Will Lanai In Hawaii Be Home To A Real ‘Hunger Games’?

When you think of Hawaii, the last island that would most likely come to mind is Lanai. Well, to be honest, it’s a toss-up between Lanai and Molokai, both of which are sister islands to the more popular Maui. Molokai is known for its coconut grove—and that’s about it. The biggest tourist attraction is riding a mule down to Kalaupapa National Historical Park, and this is not an attempt to be ironic. But, unlike Lanai, Molokai is more or less self-sustaining, and it’s still a popular destination for off-the-radar junkies, not to mention there’s a jackpot of royal Hawaiian history that locals love. Molokai is not going to change, but Lanai can go down in history as the island that completely transformed in a matter of years.

Lanai is the sixth largest Hawaiian island, which means it’s one of the smallest. There are only 3,000 locals here, most of whom know each other. When I visited, locals had warned me pre-arrival to stay no more than one night, adamant there’s not much to do there. And they were right. The best highlight attraction was Garden of the Gods, an area of million-year-old rock formations and boulders along a cliff where, in the distance, you can see some of the other islands. Around dusk, the sun hits the soil and rocks in such a way that it presents a cool hybrid of colors.

Over on the other side of the island, Shark’s Bay (or Shark’s Cove) is another natural phenomenon that should be the set of a movie (and it was, if you ever saw the last reincarnation of The Tempest with Helen Mirren). The biggest thrill of this natural landscape is the myth that goes with it. According to legend, a Hawaiian princess had a jealous boyfriend who would lock her in a cave while he was away. One fatal day, she drowned during an abnormal high tide. Grieved, he buried her in the natural rock formation as a tribute in what is now known as Sweetheart Rock, and apparently her remains are still there today.


And there you have it: that’s Lanai in a (coco)nutshell. So why do visitors come to this 140-square mile island with only 30 miles of paved roads, lack of traffic lights and corporations, and no nightlife or surf spots?

The most obvious answer is the two Four Seasons properties—The Lodge at Koele and Manela Bay—that truly offer that "destination resort" experience. I stayed at the Four Seasons Lanai at Manela Bay, a 236-room property that—in 2007—took over that hotel where Bill Gates got married in 1992. Here, there’s lush tropical gardens within the resort, a terrific Nobu restaurant that has insane views of the bay, and a stretch of sandy white beach that never gets crowded. I spent some time sitting at the Four Seasons al fresco bar and chatting up the ex-pat bartender who couldn’t give me more than two reasons one should visit the island.

"Why are you here?" I asked him. He pointed out the isolation, the fact no one could find you, and perhaps strongly suggested (or, maybe, in my wild interpretation) he was running from the law. Unlikely, but Lanai is the type of place you have to create all sorts of crazy stories in your head in order to have a little fun.

And, to a degree, the bartender is right. Lanai is the type of place one would go to simply feel removed from the rest of the world. The properties are a proper getaway for celebrities who truly want to trek off the beaten path (there’s no paparazzi in Lanai). It’s so off the radar that there were rumors Tom Cruise was considering buying an estate when he visited the island for vacation earlier this year. Oh, you didn’t hear? It’s because nothing really leaves the island.


The biggest headlining news that actually went international was that the island was bought by billionaire Oracle founder Larry Ellison. Lanai has always been privately owned, and as the “owner” of the island, Larry is the head honcho. Locals see him as a mayor, so to speak. Since he came on board late last year, he’s created new jobs, fixed up some messy buildings, and added benches to Dole Square Park. He also wants to make the island self-sufficient by turning to organic farming. For $500 million dollars (the price tag of the island), Larry calls the shots. It’s like a fantasy video game – only real.

So, what exactly is in store for Lanai, the island that time forgot or, more appropriately, the island no one will remember if Larry doesn’t completely give it a major overhaul? How far can he take his ownership? At press time, Lanai had the lowest unemployment rate among the islands, and there was a two-percent decline in visitors. It’s a terrific island to visit but there could be massive changes as Lanai is practically within Larry’s fate. Depending on his motives and vision, here’s a number of things that could be the potential outcome of Lanai (all completely theorized while on the island, natch), which could change it forever.

Lanai Could Become Home to a Real Hunger Games. Back in the day (thousands of years ago), Lanai was actually a prison island. Women from Maui were dropped off here and had to fend for themselves. If history repeats itself, Lanai could be in trouble (or, we could see a great deal of entertainment). Currently, hunting is legal in Lanai, and spear diving/fishing is a popular activity amongst locals. An actual Hunger Games scenario is not unlikely if Larry neglects the locals and fails to give proper (and more) jobs.

