Or­a­cle founder Larry El­li­son is trans­form­ing the Hawai­ian is­land of Lanai into an eco-par­adise for vis­i­tors and res­i­dents alike

BC Business Magazine - - Contents - By Amanda Ross

Tech bil­lion­aire Larry El­li­son rein­vents the pri­vate Hawai­ian is­land of Lanai as an eco-re­sort

There's per­haps no big­ger sta­tus buy than the pri­vate is­land. Thanks to Justin Trudeau's Christ­mas va­ca­tion, we now all know about the Aga Khan's Ba­hamian get­away, and Richard Bran­son has long used his Necker Is­land as an ad­ver­tise­ment for the good life. But icon­o­clas­tic bil­lion­aire Larry El­li­son, founder of U.S. soft­ware gi­ant Or­a­cle Corp., is a lit­tle different. His pur­chase of 98 per cent of Lanai in 2012 was no­table not just for its re­ported price tag (more than US$300 mil­lion), but for its goal: turn­ing the sixth-big­gest Hawai­ian is­land into a large-scale eco-ex­per­i­ment to im­prove the lives of its in­hab­i­tants and vis­i­tors alike. In short, to cre­ate the green­est and the most lux­u­ri­ous des­ti­na­tion in the world.

This isn't the first time Lanai has seen dream­ers. King Kame­hameha con­quered it and used its bays as prized fish­ing spots. He gave way to James Dole, who in 1922 trans­formed the is­land into the world's largest pineap­ple plan­ta­tion, fol­lowed in 1985 by David Mur­dock, who saw lux­ury tourism as Lanai's call­ing. Which brings us to El­li­son, or “Un­cle Larry,” as lo­cals have dubbed him. He reimag­ined a place that many thought was al­ready pretty per­fect. With a scant 3,000 res­i­dents spread out over an idyl­lic 364 square kilo­me­tres and a pair of Four Sea­sons re­sorts—the swanky water­front Manele Bay and the Lodge at Koele nes­tled in the moun­tains—it's a bucket-list des­ti­na­tion of the one per cent. But apart from two cham­pi­onship golf cour­ses at the re­sorts, there wasn't much else to do here. The in­trepid would typ­i­cally only stay a cou­ple of days as an add-on to a trip to Maui, the

is­land that ben­e­fited the most from their tourist dol­lars.

When El­li­son took the reins, he hon­oured the re­main­ing guest book­ings, but by 2015, the re­sorts were shut­tered to prep for their re­boot. In an un­prece­dented move, all 650 ho­tel staff were re­tained and re­as­signed roles in the com­mu­nity: restau­rant servers be­came teacher's aides; main­te­nance work­ers turned into con­ser­va­tion project lead­ers. For the res­i­dents of Lanai, who rely heav­ily on tourism to sur­vive, other ben­e­fits of Un­cle Larry ma­te­ri­al­ized. The only movie the­atre, once a rick­ety build­ing with crackly screen, is now a state-of-the-art sur­round-sound ex­pe­ri­ence; the com­mu­nity pool has been re­built to re­sort-wor­thy stan­dards—all con­structed by lo­cals.

Con­trolled rents were im­ple­mented to help sta­bi­lize prices in a place where a car­ton of milk costs more than $8 per gal­lon. El­li­son's long-term plan for the ex­pen­sive gro­ceries that all need to be barged in? Turn the is­land into a self-sus­tain­ing com­mu­nity re­plete with wind re­new­able en­ergy, lo­cal food pro­duc­tion (and ex­port), or­ganic winer­ies. There are even plans to har­vest lo­cal flow­ers to make per­fume.

On the luxe side, El­li­son went no­ex­pense-spared up­scale. Manele Bay, re­branded as the Four Sea­sons Re­sort Lanai, is first to come off its renos. Gone is the dated peach-stucco ex­te­rior, in favour of a warm, wood-toned sleek­ness that's both airy and clubby. The idea was to de­sign a spot with a sense of place along with ac­tiv­i­ties that in­vite week­long stays so com­mon on the other is­lands. There are more suites now—45 out of 213 rooms (the eas­ier to set up long-term shop).

A mul­ti­tude of be­spoke ex­pe­ri­ences in­clude archery, clay shoot­ing, off-road tours, horse­back rides, moun­tain bik­ing, sun­set and snorkel sails, whale watch­ing, scuba, a brand new spa. And that epic ocean­side golf course next to tow­er­ing cliffs got a whole new club­house. Bil­lion­aire-like pur­suits are stan­dard fare, from he­li­copter rides to fly­ing lessons—be­cause, of course, El­li­son is a li­censed pilot, too.

Lanai may be a newly ren­o­vated play­ground for the rich, but it hasn't for­got­ten its his­tory


In Larry El­li­son's move up­mar­ket, global eatery Nobu opened an out­post at the Four Sea­sons Re­sort Lanai (wagyu beef served on lava rock; opaka­paka, or Hawai­ian pink snap­per) show­cas­ing lo­cal flavours and the chain's im­pec­ca­ble ser­vice. Rates, while still Nobu-steep, of­fer a kind of street-pric­ing—there's no ad­di­tional up­charge for all those barged-in in­gre­di­ents.

Be­sides the movie the­atre and retro­fit­ted Richards Mar­ket (which now has an ex­cel­lent wine se­lec­tion), the circa-1925 Lanai City's vin­tage charm is vir­tu­ally un­changed. Stop by Blue Ginger Café for lo­cal fare (mahi mahi; panko-fried chicken) and French toast by the slice: one for $3, two for $5 or three for $6.50.


Trekking in Lanai of­ten means never see­ing an­other soul, a sense of iso­la­tion am­pli­fied by the drive to the re­mote north shore's Ship­wreck Beach. Here, the eerie, rust­ing hulk of a Sec­ond World War trans­port ship sits stranded on a reef just off­shore. Look but don't touch: the waters here are too dan­ger­ous to swim in.

The Lanai Pine Sport­ing Clays & Archery is now un­der the um­brella of Four Sea­sons, which has up­graded the fa­cil­i­ties and bought shiny new Beretta Sil­ver Pi­geons. Guests can shoot clay pi­geons like landed gen­try, all in the con­fines of the grounds, a short drive from the re­sort.

FAN­TASY IS­LAND (Above) Lush green­ery sur­rounds Manele Bay's fa­cade; (right) Great Hall at the Lodge at Koele

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