What do you buy if you’re a rich, eccentric billionaire with nearly everything? Why, an island, of course!
I’ve had the opportunity to visit most of the main Hawaiian islands several times. Maui is known for its beaches. The Big Island for its volcanoes. Kaua’i for its greenery and excellent hiking. O’ahu for the nightlife and urban feel (and for being the home of the TV show Lost).
Lana’i is called the pineapple island but really has nothing. It’s where the rich and famous go to play and get away from everyone else. Bill Gates rented out every hotel room on the island for his wedding to ensure his privacy. (That must be a bonus for Ellison: He gets to stick a thumb in Gates’ eye.)
There is really almost nothing on the island. As of 2010, it had a population just north of 3,000. There are two luxury hotels, both operated by Four Seasons, and they are included in the property that Ellison purchased. Lana’i at Manele Bay is an oceanside resort with a not bad, not outstanding beach. The grounds of the hotel are beautiful, with perfectly manicured gardens and koi ponds. One time when I stayed there, Al and Tipper Gore were having breakfast at a hotel restaurant. If you go upcountry, you’ll find the Lodge at Koele. Both hotels have amazing golf courses (so I hear; I’m not a golfer). There’s also a third hotel, but it’s tiny and not luxurious, so few ever think of it.
In between the two main hotels is Lana’i City, where the real residents of the island live. The island has a plantation feel: You have the ultra luxurious hotels and then the ramshackle housing of the people who work in them.
I bet that many who visit Lana’i never leave their hotel. That’s a shame, because the island’s small population and relative lack of development make for a lot of unspoiled vistas. (Many of the roads on Lana’i are 4WD only, making getting around a bit more difficult.) On the far side of the island from Manele Bay is Shipwreck Beach, with views of … a big shipwreck.
But the primary reason to visit Lana’i instead of the other Hawaiian islands is its exclusivity. The big question is: Does Ellison want to make it even more exclusive and shut down the two luxury hotels? They would make for some beautiful guest houses. And if he’s competing on exclusivity, he is far behind the Robinson family, which owns the island of Niʻihau. That island is known as the Forbidden Island and requires special permission to visit. (I’ve only seen it across the ocean from Kaua’i.)
Ellison isn’t the only tech executive to own a good chunk of Hawai’i. In 2000, Steve Case purchased 22,000 acres on Kaua’i in a $100 million deal.
But that’s not the same as having your own island.