An Arctic ski expedition with backcountry adventures and otherworldly beauty.
The Four Seasons Resort Lanai cultivates the potency of the tiny island’s intoxicating culture and nature.
“HOW ARE YOU doing back there?” one of the pilots asks me. I’m the only passenger on Lanai Air, an eight-seat luxury aircraft, for the 25-minute transfer from Honolulu to Lanai. Still groggy from my 10-hour flight from New York, and recovering from a recent surgery, I’m wondering if I’m crazy to jump five time zones for a spa treatment and the beach? But as we bounce through the parting clouds, I’m left speechless by miles of uninterrupted turquoise ocean and endless rust-colored cliffs. “Welcome to paradise!” the other pilot says as we prepare to land in this other world.
The minute I step into the palatial, open-air lobby of the Four Seasons Resort Lanai, I know the long journey was worth it. After many a warm “aloha” and a lei of fresh purple orchid blossoms, I take in the sweeping views of Hulopoe Bay, the salty scent of the Pacific Ocean, and that of jasmine, gardenia, and a spicy note I can’t quite place. Though only nine miles from tourist-filled Maui, Lanai is the smallest inhabited Hawaiian island open to visitors. For over a century it was known as Pineapple Island, having once housed the world’s largest pineapple plantation. In 2012, billionaire Larry Ellison bought 98% of the island, installing two Four Seasons (there’s also Sensei Lanai) with the goal of putting Lanai on the map as both a wellness utopia and the world’s first 100% sustainable community.
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That first night, I immerse myself in the resort’s collection of Hawaiian artifacts and their lively tales. There’s a larger-than-life Koa (a nineteenth-century outrigger canoe) and my favorite — an elegant, pikake blossom lei made of ivory. At the sound of the pu, or conch shell, I join other guests for the nightly Hawaiian Cultural Celebration, heralded by the lighting of the torches by the palm tree–lined lagoon, an ancient ritual to mark the end of day. A hula dancer performs “Ka Uluwehi O Ke Kai” (“delicacies of the ocean”), composed by legendary Hawaiian artist Edith Kanakaʻole. The song praises the fragrance of limu lipoa, a local seaweed found on the rocks in the bay. As I breathe in the night air, I wonder if it’s the mysterious scent I can’t put my finger on.
Over sea bass ceviche at One Forty, the resort’s steak and seafood house (Nobu is next door), I dine among doting honeymooners and quietly bickering families. We clap as dolphins leap in and out of the silver waves below, crashing into the Technicolor pink sunset. In my huge sunglasses and floral caftan at my table for one, I feel like a glamorous spy. But when dessert arrives — mango mousse atop a lilokoi rum cake — I giggle with delight like my kids do. As a partnered mother of two, I’ve long forgotten the deep pleasure of traveling alone.
The next morning, I happily lose myself in the fragrant botanical gardens outside my suite, careful not to step on the tiny lizards crossing my path. After saying hello to Uliuli, a spunky blue-and-gold macaw, one of the resort’s rescued birds, I find the Hawanawana (“gifts from the sea”) Spa, where I meet Mayra for a 90-minute Deep Sea Cleanse. Mayra lovingly accommodates my chest, still tender from surgery, by lying me on my side. Curled up in my nest of pillows, with Mayra’s hand on my back, I, too, feel like a rescued bird. As she gently scrubs me down with nourishing salts and purifying algae, my whole body relaxes, and to my surprise I start to cry. “Let it all wash away,” Mayra says with a warmth I will come to know as the spirit of aloha.
On my last day, I wake before sunrise. I’ve been having so much fun buzzing about the Four Seasons — like Eloise in Hawaii — I’ve yet to even set foot on the beach. Clutching my crumpled resort map, I walk barefoot upon the white sand. I hum “Ka Uluwehi O Ke Kai” until I come upon the musky seaweed itself, its filaments reaching across the black volcanic rocks that dot the shore. I follow the now familiar scent up a craggy path to Puʻu Pehe, or Sweetheart Rock, Lanai’s most iconic landmark. Standing on this epic cliff with the wind on my back, like Mayra’s kind hand, I fill my tender chest with air. Mahalo, I say. Thank you. Maybe it was nuts to fly 5,000 miles for this moment, but I stand tall like the magnificent, storied rock, unfazed by the wind, the rough waters, the bright morning light.
Four Seasons hotels are all Fine Hotels + Resorts properties. When you book with American Express Travel, you’ll receive an exclusive suite of benefits including daily breakfast for two, a $100 experience credit that varies by property, guaranteed 4pm check-out, and more. Plus, book on AmexTravel.com and you can earn 5X Membership Rewards® points, or use Pay with Points, on prepaid stays. Terms apply. Learn more here.
Alexa Wilding is a writer, musician, and mother of twins. After a decade as a critically acclaimed singer-songwriter, she received her MFA from the Writer’s Foundry at St. Joseph’s College, Brooklyn. Her writing has appeared in A Cup of Jo and Parents, where she shares her experience of what it’s like as a mom caring for a child with cancer. A lifelong New Yorker, Wilding and her family now live in Hudson, New York. She is working on a memoir about all of the above.
Laura La Monaca is a travel, lifestyle, and food photographer based between Hawaii and Italy.
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