Lānai is a roughly comma-shaped island with a width of 18 miles in the longest direction. The land area is 140.5 square miles, making it the 42nd largest island in the United States. It is separated from the island of Molokai by the Kalohi Channel to the north, and from Maui by the Auau Channel to the east. The United States Census Bureau defines Lānai as Census Tract 316 of Maui County. Its total population shrank from 3,193 as of the 2000 census to 3,102 as of 2010. Many of the island's landmarks are accessible only by dirt roads that require a four-wheel drive vehicle.
There is one school, Lanai High and Elementary School, serving the entire island from kindergarten through 12th grade. There is also one hospital, Lanai Community Hospital, with 24 beds, and a community health center providing primary care, dental, behavioral health and selected specialty services in Lānaʻi City. There are no traffic lights on the island.
Lānai was under the control of nearby Maui before recorded history. Its first inhabitants may have arrived as late as the 15th century.
The name Lānai is of uncertain origin, but the island has historically been called Lānai o Kauluāau, which can be rendered in English as "day of the conquest of Kauluāau." This epithet refers to the legend of a Mauian prince who was banished to Lānai for some of his wild pranks at his father's court in Lāhainā. The island was reportedly haunted by Akua-ino, ghosts and goblins. Kauluāau chased them away and brought peace and order to the island and regained his father's favor as a consequence.
The first people to migrate here, most likely from Maui and Molokai, probably established fishing villages along the coast initially but later branched out into the interior where they raised taro in the fertile volcanic soil. During most of those times, the Moi of Maui held dominion over Lānai, but generally left the people of Lānai alone. Life on Lānai remained relatively calm until King Kamehameha I or Kalaniōpuu-a-Kaiamamao took control, slaughtering people across the island. So many were killed that Captain George Vancouver ignored the island in 1792, because of its apparent lack of villages and population. It is mentioned that Lānai was Kamehameha's favorite fishing spot across Hawaii's main eight islands.
Lānai was first seen by Europeans on February 25, 1779, when Captain Charles Clerke sighted the island from aboard James Cook's HMS Resolution. Clerke had taken command of the ship after Cook was killed at Kealakekua Bay on February 14 and was leaving the islands for the North Pacific.
The history of sugar-growing in Hawaii goes back to 1802, when a farmer from China, Wong Tse Chun, produced a small amount on Lānai. He used a crude stone mill that he had brought with him to crush the cane.
In 1854 a group of Mormons were granted a lease in the ahupuaa of Pālāwai. In 1862 Walter Murray Gibson arrived on Lanai to reorganize the Mormon settlement. A year later he bought the ahupuaa of Pālāwai for $3000 with the money of the church but put the title in his own name. When the Mormons found this out they excommunicated him but he still got to retain the land. By the 1870s, Walter M. Gibson, still the leader of the Mormon colony on the island, had acquired most of the land on the island for ranching.
In 1890 the population of Lanai was reduced to 200. In 1899, Gibson's daughter and son-in-law formed Maunalei Sugar Company, headquartered in Keomuku, on the windward (northeast) coast downstream from Maunalei Valley. The company failed in 1901. Between 1899 and 1901, however, nearly 800 laborers, mostly from Japan, had been contracted for the plantations. Many Native Hawaiians continued to live along the less arid windward coast, supporting themselves by ranching and fishing.
In 1921 Charles Gay planted the first pineapple on Lānai. The population had again decreased to 150 most of whom were the descendants of the traditional families of the island. A year later, James Dole, the president of Hawaiian Pineapple Company (later renamed Dole Food Company), bought the island and developed a large portion of it into the world's largest pineapple plantation.
With Hawaii statehood in 1959, Lānai became part of the County of Maui.
In 1985, Lānai passed into the control of David H. Murdock, as a result of his purchase of Castle & Cooke, then owner of Dole.
In October 1992 the final harvest of pineapple took place on Lānai.
In June 2012, Larry Ellison, then CEO of Oracle Corporation, purchased Castle & Cooke's 98 percent share of the island for $300 million. The state owns the remaining 2 percent. Ellison reportedly plans to invest as much as $500 million to add to and improve the island's infrastructure and to create an environmentally friendly agricultural industry. Ellison has spent an estimated $450 million to remodel his Four Seasons Resort Lanai at Manele Bay, which reopened in April 2016 after a seven-month shutdown. In Lānaʻi City he built a new water filtration system and a resort-style Olympic-size public pool. He also refurbished the historic movie theater built in the 1920s but mostly shut since the 1970s, turning it into a state-of-the art movie house. His second Four Seasons Resort at Kōʻele in the mountains is currently being renovated.
