My time as a New Media Artist in Residence on Lana’i allowed me to experience not just one of Four Seasons resort, but two. After our nights by the beach at Manele Bay, we moved up to The Lodge at Koele for two nights.
To be honest, I wasn’t sure about The Lodge when we first pulled up. A Hawaiian vacation without the beach? What’s the point of that? And I’m not sure how I feel about an English plantation vibe on a private island where one company still makes most of the decisions.
But there’s much to like about the moody pine atmosphere of the up-country Lodge.
There are the incredible trees that surround every inch of the property. We particularly liked this banyan tree that wrapped itself around the Cook Island pine (see the tree sticking out of the top?)
And there’s the historic atmosphere of Koele. This part of the island served as the headquarters of Lana’i Ranch, founded by Walter Murray Gibson who was the one of the leaders of the large colony of Mormons who came to the island in the mid-1800s. The Ranch existed well into the 1950s, when Dole turned it (and much of the Lana’i) into pineapple fields.
The Lodge itself builds upon that ranching past and gives it a luxe gloss, as you’d expect from the Four Seasons. The Lodge’s Great Hall is truly spectacular, with a fireplace that’s always burning (hey, it gets down into the high 50s in the upcountry at night, chilly by Hawaiian standards). It’s the type of place that makes you want to curl up with a cup of hot chocolate, an indulgence that the Lodge cultivates with a special cocoa menu.
We were given a Koele Deluxe Room, overlooking the croquet fields and facing west toward sunset. Our first-floor room had a wraparound porch, which proved perfect for star-gazing (up here, there’s very little light pollution). The rate for this room runs around $395 per night (rooms overlooking the Gardens in the back are $100 less) – reasonable, given the Four Seasons service that you receive. Even our housekeeping staff greeted us by name.
The grounds outside are an interesting combination of an English garden party and a Japanese botanic garden. You’ve got people playing croquet with a view of a pagoda on the hillside. And ultimately, that mash-up is what makes the Lodge at Koele feel Hawaiian. One of my favorite things about the islands, and Lana’i in particular, is how different nationalities have contributed to make the culture so unique.
The Lodge also has an Orchid House on site, where you can browse the delicate flowers to your heart’s content.
I’m not a golfer, but even I could see the Experience at Koele, designed by Greg Norman, is a first-rate course. Don and I sneaked onto the course one morning, following the cart path (I don’t think we were supposed to do this, but it made a gorgeous walk). Looking at the water features and artful sandtraps, you just know that pictures of this course are up on the walls of CEO offices around the world.
Besides the Experience, there’s also an 18-hole executive putting course that guests can use (you just ask the concierge for a putter and balls). We meant to do this, but ran out of time.
We did make time for the Lodge Afternoon tea, served daily. You can take it in the tea room bar, but we chose to stay in the Great Hall near the fire.
I’ve brought Don to tea before, but this is the first time that there’s been a menu as appealing as the Golfers Tea. Instead of crustless tea sandwiches, this “man tea” offers mini pulled pork sandwiches,a fancy hot dog, jalapeno corn bread and apple pie tart. He loved it.
The tea was the culinary highlight of Koele, however. We found the food in the Dining Room to have more ambition than execution, especially when compared to the restaurants at Manele Bay (we both ordered the tasting menu). A better bet for guests may be the light snack menu available in the Great Hall. I can personally recommend the truffled popcorn; I could have eaten a bushel of it.
To continue the comparisons to the Four Seasons’ other Lana’i property at Manele Bay, I’d point out that Lodge’s atmosphere attracts a slightly different type of guest. People on the average seemed older than the Manele clientele by a decade, and there were very few children around (and those that we did see were quietly reading books by the fire. If this isn’t your kid, you might want to choose another place to stay). At 9:39 p.m., we were one of the few couples left in the restaurant and the lobby clears out soon after. One night, we actually played shuffleboard. A window into our future?
By the end of the two nights, the Lodge at Koele won me over. While I’m not sure that Don and I will ever give up the beach as our preferred vacation, the quiet elegance of the Lodge really allowed us to relax. An ideal Lana’i vacation, I think, includes time spent at both Four Seasons resorts. You just can’t go wrong with either.