Known as the “Pineapple Isle”, Lana'i is the sixth-largest of the Hawaiian Islands. The smallest and least visited island accessible to the public in the Hawaiian chain of islands, Lana'i is an isle of intriguing contrasts and pleasant surprises.
For such a tiny island, Lana'i has witnessed many changes, enduring a rather turbulent past. For centuries, Hawaiians strictly avoided the island, believing it to be inhabited by akuas or Akua-ino, an especially mean and nasty breed of goblins or spirits: the gods of nightmares. The name Lana'i, in the Hawaiian language, means “day of the conquest of Kaulua’ae”. Kaulua’ae was a prince from Maui who has been banished to Lana’s as punishment for his wild ways and mischievous pranks in his father’s court on Maui.
According to legend, Kaulua’ae battled and defeated the akuas, making the island safe for human inhabitation. After destroying the evil spirits, Kaulaua’ae built a giant bonfire that could be seen on Maui, signaling the people that the all was well. In celebration, people jumped in their canoes and set sail to Lana’i. Today, the only settlement of any size is the small town of Lana’I City, population 3,102. The Kalohi Channel separates Lana’I from the Island of Molokai to the North and from the island of Maui by the eight-mile-wide Au’au Channel on the east. The little island, shaped like a comma, is only 18 miles long and 12 miles wide.
In 1853, Mormon settlers made their way to the isle with the good intention of creating a “City of Joseph”, a model community personifying goodwill and earthly peace. The project failed, and the community disbanded when they discovered their leader, Walter Gibson, was a thief and a crook, having secretly registered the island in own name.
Excommunication from the Mormon Church didn’t faze Gibson, who went on to bring in a new batch of settlers and to turn the entire island into an open cattle-grazing range. A sad example of poor stewardship, unrestricted grazing quickly decimated the landscape, turning the already dry landscape into a barren wasteland.
It wasn’t until George Munroe, a naturalist from New Zealand, was employed to manage the ranch that the island began to heal. Munroe commenced an intense program of reforestation, planting thousands of Cook Island and Norfolk Pine that today are the City of Lana’I's signature statement. During the period that George Munroe labored to bring back native flora and fauna of the island, Jim Dole introduced pineapple cultivation to the arid land. In 1922 Dole purchased the entire island, turning it into the largest (90,000 acres) pineapple plantation in the world. The island was subsequently sold to Castle & Cook who maintained the land as a pineapple plantation for many years before converting to a more tourism focused management approach.
The majority of the homes about Lana’I City date to 1922 and the town origins. Brightly colored tin roofs add quaint charm to the verdant farmlands.
Today, discounting the 3,000 residents that reside on the isle, Lana’i is mega-billionaire Larry Ellison’s personal paradise. Ellison, who purchased the island in a single real estate deal in 2012, owns 97 percent of the island including two resorts, a water utility and a third of the island’s housing. Ellison is an innovative entrepreneur and the fifth richest person in the world.
The island attracts adventurous visitors who come to view the abundance of wildlife that flourishes on the island including Mouflon sheep and Axis deer. Because Lana’I is the only island that does not have mongoose, game fowl thrive. The island is bisected with rough, unmaintained red dirt roads. To explore the island, a four-wheel drive vehicle is required.