According to the Hawaiian legends, man-eating spirits occupied the island before that time. For generations, Maui chiefs believed in these man-eating spirits. Differing legends say that either the prophet Lanikāula drove the spirits from the island or the unruly Maui prince Kauluāʻau accomplished that heroic feat. The more popular myth is that the mischievous Kauluāʻau pulled up every breadfruit tree (ʻulu) (Artocarpus altilis) he could find on Maui. Finally his father, Kakaʻalaneo had to banish him to Lānai, expecting him not to survive in that hostile place. However Kauluāʻau outwitted the spirits and drove them from the island. The chief looked across the channel from Maui and saw that his son's fire continued to burn nightly on the shore, and he sent a canoe to Lānai to bring the prince back, redeemed by his courage and cleverness. As a reward, Kakaalaneo gave Kauluāau control of the island and encouraged emigration from other islands. Kauluāau had, in the meantime, pulled up all the breadfruit trees on Lānai, accounting for the historic lack of them on that island.
The highest point in Lānai is Mount Lānaihale. It is an inactive volcano near the center of the island and to the east of Lanai City. The elevation of Mount Lanaihale is 3,366 ft (1,026 m).
Lānai was traditionally administered in 13 political subdivisions (Ahupua), grouped into two districts (mokuoloko): kona (Leeward) and koʻolau (Windward). The ahupuaa are listed below, in clockwise sequence, and with original area figures in acres, starting in the northwest of the island.
Kamoku hosts the largest share of population, because the bigger part of Lānai City falls into it. Parts of Lānai City stretch to Kaa and Paomai. As of 2010, the remaining ahupuaa were virtually uninhabited. According to the census of 2000, Lānai City accounts for 99 percent of the island population (3164 of 3193). As a census-designated place, Lānai City is defined solely for statistical purposes, and not by administrative boundaries.
A volcanic collapse in Lanai 100,000 years ago generated a megatsunami that inundated land at elevations higher than 300 metres.
Tourism on Lānai began to be prominent in more recent history as the pineapple and sugarcane industries were phased out in the islands. The number of visitors coming to the island is still relatively small, however, with around 59,000 arrivals forecast for 2016 - of all the publicly accessible Hawaiian islands only Molokai attracts fewer visitors.
As of 2016, the two resort hotels on Lānai were managed by Four Seasons Hotels; the Four Seasons Resort Lanai in Manele Bay at Hulupoe Beach, just a few steps from where the ferry from Lāhainā docks, and the Lodge at Kōele in the mountains. The Hotel Lāna}}i in Lānai City was built in 1923 by James Dole of the Hawaiian Pineapple Company as a lodge to house the executives overseeing the island’s pineapple production. It was the island’s only hotel until 1990.
Lānai is also home to three golf courses, one at each Four Seasons resort and a third, free course.
Shipwreck Beach on the north shore of the island is so named because of the remains of a wrecked vessel aground a short distance offshore. This is popularly referred to as a WW II Liberty Ship, although it is YOGN 42, one of concrete barges built during the war.
In Lānai City, there are no traffic lights, no shopping malls, and public transportation is supplied by the hotels. For a one-time fee, hotel guests enjoy unlimited rides on small and large buses that go between the hotels and the ferry landing on Manele Bay. Bicycles and off-road vehicles are for rent at the local Gas Station and Dollar Rent a Car. Most attractions outside of the hotels and town can be visited only via dirt roads that require an off-road vehicle.
Danny Lockin, actor, dancer, born in Lānai in 1943. Best known for his role as Barnaby Tucker in the 1969 movie Hello Dolly!, he played the same role in the Broadway play and when it went on tour across The United States.
On June 21, 2012, Hawaii's governor, Neil Abercrombie, declared that Larry Ellison had signed an agreement to buy most of the island of Lānai from the Castle & Cooke company, owned by David H. Murdock. Ellison owns 98% of Lānai. Ellison has stated that he wants to make Lānai into "the first economically viable, 100 percent green community".