Vagobond of Lanai- The Pineapple Island

In my opinion, Lanai needs to be redubbed from ‘The Pineapple Island’ to ‘The Bourgeois Island’. You can read the following and make up your own mind. Before I left, I had several friends tell me that Lanai is their favorite of the Hawaiian islands. Frankly, I’m mystified by that. Read on to find out why.

Since walking around Oahu at the beginning of summer, I’ve been itching for another adventure but because of a lack of money and a job that requires me to be available for tours that I find out hours before are not going out, I haven’t really had the opportunity. So, when I was asked to schedule myself for work in August, I decided to take the weekend before classes begin at the University of Hawaii and visit the island of Lanai. Lanai was the one island that can be visited that I hadn’t visited yet. I have yet to visit the island of Kaho’olawe which is under native Hawaiian/ U.S. Navy control or the island of Ni’ihau which is owned by the Robinson Family. Both require special permission to visit. There are also the roughly 700 islets, reefs, and atolls of the Northwest Hawaiian Islands to visit. But I have spent some time exploring the big island of Hawaii, Maui, Molokai, Oahu, and Kauai…and of course the 9th island, Las Vegas.

So Lanai seemed like a good choice, especially given the glowing recommendations of several friends. Friday morning, I woke up, took the bus to the airport ($2), caught a flight on Island Air (using air miles from Hawaiian Air just $17) to Lanai, and armed with a tent ($20 at Sports Authority) and a sleeping bag ($3 at a garage sale), I set off to explore ‘The Pineapple Island’.

The only choices for lodging on Lanai are The Lodge at Koele ($500 per night), The Resort at Manele Bay ($500 per night), The Lanai Hotel (about $150 a night), or the Castle and Cook campground ($5 per night plus a $20 registration fee). I decided to stay for two nights, so based on the tent and sleeping bag you can guess what my chosen accommodation was ($30). So essentially because of the bogus registration fee, camping is $15 per night. The campground is owned by Castle and Cook which formerly was the parent company of Dole foods who formerly owned 95% of the island of Lanai and grew pineapples there. However, in 1985 Castle and Cook was purchased by Billionaire David H. Murdock who spun Dole foods off as a different corporation, shut down the pineapple growing on Lanai, and built the two ultra luxury resorts. No doubt about the fact that the resorts are nice. Murdock’s antiques fill both properties and if you are looking for a place to spend thousands of dollars and pretend to be nobility, these are the place to be. The resorts offer meticulously landscaped grounds, trap shooting, croquet, tennis, pools, horseback riding, and other past times for the wealthy elites.

Since Murdock shut down the agricultural industry, the 3300 residents of Lanai have two choices; work cheaply for the wealthy or move somewhere else. Nice, huh? Just like feudalism is supposed to work.

I didn’t know all of this when I arrived. I had heard about the jeeps that rent for $125 a day and also that a hotel shuttle pass could be purchased for $35 that would get you between Lanai City and the two resorts. I bought the shuttle pass ($35). What I didn’t know was that the drivers wouldn’t ask to see the pass at all but would assume I was staying at the resorts. The pass was unnecessary, but worth the price anyway because I used the hell out of the shuttles. Incidentally, out of all the rich resort guests that rode the shuttle with poor old me, not one of them tipped the drivers in front of me, I made a point to tip visibly whenever I got off the shuttles, hopefully it shamed some of them into tipping too. How’s that? The vagabond is the only tipper.

So I got on the shuttle from the airport and rode to the resort at Manele Bay, conveniently located next to the Castle and Cook campground. Very convenient in fact since I probably used the resort facilities more than most of the registered guests. In the morning they serve very good coffee for free in the lobby, the beach chairs are padded and covered with terry cloth covers, and there is free lemonade and ice water provided at the beach. The only thing missing was the beach girl to put on sunscreen for me, but I bet if I would have asked at the concierge desk she would have been there. When I asked about the individual pieces of artwork, they handed me an ipod that was preloaded with a podcast that gave a tour through the resort and Murdock’s expensive art collection. I thought this mural summed up everything pretty good. Notice the happy poor people carrying the happy rich woman on their shoulders. Substitute the people of Lanai carrying Murdock and you get the point.

At the campground I checked in and asked the attendant, a guy named Foto, if I could camp on the beach. He told me that only residents of Lanai could camp on the beach but that I was welcome to set up my tent on the grass about 40 yards from the beach. I was relieved to find out that Lanai residents got some benefit out of being serfs. Lord Murdock lets them sleep on the sand.

Foto told me that a haole girl had been bullshitting him about sleeping with a local guy and he had let her sleep on the beach but that he had come early today and saw she was sleeping alone and so he had kicked her off the sand. Then he told me she had big cucumbers with her. I believed it all, but the cucumbers were a joke and we both laughed at the idea.