Oprah Could Take Over Lanai. Last year, Oprah made a surprise, quiet visit to the island, shacking up at Four Seasons Lodge at Koele and visiting some of the island highlights. She was also in a bunch of meetings. Could she possibly be the new caretaker of the island should Larry call it quits? Can we expect her to dole out chunks of land the way she gives out cars to audience members?

Lanai Becomes Four Seasons Island. Four Seasons really is the main reason visitors come to the island for, and they currently manage two of the three hotels on the island. The other, Lanai Hotel, is a small, historic hotel in town, and the first hotel on the island, but doesn’t have as much game as FS. What will happen if visitors continue to flock to Four Seasons, and Lanai Hotel gets no love? It means Four Seasons may take over the third property and do what Disneyland did for Orlando. Hey, this is actually not a bad thing. Cocktails on the island, however, will average $16. BYOB.

Lanai Could Become the Next Oahu. This is very unlikely but what if Larry passes his island over to his two children in their thirties, one of whom is David Ellison, an easy-on-the-eyes, American film producer and CEO of Skydance Productions (he produced Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol)? Their imaginations could go wild and, seeing the lack of "party" on the island, they would arrange booze cruises, Coachella-type festivals, and even some pop-up hotels where they fly in world renowned DJs like Calvin Harris to perform beachside. Again, not a bad thing.

Lanai Remains As… Lanai. Perhaps the most plausible (and yet, unmoving) outcome is that Lanai doesn’t change at all. A few more locals get more jobs, Four Seasons continues to brim at occupancy, and the island continues to keep its "Aloha" spirit with the little it offers. Organic farming is implemented and, well, that’s about as much that happens. At least it will give visitors a little more room for imagination.


[Related: BlackBook Honolulu Guide; More by Jimmy Im; Follow Jimmy on Twitter]

Don Draper’s Beach Read: Dante’s ‘Inferno’

Season six of Mad Men is currently filming, and at least a few of the cast gets to "work" on the beaches of Hawaii, which I can’t say is a tough break at all. Thanks to our pals over at The Frisky, we got a peek at Jon Hamm and Jessica Pare lounging in some classic swimwear on those white-sand beaches. You know, just relaxin’ and doin’ ’60s beachy things like reading The Inferno, because that’s definitely what people read on vacation back then. Ahh, I miss the olden days when people weren’t so stupid and definitely didn’t read smut like, say, Valley of the Dolls. (C’mon, you think Don Draper is too good for Jacqueline Susann?)

There’s at least one burning question that Mad Men fans might be asking: what’s up with that scrape on Don’s knee? I can only hope that season six involves the return of Brian Batt’s Salvatore Romano, who might finally get the BJ from Don Draper that he’s always dreamed of. And let’s just be thankful for the proof that literally no one—not even Jon Hamm—can possibly look attractive and less awkward while trying to comfortably sit in a chaise lounge. (But goddamn: those thighs!)

Meanwhile, Jessica Pare and the Mad Men crew would like to remind you that she has breasts:

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Industry Insiders: Joe Poulin, President & CEO of Luxury Retreats

Originally operated out of founder Joe Poulin’s bedroom in 1999, Luxury Retreats has become one of the largest villa rental specialists in the world. The secret: “We only do what’s in the best interest of our guests,” Poulin says. “That is how you build a consumer brand, by listening to your guests and clients and responding with the right product experience.” Such experiences include staying in villas on the shores of Hawaii, cliffs of Santorini, and coconut plantations in Thailand.

Born in Montreal and an entrepreneur since the age of 11, Poulin manages his 150 employees and his properties intensely but fairly, expecting the best from his staff, and testing every villa under a more than 700-point inspection that it must pass – no exceptions. “The integrity of our name is our single greatest asset,” Poulin says. “Just be honest and transparent; you can never go wrong.”

Stewed, Screwed, & Tattooed: Sailor Jerry’s Hawaiian Legacy

Astronomer Dr. Carl Sagan is credited with saying, “You have to know the past in order to understand the present.” The people behind Sailor Jerry have clearly taken the advice to heart, modeling the iconic brand’s 100th-birthday Hawaiian celebration after the idea. Sailor Jerry is backed by people who love the rum, but who also love its storied past, taking great measures to introduce the continental US to the life and times of Sailor Jerry and the huge cultural impact wartime-era Hawaii had on the world. It’s been fascinating to visit the Tiki Supper Clubs and see classic sailor ink (both of which are experiencing major comebacks in pop culture), and it’s surprising how closely they’re related. Homeward Bound: The Life and Times of Hori Smoku Sailor Jerry, does a fantastic job outlining this connection, and recalls the era and artistic legacy of Norman “Sailor Jerry” Collins, the father of the old-school tattoo.

