Hawaii Travel Guide | The Big Island & Lanai
We recently had the pleasure of going to Hawaii for the first time. In my mind I always associated Hawaii with Americans going on vacation, you know, Waikiki Beach, it can all come off as a bit tourist-y. But I’m happy to report that we did not find our experience that way at all! We did some research and chose locations that felt more focused on being immersed in nature and a bit more secluded.
Being from the east coast, and especially having grown up in Florida, I always went to the Caribbean for a beach vacation. So it was a hard sell to imagine traveling all those hours to Hawaii… could it really be that different?
The answer is YES.
There was truly something magical about the air and presence of spirit in Hawaii. We visited the Big Island and Lanai, and I especially found this to be true in the Big Island. I could almost feel the energy of the ancestors before me.
Not to mention, we stayed at what I believe must be the absolute best places to stay, the Four Seasons Hualalai and Four Seasons Lanai. Below I’ve shared some highlights from each location and resort, as well as some general tips for travel.
We knew we wanted to go to the Four Seasons Lanai after doing a bit of research and discovering that this is the most secluded and exclusive island of Hawaii. We didn’t see any celebrities during our stay but apparently this is a haven for them. Larry Ellison, tech billionaire and founder of Oracle, bought the entire island in 2012 and completely remodeled the resort, spending a cool $450 million on the renovations. If you’re into stunning hotel design, this is your spot!
Rooms are perfectly designed and very techy. Every detail, down to the toilets (bidet, heated seats and a lid that automatically opens when you enter the area!), has been chosen meticulously.
Overall this is a smaller, more intimate property than a sprawling resort (like Hualalai), which is nice. The lobby is so beautiful that we found ourselves wanting to spend time there. The design experience as you walk to and from your room is also stunning; think tropical foliage everywhere, archway-lined halls and paths, lots of seating areas with beautiful furnishings, and even a few parrots that will say “aloha” to you as you pass by!
The beach is located somewhat onsite, as it’s just a few minutes walk down a long pathway. There is amazing snorkeling in the ocean, and all the gear you need available at a moment’s notice. There are two smaller lagoon-style pools close-by, and I like that there are many nooks and more private seating arrangements for sunbathing rather than the standard pool with rows of lounge chairs.
There are two restaurants, the main restaurant where you eat breakfast everyday that also serves amazing dinners (I think they call it a steakhouse but they have tons of great seafood and other local options), and Nobu, the fine dining sushi chain. It’s a real treat to eat at Nobu multiple times in a week, that’s for sure! The bar at Nobu is also sort of the main bar for pre-dinner cocktails, overlooking the pool and ocean. There is also a bar/eatery at the pool that is open for lunch and cocktails during the day. The breakfast buffet was particularly outstanding – unlimited poke and the freshest sushi to go along with your omelette! There’s also a sports bar upstairs that serves food, where I had the most amazing bowl of poke, and where Jared and I played quite a few games of pool.
The Jack Nicklaus-designed golf course is probably the most well-known attraction here. Jared played and said it was a surreal experience. Bill and Melinda Gates actually got married there, so you can imagine it must be beautiful. There are also a ton of more of unique and outdoorsy activities to try, like skeet shooting, clay shooting, UTV rides, and horseback riding. There are also several yoga classes offered daily, and tennis courts surrounded by lush tropical flowers.
The spa is a pleasant, yet standard experience. I had a lovely massage, but the facilities were pretty utilitarian for such a luxe resort.
There isn’t much on the island aside from the resort. We rented a Jeep (you can conveniently rent one from the hotel whenever you’d like as they are stocked onsite) and went exploring to see the Garden of the Gods, which was awesome.
Don’t Miss/Hot Tips:
We decided to check out one other island to pair with Lanai, and this is where we landed. I’m so happy we did! We loved our experience at the Four Seasons Hualalai and would absolutely go back. To be honest, everyone was hyping up Lanai so much that we were sure that would be the favorite of our trip. Not the case! We ended up loving the Big Island just as much. They both have very different things to offer so they complement each other well. The common denominator, however, is that both resorts offer a total immersion in nature, which is exactly what we were looking for.
