
Locals stopped attending the movies after TV reached the island. Even in the old days the manager refused to open the box office without an audience of at least nine moviegoers. Once plantation boss Jim Parker got a frantic call from his daughter. “Daddy, hurry down to the theater. The owner won’t show the picture till one more person shows up!”
Parker says: “It’s been fun living on Lanai and being sheltered from the real world.”
For further information, contact the Hawaii Visitors Bureau, 3440 Wilshire Blvd., Room 502, Los Angeles 90010, (213) 385-5301.