My Private Island: Billionaire Mogul Larry Ellison's Hawaiian Island
In 2012 Oracle co-founder and fifth-richest man in the world, Larry Ellison, purchased 97% of the island of Lanai for a reported $300M. Yeah, you heard that correctly, the Hawaiian island Lanai. He now owns 87,000 of the island's 90,000 acres, including a third of the population's housing; two Four Seasons hotels; Dole Park at the center of Lanai City, and all of its surrounding buildings; the town swimming pool; the community center; the theater; a grocery store; two golf courses; a wastewater treatment plant; the water company; a cemetery; and technically, over 380 feral cats.
There's apparently only a gas station, a rental car company, two banks, a credit union and a Coffee Works café on the island that Ellison doesn't own. More remarkably, Ellison doesn't seem to care much about profiting from this investment. Instead, the island appears to be a bit of a pet project for him, and he plans to turn it into a green tourist destination. Let's take a look at what he's working with.
According to legend, Lanai was the home of the god of nightmares. The first human to live there was a teenage chief who was exiled from Maui for bad behavior. He killed the nightmare god, routed his army of spirits, and lit a fire to signal the people of Maui that the coast was clear.
Then everyone got on their canoes and paddled on over. 800 years later, in 1861, Walter Murray Gibson built a Mormon colony on the island and fraudulently began buying up land using the church's money. When the Mormons found out, they excommunicated him, but he retained ownership, eventually passing it down to his daughter.
No one knew what to do with the land, until James Drummond Dole, a Harvard grad and owner of a fledgling pineapple company on Oahu, noticed that pineapples grew well on the island.
Dole bought most of the island in 1922 for $1.1M, and created the town of Lanai City, the only real town on the island, for his employees. Lanai once produced 75% of the world's pineapples, earning it the nickname "Pineapple Island."
Pictured: Hulopoe Bay
Today Lanai is the sixth-largest of the Hawaiian islands, with 140 square miles of land and 47 miles of coastline. They are only 30 miles of paved roads, no traffic lights, and a population of just 3,200 people. The only school is Lanai High and Elementary School, for K-12.
Pictured: Dole Plantation
The 11-room Hotel Lanai, which was built by Dole in 1923 for his plantation executives, was the only hotel on the island until 1990. Now there are also two Four Seasons hotels, the Lodge at Koele, and the Four Seasons Resort at Manele Bay, which has 239 rooms and a cliffside golf course, and was recently renovated to include a Nobu restaurant per Ellison's request. Ellison began overhauling the two Four Seasons hotels in June, leaving only the tiny Hotel Lanai for tourists.
Pictured: Four Seasons golf course
You can check out endangered green sea turtles and humpback whales at Polihua Beach, snorkel and watch the dolphins play at Hulopoe Beach, and see the hull of a Navy ship that got stuck in a coral reef in the '40s at Kaiolohia, or Shipwreck Beach.
You can also hike, bike or drive along Munro Trail to the highest point of the island at 3,370 feet. There you'll get canyon views, and you can see Maui, Molokai, the Big Island and Oahu. Go by Kaunolu Village, an ancient fishing village from the 15th century that was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1962. The hub of the Lanai Culture & Heritage Center was once Dole's administrative building.
And Pu'u Pehe, or "Sweetheart Rock," is where a legendary princess was held captive by a sea warrior in a sea cave. And Keahiakawelo, also called the Garden of the Gods, is one of the most popular tourist attractions, with red lava supposedly created by gods who dropped the rocks from the sky while working in their gardens.
Pictured: Nobu Four Seasons
Ellison wants to make Lanai a prime tourist destination and the "the first economically viable, 100% green community." He reportedly plans to add up to nine small hotels, an airport, tennis facilities and improved infrastructure. His vision includes renewable energy, electric cars and sustainable agriculture. He reportedly also wants to transform the long-abandoned Club Lanai into an eco-friendly bungalow resort.
Pictured: Shipwreck Beach
The Residents' Reactions:
According to interviews conducted by documentary filmmaker Henry Jolicoeur, most of the residents are very thankful, with some even praying for Ellison and his plans for the island. In fact, after years of bad unemployment numbers, unemployment plummeted to just 1.2% a mere four months after Ellison purchased the island.
Pictured: landmarked Kaunolu fishing village