In 2012, Oracle cofounder Larry Ellison — who stepped down from his position as CEO on Sept. 18 — bought a 97% stake in the Hawaiian island of Lanai for a reported $US300 million.
His enormous purchase includes pretty much everything on the island — small businesses like local restaurants, shops, and galleries, and large businesses like the two Four Seasons hotels on the island. He owns two golf courses, the community swimming pool, the water company, and a cemetery. He also owns nearly a third of all of the island’s housing.
Ellison’s plans for Lanai are still rather mysterious, and the transition of ownership to the Oracle billionaire has been controversial among residents.
Lanai has played a number of roles in a fascinating history stretching hundreds of years, and there’s plenty to see here.
Lanai is 140 square miles of land, the sixth-largest of the Hawaiian islands and the smallest that's publicly accessible.
Lanai has some fabulous beaches, like this secluded spot on the northwest shore called Polihua Beach. Located just across the channel from Molokai, this beach is frequented by endangered green sea turtles and humpback whales.
Much of Lanai feels secluded because only 3,200 people live there, and there are only 30 miles of paved roads. Most of the population lives in Lanai City, a small collection of buildings in the center of the island. There's not a single traffic light on the entire island.
Lanai City is really the only area of the island that can be classified as a town, and many of the island's businesses are centered around the town square. There's only one school, Lanai High and Elementary School, where residents attend kindergarten through 12th grade.
Lanai is known as the 'Pineapple Island' because it once was home to a plantation that produced 75% of the world's pineapples.
In 1922, pineapple tycoon James Drummond Dole purchased most of the island of Lanai for $1.1 million, an enormous sum of money for the time. He plowed the fields, created a harbour, and laid out a small town in the island's center to house Dole employees. Here's what Lanai City looked like in 1951.
According to the New York Times, the island was exporting 65,000 tons of pineapples a year by 1930. Dole operated out of this administration building, seen here in 1952.
The building stands on the same spot today, serving as a hub for the Lanai Culture & Heritage Center.
Billionaire David Murdock acquired Castle & Cooke and Dole Foods' holdings in Lanai in 1985, and pineapple production ended in 1992. Still, much of Lanai City has retained the vintage feel from when Dole first created his company town.
Built by Dole in 1923, the Hotel Lanai's original purpose was to house plantation executives. It was the only hotel on Lanai until 1990, when the Four Seasons hotels were built. Ellison bought the 10-room Hotel Lanai in August of 2014.
There are two Four Seasons hotels on Lanai -- and Ellison owns both of them. The first is the Lodge at Koele, a lush countryside retreat with gardens, stables, and archery.
There's also the Four Seasons Resort at Manele Bay, which was recently renovated -- at Ellison's request -- to include a trendy Nobu restaurant and a sleek, yet rustic, new look.
But there's a lot to see all over the island. At Kaiolohia, or Shipwreck Beach, on the northern shore of the island, you can see the hull of a Navy ship that got stuck on a coral reef in the 1940s.
The Munro Trail, which can be hiked, biked, or driven, takes you to the highest point of Lanai at 3,370 feet. You'll get stunning canyon vistas as well as views of Maui, Molokai, the Big Island, and Oahu.
Kaunolu Village is an ancient fishing village that dates back to the 15th century. It's so important to local culture that it was declared a Natural Historic Landmark in 1962.
At Pu'u Pehe, also known as Sweetheart Rock, ancient Hawaiian legend has it that a beautiful princess was confined to a sea cave by a young warrior, who later leapt to his death.
One of the most popular tourist attractions on Lanai is the Garden of the Gods, an interesting red lava formation in the northern part of the island. Hawaiian legend says that the formations were created by gods who had dropped rocks from the sky while tending their gardens.
Club Lanai is a long-abandoned resort on the island's eastern shore, once used by tourists making day trips from Maui. Ellison reportedly wants to revive the area and transform it into an eco-friendly bungalow resort.
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