I found the Big Island to have a very spiritual presence that I absolutely loved. I had a great conversation with the PR manager at the hotel, a San Francisco-transplant who moved to Hawaii a few years ago with her husband and just fell in love with the lifestyle. They are building the house of their dreams, and she shared with me that the cost of living is actually quite low! It’s a very simple life, she said, full of community and nature. Everyone respects the land tremendously and shares everything with one another as if they are family.
The rooms are slightly more dated than Lanai, of course, but still lovely. Our room at Hualalai was much more spacious and felt a bit more “island-y”, whereas Lanai felt more modern. We had a balcony overlooking the adults’ pool and ocean and it was fabulous. But the good news is, you can’t go wrong, because if you have a lower-level non-balcony room, you get an outdoor shower.
Hualalai offers a sprawling property – one of those resorts where you can easily get lost. It was nice to pair this with the smaller property on Lanai. Everything feels very open-air and matching the energy of the island. I especially loved the open-air lobby.
The resort is right on the ocean, but swimming is very limited as it’s filled with lava rocks. There are, however, multiple pools overlooking the ocean; a “quiet pool” surrounded by cabanas, a kids’ pool that looked quite fun, and the adults’ pool, which is the one we spent the most of our time at since it was right outside of our room – with a swim-up bar, which is always fun! You can order food from the pool, but we preferred the food at ‘Ulu… it’s worth it to take a little pool break to get it!
There are several restaurants on the property, including ‘Ulu Ocean Grill, an oceanfront seafood restaurant (which was our favorite by far); Beachtree, an Italian restaurant; and a steakhouse (which we didn’t try). ‘Ulu was where we had breakfast everyday. The coffee was insanely good! Make sure to spring for the Kona French press. There was something magical about it; I ordered the same at Lanai and it didn’t even come close. I prefered to order from the menu over the buffet. Dinner was really sensational. We two insanely special experiences, one being a 7-course tasting menu right out at the ocean, where the chefs prepared our food tableside. This was an intimate experience for about 12-15 guests, and I think it’s a new series they will be doing regularly. But any dinner there is a treat. Make sure to try the ahi loco moco, a local take on tartare with the most delicious gravy.
There is an area for snorkeling onsite, but it didn’t appeal to us personally as it felt a little manmade. The weather was very windy during our stay though, so perhaps this affected our feelings about it. There is also a golf course here, which Jared didn’t play on since he was saving himself for Lanai, but we did play tennis, which was fun.
The outdoor spa here is a can’t-miss experience. It’s a little sanctuary – a total immersion in nature. There are even outdoor showers, which I’d never seen at a spa! My absolute favorite. I also had an incredibly unique spa treatment centered around the essence of sandalwood (called ‘iliahi) on the island. It began with a healing session of essential oils and a sound bath, and ended with a luxurious scrub and massage where I was cocooned on a table and then rinsed under rainshowers. I’d never experienced anything like it before, and it was amazing.
There is so much to see on the island, especially with the Kona coffee region being right there. We didn’t get to do any of the coffee tours this time around, but I heard they’re wonderful. We rented a car and drove to Pololu Valley for a hike, which was exquisite. It’s a moderate hike, nothing too strenuous, that leads to a black sand beach. Again, there was a ton of spiritual energy here. I definitely recommend renting a car and exploring the island, if even just to see the amazing terrain. It seems every few miles the landscapes completely change, from lava fields to farms to mountains – and the climate even fluctuates wildly, too! On the drive back to the resort, we went to The Fish and the Hog and had an amazing BBQ meal. You must try the pineapple-mint iced tea if you go – it was strangely delicious. Another option would be to try Merriman’s, which was highly recommended, but it didn’t work out for us timing-wise as you’d either need to time it to go for dinner, or a very short lunch window. David Merriman is the chef who started pacific rim cuisine, and we heard the food is to-die-for. People also like Sushi Rock. Oh, and on the way to Pololu Valley, we stopped at two quaint little artist towns, where there were lots of shops and galleries offering local goods. This is where I had my first “shave ice” which is a Hawaiian specialty!
Don’t Miss/Hot Tips: