Saturday, 31 October 2015

Lost on Lanai

It may only be ~10 km from Maui, but I've never been to the neighbouring isle of Lanai. Never sure why it was worth going.

About 4 months ago, I heard through the news sites that Lanai was doing a special event this year -- Lanai 5th Fridays -- with a good value package deal including ferry over and back, transport on the island and a town party, every month that had 5 Fridays. Turns out one was October, so for a change, we changed islands.

It starts of course with a ferry ride to the island from Lahaina.
Bye bye harbour 
The expanses of Lahaina 
The towers of Ka'anapali, explaining why we don't stay there
On our way across, we kinda hoped to see whales, but alas, there were none (only 2 whale sightings so far this season). We thought we saw Oahu, but it was probably just the north end of Moloka'i.

It's hard to believe anyone grew anything on Lanai as you approach it. Thousands of acres of desolate scrub is all you see.
The dry side 
There's a road, sort of, leading to a beach. 
Scrub from the boat 
As you get closer to the harbour, sea cliffs start to appear.

The first of the cliffs
Sea stack in the distance 
Walls of lava 
Looks like a fault to me 
Probably 300' tall
The harbour is nicer than Lahaina's, and a nice sheltered cove. On the other side of the cove is the island's main public beach, Hulopoe. We got there early enough to go snorkel & swim for a while. The snorkelling was pretty good, with lots of fish and good viz, though we were there mid day (not a good time of the day to snorkel) and we brought masks and snorkels but not fins. It was similar to both Ahihi Bay here for fish types, numbers and water clarity, but also like Maluaka, which has reef straight out from the beach.
The beach, and the resort. Yet another crowded Maui beach
The other end
See the tide pools? There are rocks and tide pools!
Cool puddles full of stuff 
Mini waterfalls 
Crabs & fish & sea cucumbers 
Maybe even a fish pond
We walked out to the point and got good views of that sea stack.
A rough cove 
Kind of an interesting if inaccessible beach 
The stack 
A lava arch 
Looking back at the resort
So that resort -- the Four Seasons -- is closed for renovations until 2016. That's one of exactly 2 hotels on the island. The other is up at Lanai City, 12 miles (and a $20 per person shuttle) from the beach, and it's only 25-odd rooms.

See, if you don't know, this is virtually a private island (98% owned by one guy). It stated that way in the 1870's when it slowly acquired into one big private ranch. Then in 1922, Jim Dole (of pineapple fame) bought it and turned it into the world's biggest pineapple farm. When Dole was sold to Castle & Cooke in 1985, ownership transferred to them and David Murdoch (a real estate mogul). C&C shut down the pineapple farming in 1989, building the resort first. In 2012, the island was sold (for a rumoured $600 million) to Larry Ellison, founder of Sun Microsystems. Larry owns the place, lock, stock and houses -- though he doesn't own the island's gas station.

At 4:30, we picked up a shuttle to Lanai City, a 3,200 person company town and former plantation headquarters -- and the only town on the island. To get there, we drove up the side of the island opposite Maui. Turns out, there's a plateau at 1,200 feet ASL and the centre section of the island is almost flat. The towns in the middle.

The 5th Friday even was centred on Dole Park, a big rectangle fronted by 2 main drags where EVERY BUSINESS IN TOWN is located. And that's not many; 4 restaurants, a coffeeshop, 2 art galleries, 2 grocery stores, a laundromat, some banks, an old jail...
Before checking out the activities, we wandered a bit.
A long way to LA 
Company housing 
Off to the flatness of the centre
We were impressed by the number of rec activities there were. A gym, outdoor basketball, volleyball & tennis courts, a pool, a football field, a ball diamond, big playgrounds, the works. Makes sense, there's NOTHING TO DO ON THE ISLAND. 

Everyone, and I mean everyone, works for either Mr. Ellison (directly or indirectly) or the Government. With virtually the only places for visitors to stay closed, that's kinda limiting in the jobs department. So the 5th Friday idea was a way to bring day visitors to the island, which doesn't happen often.

So we visited every business at least twice. We were:

  • Blown by the hurt me pricing in grocery stores. $9 US a case of Coke. $7 a loaf of bread. Wine that is $5 on Maui is $9 on Lanai. Whole chicken is $2.50/lb on Maui, $3.75 on Lanai.
  • Blown by the reasonable prices in the restaurants. We enjoyed the crab cakes and coconut shrimp in Pele's in particular.
  • Struggling as to how anyone can eke out a living on the island
  • Impressed by how friendly every local was. It's like they needed someone from the outside to talk to.
  • Surprised at the complete lack of views of anything from within the city. No ocean views at all, and no mountain views, either.
We learned that one thing that makes it possible to live here is hunting. Nothing is native; everything was introduced hundreds of years ago as gifts for the king. There are axis deer, mouflon sheep and pheasants. And people hunt to supplement their diets.
238 of the 3,100 people who live here hunted sheep
It's a small town. We made the rounds and kept seeing the same folks over and over again. You could do a lap of Dole Park, see everything, visit every business, get stamps from each for a draw, and do so in under an hour. Some businesses had bands out front, and the local dance schools had kids doing hula, tiki and other dances.
The little ones 
The stylish ones 
The hip shakers
The night ferry ride home was... dark.
The boat's rooster tail
We had fun going over to the island. There's ways they could improve the event; a central "bandstand" with continuous entertainment, listing what times things were happening and sticking to it (we missed the 7 PM hula show that started at 6:45), more outside temporary seating near the restaurants, maybe a beer tent run by the restaurants jointly. The food was generally very good wherever we ate.

The island desperately needs:
  • An ice cream shop that also sells shave ice -- and maybe candy, too. You could make it handmade sorbets and ice cream because getting frozen things to the island is a pain
  • A bakery. Apparently, there used to be one but it became a full-fledged restaurant. A sandwich shop that sells bread (like Canmore's JK) could work
Again, it stuck as a tough place to make a living, and possibly a tough place to live -- unless you are a hermit. Let's see what happens after Mr. Ellison is done improving the island.

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