I had heard that the snorkeling was exceptional there, but when I went out, I found that the best snorkeling on Lanai is roughly equivalent to snorkeling in Lanikai or Waikiki, all very good snorkeling, certainly better than crowded Hanauma Bay, but not exceptional.

My friend Sam had told me that a cafe in Lanai City served a great hamburger. I caught the shuttle into town and went to the Blue Ginger Cafe and Sam certainly hadn’t lied. It was the best cheeseburger I have had in the state of Hawaii. Hands down. No contest.

I got the cheeseburger to go with a root beer and went out to the Dole Park rather than eating with the classes. Instead I ate with a crusty old man named Vic in the park and he told me stories about people getting banned from the island by Castle and Cook, about how it had been when there were good jobs, and about how if tourism went away the only jobs would be landscaping for the non-resident, visit once a year, multi-million dollar absentee landlords. Vic was my primary informant on the island and I visited him again the next day.

I returned to the campground, hiked out to sweetheart rock and along the fisherman’s trail, and then laid down on the sand to watch the stars. The stars on Lanai are vivid and brilliant. Lack of a big city makes a huge difference. The stars might be the best part of Lanai. The stars and the cheeseburger.

Next day, I decided to make the 12 mile trek to Garden of the Gods. Lanai has big game hunting animals. Bighorn sheep from somewhere and deer from India. Royal game preserve. I thought I might see some if I walked, besides, a jeep was $125. So I walked. I might have seen some animals but every four minutes or so a rented jeep would go zooming down the dirt road kicking up dust for me to breathe and honking their horns before they went around corners too fast, thus scaring off any wildlife I might have seen. I did see a turkey and a pheasant. I didn’t know turkeys could fly…odd sight.

At the Garden of the Gods, the view was nice. The place might have had a spiritualness to it, I might have been feeling it, but then another jeep pulled up and a guy from the resort asked me “Did you walk all the way from the resort? How long did it take?”
“Short walk,” I replied thinking of the walk around Oahu “Just a couple of hours.”
“You must be in good shape,” he said as his belly sat on the steering wheel and then he drove away leaving dust on the garden of the gods and making me glad I’m not a big fattie.

Back in town I had another cheeseburger for dinner and went back to the campground where a young couple from the big island had set up their tent way too close to mine. He was swilling beers and she was griping from the tent. For hours I heard “Baby, you okay in there?” followed by unpleasant bitchy girl noises.

I tried a slice of pizza at another Lanai City establishment and it was awful. Like mushy frozen pizza. Yuck.

I explored the other resort, the Lodge at Koele and watched as people dressed way too nicely to be on a tropical island went to eat meals that started at $50 an entre. Then, back to camp and looking at the stars. I was glad to have brought my ipod since otherwise I would hear “Baby this, baby that” and “gripe, gripe, gripe”.

I was surprised to hear that Lanai has a Shipwreck Beach where there is one of three ferrous concrete ships in the U.S. wrecked on the reef. I’ve seen the other two in California and New Jersey so decided to skip this one. I also skipped the Munroe Trail since it is another jeep clotted trail.

In the morning I got more free coffee and took another snorkel and swim. I thought that maybe I would splurge on breakfast at the resort but decided against it when i saw that for two eggs, toast, and bacon it was $38. I’m not joking. So, enjoying the little bit of hunger, I went to the ferry terminal to catch a ferry to Maui ($35). I was glad to be leaving Lanai. I don’t see any reason to go back. Breakfast in Lahaina on Maui with all the same stuff was $8.

On Maui I stayed at Patey’s Place, a fairly run of the mill hostel with roaches and several long term guests monopolizing the lower bunks and snoring through the night ($25), I watched Tropic Thunder (filmed on Kauai $16 with snacks) and wandered through Lahaina having a burrito at Maui Tacos ($10).

In the morning I caught the bus ($1) to Kahalui and then took the superferry ($59) to Oahu. The superferry was really great. I’ve always supported it and now that I’ve ridden it, i support it even more. I paid the upgrade fee to get free drinks, snacks, paper, and more comfortable seating etc ($20) and was stoked on it. Really great views of Oahu, Maui, Molokai, Lanai, Molokini, and could even see Hawaii in the distance.

Back on Oahu, I paid $22 to get a cab home and then I showered and now am writing this. All in all, I paid less than a night’s fee at one of the resorts, a little less than $300 which will get you five or six Thai hookers in Ko Samui if you tip well, plus the room, plus food, plus beer, plus some souvenirs for friends back home, plus something else I’m not thinking of…

So there it is friends, you can go to Lanai if you want to, but you probably won’t see me there. Not unless you are paying…and if you forget to tip the drivers and servers, well, don’t be surprised if I tell you to fuck yourself and catch the ferry to Lahaina for some cheap breakfast and a piss your pants funny movie.



Vago Damitio

Damitio  (@vagodamitio) is the Editor-in-Chief for Vagobond. Life is good. You can also find him on Google+ and at Facebook

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