In the four years since my last trip to Hawaii, the islands have been recovering from the severe hit they took following the 2008 financial crisis. Lately, however, there have been numerous changes of hotel ownership, ambitious refurbishments and the emergence of interesting new properties. Most dramatic was the news that Oracle’s Larry Ellison had purchased Lanai from its previous owner, David Murdock (who owned 98 percent of the island, the remainder being state land).
Ellison intends to make Lanai self-sustaining with a desalinization plant, an independent energy supply and an expanded range of crops. He also plans to lengthen the airport runway and to completely refurbish the two Four Seasons resorts, Manele Bay and The Lodge at Koele. I wish him well, because, for me, Lanai has long represented the Hawaiian idyll. The least developed of the major islands, it is 18 miles long, with a population of just over 3,000. The land rises to the 3,366-foot summit of Mount Lanaihale, and the rich volcanic soil is ideal for agriculture, particularly the cultivation of pineapples. Much of the island is accessible only by dirt road, and Lanai City has no malls or even traffic lights. This is where the Hawaiians themselves come in search of tranquility and relaxation.
When making reservations, I had anticipated that most of the work at Manele Bay would be complete. Alas, permit problems had delayed the debut of the new guest rooms to late summer 2014. However, I arrived to find that most of the public areas had been finished. The spectacular main hall is now a soaring space with an intricately coffered ceiling, paneled walls executed in warm koa wood, and seating sections furnished with white chairs and couches. Large windows give uninterrupted views of Hulopo’e Bay and the ocean beyond. Nearby, the ONE FORTY restaurant has been redone in similar style. Here, I thoroughly enjoyed my poke (pronounced POH-kay), a dish of chopped pickled tuna — almost always ahi — with sriracha aioli, followed by sautéed ono, a mackerel-like fish, with a carrot-chipotle purée and mango-lime butter. The other major restaurant, Nobu Lanai, was still undergoing renovation at the time of our visit.
Should you wish to stay at Manele Bay in the near future, you will find the existing accommodations entirely satisfactory. However, I was able to tour one of the new rooms, and the difference is dramatic. In the updated design, wood floors and dark wood accents are complemented by grass cloth on the walls; baths have been faced in white marble; and much of the decoration now comprises original works by Hawaiian artists. The total room count at Manele will be reduced from 236 to 219 to create more suites, while solid balustrades are being replaced by glass to promote a feeling of connection to the grounds.
AT A GLANCE
LIKE: Beautifully landscaped gardens that add considerably to the pleasure of a stay.
DISLIKE: Although a minor inconvenience, the beach is a short walk from the pool area.
GOOD TO KNOW: A regular shuttle runs to Lanai’s only town, which has many one-off shops, galleries and restaurants.
Four Seasons Manele Bay 94 Ocean Terrace Room, $829; Oceanfront Terrace Room, $1,029; Ocean View Suite, $2,829. One Manele Bay Road, Lanai City. Tel. (808) 565-2000.
Although Manele’s sister resort, The Lodge at Koele, is only a 20-minute drive away, it inhabits another world. At its elevation of 1,600 feet, the climate is completely different. We saw this firsthand the day we transferred: Sunshine bronzed the sunbathers at Manele, while up at Koele, we found ourselves in cool mist and rain.
The lodge’s 102 rooms are not slated for makeovers until next year, and at present, they are old-fashioned but charming, with striped carpets, light yellow walls and floral curtains. Our smallish tiled bath provided a combined shower and tub and seemed a little dated. It is impossible not to be captivated, however, by the scale of the resort’s Great Hall, with its high ceilings and towering stone fireplaces. A triumph of lodge style, it provides warmth and comfort, as well as grandeur. Photographs of workers on the former ranch stand atop both mantels, and similarly evocative pictures, such as those depicting the feathered capes worn by the Hawaiian kings, adorn the walls of the nearby corridors. Adjoining the hall are a small library, a games room with a billiards table, and The Terrace restaurant. The latter is a splendid spot for casual meals, and I can thoroughly recommend the venison chili as an effective antidote to a foggy day. In The Dining Room, chef Eren Guryel focuses on local and sustainable ingredients. My main course of onaga (Hawaiian snapper) on a bed of black rice with poached fennel and caviar sauce was one of the culinary highlights of my trip.
Golf is the big draw at Koele. “The Experience” course, with its glorious views of mountains and ocean, is currently closed for renovation, but is scheduled to reopen at year’s end. Meanwhile, guests are welcome to play at Manele. Should you feel that you’ve had enough mountain air, a regular shuttle can also whisk you off to Manele for a day at the beach.
