Hello Friends and Family,

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Lana`i: Day Trip, Part 1

Every visit to Maui, I try to schedule a day trip to Lana`i to visit my friends, Larry and Darlene. It was especially important during this trip because we could not schedule a visit last time. In my opinion, the best way to get to Lana`i is via the Expeditions Maui - Lana`i Ferry. It is only $30 each way (even cheaper for residents), the trip is quick (about 45 minutes) and the views are spectacular. You will see all kinds of people taking the ferry — golfers going to experience the Challenge at Manele (where Bill Gates staged his wedding) and the Experience at Koele (temporarily closed for refurbishment) — hunters going to bag a deer — residents of Lana`i bringing back a toilet for that bathroom remodel, etc.

As we departed, we were joined in our ocean voyage by a Hawai`ian double-hulled sailing canoe. I recalled seeing such a canoe being built on a previous trip to Maui so I examined those photos closely (click here if you want to check too). My conclusion is that this is the same canoe — the Mo`olele. I would love to take a trip to Lana`i on that boat.

Whenever I visit Larry and Darlene, we take a brief tour of Lana`i City just to see what has changed. That includes a trip to the orchid greenhouse on the grounds of the Lodge at Koele.

My impression is that its role has changed a bit. On earlier trips to Lana`i, it seemed to be a working greenhouse, meaning that plants were placed there to grow healthy enough to then use in the hotel. That meant there would be some plants blooming, some not. Some keikis (babies), some full grown. Some with flowers, some barren. Now it seems that all the plants were show plants — beautifully photogenic. Of course I had to photograph them.

The biggest change since my last visit is that most of the island (98%) is now owned by Larry Ellison, CEO of Oracle. According to the Wall Street Journal, he paid some $300M. Ellison has indicated that he plans to spend an additional $500M to upgrade the island infrastructure to create an environmentally friendly agricultural industry. Local residents are still waiting to see concrete results before they make up their minds whether this is a good or bad turn of events.

When he comes to visit Lanai, Ellison does so in his yacht, the Rising Sun. It is the tenth largest yacht in the world and is so large, it resembles a cruise liner more than what I think of as a yacht.


According to Wikipedia, the yacht is equipped with

  • Chromium-plated hawseholes
  • 82 rooms on five levels with a total living area said to be in excess of 8,000 square metres (86,000 sq. ft.)
  • Onyx countertops
  • Jacuzzi bathrooms
  • A gymnasium/spa and sauna
  • An extensive wine cellar
  • A master bath/bedroom
  • A private cinema with a giant plasma screen
  • 3,300 square metres (36,000 sq. ft.) of teak-layered deck space
  • A basketball court on the main deck (can be used as a helicopter pad if necessary)

No wonder he wants to stay aboard ship — it is nicer than either of the Four Seasons Resorts that he owns on Lana`i.

Later as we rode around Lana`i City, my friends pointed out a fleet of Mercedes and BMWs parked in an area protected by a tall chain link fence. They are used by Ellison's employees when they come to Lana`i. Although there is nothing wrong with that practice (after all, the only rental cars available on Lana`i are 4WD for getting off the paved roads) — it symbolizes the split between Ellison and the residents of Lana`i. Locals are nearly unanimous in wishing for Ellison to involve them in the planning for the future of their island home.

More from the WSJ article (dated June 13, 2013) — "For the first time, Mr. Ellison has publicly detailed his ambitious and costly plans for the 141-square-mile island. They include building an ultra luxury hotel on the pristine, white-sand beach facing Molokai and Maui and returning commercial agriculture to the clear-cut acres. He also plans to endow a sustainability laboratory that will help make the island 'the first economically viable 100%-green community.' And one of his biggest tasks: winning over the island's small, but wary, local population, one whose economic future is heavily dependent on his decisions."

Continuing — "'We want to make the island better for everyone, especially the people who live there,' Mr. Ellison said in a recent interview after returning from Lanai, where he bought a home formerly owned by the comedian George Lopez. 'We have the right climate and soil to grow the very best gourmet mangos and pineapples on the planet and export them year-round to Asia and North America. We can grow and export flowers and make perfume the old-fashioned way—directly from the flowers, like they do in Grasse, France. We have an ideal location for a couple of organic wineries on the island. But the reintroduction of commercial agriculture to Lanai is 100% dependent upon increasing the available water on the island. So we're going to use solar energy to convert seawater to fresh water.'"

And more — "He and his team have met with experts in desalination and solar energy to change the way water and electricity are generated, collected, stored and delivered on the island. They are refurbishing residential housing intended for workers (Mr. Ellison's Lanai Resorts owns and manages 400 of the more than 1,500 housing units on the island). They've tackled infrastructure, such as lengthening airport runways and paving county roads. And to improve access to Lanai, Mr. Ellison bought Island Air earlier this year and is closing a deal to buy another airline. He declined to divulge how much these projects are costing him."

Still more — "He [Ellison] is involved in nearly every detail of the planning, from researching the location of the reservoir to store desalinated water, to monitoring the look and feel of a 1950s-style bowling alley and soda fountain to be opened in the center of Lanai City, near a historic bowling alley that now serves as a community center. He even knows what will be served at the soda fountain: pizza, hot dogs, hamburgers, root-beer floats and an old favorite drink from the '50s called a green river, made with sweet green syrup."

And the local perspective from that same article — "Kurt Matsumoto, the son of plantation workers who spent a decade managing Mr. Murdock's resorts, is now chief operating officer of Lanai Resorts, overseeing all of Mr. Ellison's operations on the island. Born and raised on the island, Mr. Matsumoto, 56, is also Mr. Ellison's point person in his relations with locals.

Mr. Matsumoto said Mr. Ellison's desire is to see Lanai's population grow from its current 3,100 residents to 6,000 residents, as fewer people leave for better opportunities and more people come to Lanai for work. Mr. Matsumoto described plans to improve educational opportunities for children, ensure quality health care and lower living costs—whether at the grocery store, where milk is nearly $10 a gallon, or the pump, where unleaded gasoline is considerably more expensive than on the mainland ($5.56 a gallon in early June).

For now, locals appear guardedly optimistic. 'Not everyone will agree with what Ellison does, and you run into opposition from a few, but how can you argue with jobs and improving infrastructure? How do you disagree with things like the reopening of the community pool?' asked Phoenix Dupree, who runs the Blue Ginger Café and has been a resident of Lanai for 22 years.

Reynold Gima, a social worker for adult mental health who started the watchdog organization Lanaians for Sensible Growth to challenge some of Mr. Murdock's efforts, said he finds Mr. Ellison's management style 'refreshing'. It also helps that he knows and trusts Mr. Matsumoto, as many on the island seem to; the two men were in Little League and Boy Scouts together.

'They've been promised things before, but it wasn't fulfilled,' Mr. Matsumoto said. So people are saying, "I love the vision, but is it for real?" That's fair.'

Diane Preza, a kindergarten teacher who was born and raised on the island and is a member of a group called Kupaa No Lanai, founded to fight wind development, appreciates the improvements on Lanai under Mr. Ellison, but she wants to make sure new developments are done right. 'We love it and feel it needs to be protected,' she said. 'There are sacred sites, archeological sites. There is a way of life that we love.'"

To be continued...

Life is good.

B. David

P. S., All photos and text © B. David Cathell Photography, Inc. — www.bdavidcathell.com