The book is released today, in honor of what would have been his 100th birthday. The coffee table book is an accompaniment to the critically acclaimed cult film Hori Smoku Sailor Jerry, by the talented and whip-smart Erich Weiss (who is also on this trip, acting as an unofficial oracle for all things Sailor Jerry). The book contains 128 pages of unseen photos, ephemera, and essays collected during the making of the film, and explains the way tiki and tattoo culture made it big around the world.


Most interesting to me was the amazing collection of photographs of Pacific sailors lining up to get “Stewed, Screwed, and Tattooed” at Sailor Jerry’s shop at 1033 Smith Street in Oahu’s Chinatown. The images characterize the mentality of the time — miles from home and ready for war, fueled by devil-may-care attitudes and a lust for life, the sailors found solace in the bars and tattoo shops in this raucous port-side neighborhood. It was the place to go to meet prostitutes, get drunk, get their customary tattoos, and “sow their oats” during the daylight hours before lights out on the island.

Tonight we’ll be celebrating what would have been Sailor Jerry’s 100th birthday with a party and performance by the Black Lips in Sailor Jerry’s old stomping ground, a neighborhood that’s by all accounts still bustling. Nothing, though, compared to the vintage images from the film below.

Aloha from Oahu’s Pink Palace of the Pacific

A girl sitting next to me on my flight to Hawaii was returning home to Oahu. She was, I learned, originally from Jersey, but had taken a vacation to Waikiki four years ago and elected not to get on the return flight home. It was love at first sight, and she’s been living on the islands ever since. As soon as I deplaned, I understood why. Though I’ve only been here for a few hours, there’s something very special about Hawaii. Every inch of the island looks like it was carefully surveyed by someone with a keen eye for detail. My hotel, The Royal Hawaiian — known as the Pink Palace of the Pacific — was one of the very first hotels established in Waikiki, and seems to embody this spirit of hospitality and respect for tradition. And then some.

The Royal Hawaiian Hotel is one of the flagship hotels for Hawaiian tourism, opening in 1927 after the government’s “Waikiki Reclamation Commission” began widening streets, building bridges, and draining the island’s duck ponds, rice paddies, and taro patches in 1907. Development accelerated after World War I, and $4 million dollars went into the hotel, a looming, pink, Moorish-style destination situated on 15 acres of beach. Legend has it the opening ceremony on February 1st, 1927, was lifted straight out of a Frank Sinatra flick, with supper-club style dinner and dancing, concerts, and a beauty pageant. During World War II, the Royal Hawaiian Hotel became home to sailors returning from war patrols.

Hotel Overview image

1. Tradition There’s so much detail in and around The Royal Hawaiian. All guests receive a piece of banana bread on their bed as part of their traditional welcome roll-out, which also includes a flowery, pun-filled lei. There’s also the weekly “Aha Aina” celebration, which pays homage to Helumoa, the legendary playground of Hawaiian royalty. It kicks off with the sound of a pu (conch shell) to announce the feast as storytellers explain the significance of lei-giving and taro, followed by a dramatic performance of hula and song.

2. Swim with Dolphins Feed and touch dolphins up close. Enough said.

3. Water Sports Both the Royal Pool and Helumoa Playground, which features two freshwater swimming pools, are steps away from the beach — and both are visible from my balcony. Fun Fact: the Helumoa name came from a giant rooster named Ka’auhelemoa, said to have scratched the ground at the feet of King Kakuhiewa in the 16th century. Kakuhiewa, taking this to be a sign from the gods, planted 10,000 coconut trees in honor of the occurrence—and many of these trees’ descendants still survive in the area. A guest tipped me off to the The Royal Hawaiian Beach Boy Program, in which the “Beach Boys” teach surfing, paddleboard, and canoe.

4. Eating and Drinking Open-air dining, snacking in a beach front cabana, putting on the ritz for a fancy/casual evening: anything goes when it comes to food and drink in the hotel. The pretty and traditional Mai Tai Bar boasts major mixology masters and emphasizes organic ingredients. Fresh seafood caught just around the corner (at Pier 38) is offered at Azure Restaurant, and the Surf Lanai Restaurant is a causal, beachy eatery.

Since I’m here to get a sense of the 20th-century Polynesian style fads that influenced Sailor Jerry and his trendy tattoos (or the other way around), I’ve been watching a lot of vintage Hawaiian video footage from the 40’s and the 50’s. Check out this vintage documentary called Over The Sea To Honolulu, made around 1950 during Hawaii’s travel boom and heightened Tiki-culture interest. Think: the ultra popular Trader Vic’s, a Mad Men-era Hurricane Club.