Lanai is the smallest of Hawaii’s inhabited islands, covering 140 square miles. Once the home of thriving pineapple and sugar cane plantations, Lanai has reinvented itself as an alluring world-class resort destination.
Even today Lanai is not an easy place to reach. There are no direct flights from the mainland. There are no stoplights, barely 30 miles of paved road, and just two resorts that start at $400 a night.
For generations, Linai was little more than a small village, owned and operated by a pineapple company. Club Linai was one of the first resorts on the island. The resort opened in the 1970s on the southeast shore of Linai on a remote yellow-sand beach isolate from the rest of the island.
With an artificial lagoon, Hawaiian-style cabanas, and living quarters propped up on stilts in the lagoon, Club Lanai offered all inclusive day trips across the 5-mile channel between Maui and Lanai. Activities included deep-water snorkeling excursions, kayaking, hula lessons, coconut painting for the kids, hikes, or a leisurely swing in hammocks “built for two.”
Guests feasted on pit-roasted pork for the ample buffet lunch and open bar. At the end of the day, guests enjoyed a beautiful sunset cruise back to Maui across one of the most beautiful inner-island channels in the world.
The resort has been deserted since the 1980s. Local legend holds a wealthy and successful off-island entrepreneur built the resort as a tax shelter. When Club Lanai started to make money, he intended to turn it over to his son. Unfortunately, the son was killed in a car crash, and the distraught father lost all interest in the resort.
Today, like most of Lanai, the old resort seems untouched. The pier sags in the shallow waters behind a recovering reef. The lagoon is choked with palm fronds and thousands of coconuts litter the graveled walkways. The dozen or so ramshackle buildings lining the beach are slowly being consumed by ants and termites. The old forest-greet clubhouse seems to be listlessly setting deeper and deeper into the sand. A quiet reminder of another time.
Club Lanai is a favorite destination for illegal campers. And a couple of Maui tour companies have begun to offer day trips to the ruins. It also serves as the starting point for the Maui Channel Swim, the world’s longest open water relay swim race.