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Paradise Island

Lanai offers a Hawaiian experience replete with luxury resorts and unspoiled vistas
Harvey Steiman
From the Print Edition:
Dennis Hopper, Jan/Feb 01

(continued from page 1)

My room at the Lodge, with its four-poster beds and padded window seats, was reminiscent of a mainland bed-and-breakfast rather than a typical Hawaiian resort. Walking sticks in the closets invited me to trek country lanes.

The Formal Dining Room at the Lodge, while lacking the tropical ambience of its sister at Manele, makes up for it with the gracious manor-house style of the resort and a menu that takes advantage of the cool weather. Chef Andrew Manion-Copley offers wonderful soups, appetizers such as pineapple bran-smoked salmon on potato salad, and kiawe-roasted venison made from the local axis deer. The Terrace Restaurant off the hotel's high-ceilinged lobby has more casual food, including terrific pasta dishes and salads, and a wine selection that veers toward reds.

Cigar smoking is allowed in the English game room-themed Trophy Room at Koele (cigars can be purchased at the lodge's Tea Room bar). But none of the resorts' restaurants, limited as they are by Hawaii's California-style smoking laws, allow smoking. Fortunately, there are plenty of places in the beautiful outdoors for that.

My previous impression of Lanai was limited to the comforts of the resorts, so it was a revelation to discover the range of activities possible. A free shuttle bus runs between the resorts, but if you want to check out the rest of the island, the only way is by four-wheel-drive vehicles, available for rent in Lanai City.

A short walk from the Lodge, Lanai City was a company town of some 2,500 during the plantation years; it now comprises the hotel workers' residences, a general store and a few casual restaurants arrayed around a large central square. It also has the casual 11-room Hotel Lanai, a well-preserved 1923-vintage inn and Lanai's only other lodgings. Other than the resorts' restaurants, Lanai City has the few remaining dining options, including Henry Clay's Rotisserie, with its menu of Cajun specialties and grilled meats, and Blue Ginger, an old-fashioned Hawaiian coffee shop with home-style plate lunches and noodle dishes.

Lanai has more than 100 miles of roads, most unpaved, well worth exploring. One bumpy, rutted track leads across the Garden of the Gods, rocky desert-like terrain with deep red soil and well-worn rocks that Hawaiians and other visitors have stacked into hundreds of finely balanced cairns. The view from the high bluff encompasses towering west Maui to the east, the long stretch of Molakai to the north, and, way off on the horizon to the west, the island of Oahu.

I rented a vehicle and rattled over the roads to build my own stone tower in the Garden of the Gods and admire the scenery. My map indicated that Polihua Beach, an isolated extra-wide stretch of sand more than a mile long, was just down the slope, at the end of the road. It's a road I would not want to traverse in the rain, and thankfully it's on the dry side of the island. After the bouncy ride, the windy beach turned out to be picturesque. It was deserted except for a few folks drinking beer next to a row of fishing poles stuck in the sand. It is ideal for Frisbee throwing but not for swimming. A strong current along the shore is known as the Tahiti Express because if you get in it, next stop is Tahiti.

Down the mountain to the east, a narrow paved road weaves down to Shipwreck Beach, an eight-mile-long strip of sand with an imposing view of west Maui and a sunken Second World War supply ship that remains stranded on the reef. It's a great place for whale watching in the winter, and when the skies are clear, a restful spot for a picnic lunch. From the main road another track branches away into an ancient crater, where one can find well preserved petroglyphs, and another goes up along the ridgeline for spectacular views of Maui.

Driving around the island wasn't the only revelation about Lanai. Hulopoe offers some of the best and most convenient fish viewing in Hawaii, either from behind a diving mask or in the lava-bed tide pools at the edge. Other great snorkeling spots are accessible only by water. At one, I snorkeled with hundreds of turtles over a reef in 20 feet of water, which felt like flying with the turtles. At another spot, reached on the beautifully outfitted sailing catamaran of Trilogy Cruises, my guide surfaced with a doe-brown, silken-textured octopus wrapped around his shoulder and arm. The range of colorful reef and the variety of fish were eye-boggling.

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