AT A GLANCE
LIKE: Despite its grand proportions, the Great Hall offers many areas for intimate gatherings or just reading a book.
DISLIKE: A rather lackluster pool
GOOD TO KNOW: As at Manele, guests can use a shuttle service and avail themselves of facilities at both resorts.
Four Seasons The Lodge at Koele 93 Deluxe Room, $439; Premier Room, $639; Suite, from $1,089. One Keomoku Highway, Lanai City. Tel. (808) 565-4000.
The best way to go between Lanai and Maui is by ferry. Having rented a car on Maui’s west coast, we headed for the north coast, with its undeveloped beaches and tranquil countryside dotted with farms and ranches on the slopes up to the peak at Haleakala. This area had appealed to me on previous trips, but there was nowhere of the required standard in which to stay. News of the 24-room Lumeria Maui piqued my interest, however. Located midway between the arty coastal town of Paia and the agricultural village of Makawao, Lumeria began as a retirement home and was repurposed in 2011 by Los Angeles-based architect Xorin Balbes as a haven for those seeking relaxation, wellness programs and yoga. It is certainly peaceful, with a main U-shaped building surrounded by six acres of gardens and meticulously tended lawns. The rooms proved to be small but stylish, with Asian-inspired interior design and compact baths equipped with walk-in showers. Although ample attention had been given to the aesthetics, little seemed to have been accorded the soundproofing. Outside, the decks were continuous and hence offered no privacy.
Perhaps these drawbacks did not bother fellow guests, most of whom spent their time in yoga classes and meditation sessions. Lumeria also offers a full range of off-site activities, including hiking and horseback riding. In the casual dining room, the food is well-prepared, but the options at dinner are limited and you must reserve 24 hours in advance. Although I am still drawn to this part of Maui, I fear that Lumeria is not the Upcountry option I was hoping for.
AT A GLANCE
LIKE: Prevailing sense of tranquility.
DISLIKE: Because of the layout, there is little sense of privacy.
GOOD TO KNOW: The resort is an easy drive to good beaches and nearby towns, such Paia and Makawao.
Lumeria Maui 86 Superior Ocean View Room, $349; Suite, from $449. 1813 Baldwin Avenue, Makawao. Tel. (808) 579-8877.
The Hana area of eastern Maui also exerts a hold on my imagination, as it, too, is a “real” place that has not been overwhelmed by modernity. Although you can fly, we opted for the far more rewarding drive. The road from Paia to Hana is quite an experience, and I was happy to find that the entire two-lane highway had recently been repaved. The 42 miles entail innumerable hairpin turns and bridges, and can easily take two to three hours, depending on how often you stop to gaze at waterfalls or to admire the rain forest scenery.
On our arrival at Travaasa Hana (formerly the Hotel Hana Maui), we were warmly greeted by several staff members who claimed to recall us from a previous visit. Among the 74 accommodations, my favorites are the Sea Ranch Cottages, arrayed on a gentle slope leading down to the sea. The Garden View Suites are large and airy, but the vistas are not as compelling. (For family groups, the Waikoloa Suites provide two bedrooms, three baths and full kitchens.) We found our one-bedroom suite to be much as we remembered, with a spacious living room and bedroom, both with vaulted ceilings; a large bath; and an expansive lanai with a hot tub overlooking the Pacific. The décor is dated — especially in the tiled baths — but the overall feel is one of genuine, unpretentious comfort.
At the end of the year, renovations will commence on the Sea Ranch Cottages. I was able to see a model room, which contained sleeker furniture, more contemporary lighting fixtures, bright accent colors, modern baths, refurbished decks and outdoor showers. In the main building, some minor but effective changes have been made, notably a new concierge area that provides a comfortable environment for consultations with the ever-helpful staff. The Ka’uiki restaurant was as good as before, with first-class sashimi and delicious main courses such as tender Maui beef tenderloin. The resort provides a full schedule of activities, including yoga, horseback riding and more, while a fine spa offers an array of treatments. I trust that the changes in the Sea Ranch Cottages will preserve the essence of this special place.
AT A GLANCE
LIKE: The relaxed, gracious and peaceful atmosphere — a real taste of old Hawaii.
DISLIKE: The hotel is on the water, but the beautiful beach is a short drive away (shuttle available).
GOOD TO KNOW: The spa is regarded as one of the best in Hawaii; the flight from Kahului to Hana is free with stays of three nights or longer.
Travaasa Hana 94 Sea Ranch Cottage “a la carte,” from $400; all-inclusive, from $925. 5031 Hana Highway, Hana. Tel. (808) 359-2401.