Manele Bay - Lanai's Hidden Retreat

Lana’i - Population: 2,500. The Pineapple Isle, once owned by the Dole Company and now a piece of David Murdoch’s (CEO of Dole) fortune, is among the elite in world resort destinations by virtue of its miles of barely accessible beaches, a tiny little airport, one rental car, or should I say rental-sport-utility-vehicle company, and, oh yes, two of the grandest hotels on the planet. Lanai City is a small town plum in the middle of the top of the island (reminiscent of the old "O-hi-O" joke from our childhood) complete with park benches on the sidewalks of the main roads where people actually do watch this little world go by. Only here it goes in a circle, because there’s really nowhere to go. If you sit awhile in the same place, you’ll notice the same cars, people and dogs will pass by a few times. If you sit long enough, one of them might invite you to dinner.

With a modified shipping container for the jail and nary a single traffic light on the island, Lanai is a both a treat and a retreat in and of itself. The tall, looming pine trees in the center of the town park and the chimneys hanging on the side of most homes remind visitors of sub-tropical mainland destinations in the spring, not of Hawaii. The aroma of pine and the cool, fresh air gives you a sense of relief from some of the areas where the air is hot and humid. The Lodge at Koele, one of the grand hotels on the island, is located just past Lanai City, and boasts golf, food and relaxation like no other, and it’s lobby is a sight filled with artifacts that even a museum curator shouldn’t miss. Many visitors to the island will spend time sitting by the fire in this wood-filled country-charmed resort.

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The Grounds of the Lodge at Koele


Manele Bay is the most southerly of the harbors on Lanai, probably the most protected, and certainly the most used by recreational traffic. It does get a little surge now and again in heavier winter weather, but it is much nicer and safer than the barge harbor around the corner at Kamaulapau. By the way, those are the only two harbors on the island, so if you are looking for refuge in a storm and you are stuck on the North side of Lanai, better try Maui for landing. The tanker at Shipwreck Beach here lays ominous as a reminder for mariners to remain in deep waters.

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White Manele and Manele Bay Hotel


Manele itself is divided into two areas known to the locals as White Manele and Black Manele. White Manele is also known as Holopoe Bay, which fronts the famous and grand Manele Bay Hotel. This side of the bay is a Marine Life Conservation District (MLCD), but all a visitor needs to know is "look but don’t take," and "pass through but don’t anchor." White Manele/Holopoe is a haven for millions of tropical fish, and the snorkeling here is fantastic. Small and large reefs separate into underwater caverns filled with sealife for the viewing pleasure of all who come, while the normally calm bay provides luxury beachside ambiance for those just wishing to relax and take it all in.

On the Black Manele side - when you see the place it’s obvious where the names come from - is the boat harbor. The waiting list for permanent slips here at one time was fifteen years, and when folks did finally get a mooring permit, the surprise was always the absence of electrical power. Despite the locals’ lament, transient mooring is usually quite easy to obtain. Simply pull up to the area you wish to moor, and tie up Tahiti-style along the second bank. If the harbormaster happens to come by, they might ask for a fee, so pay it and carry on with your barbecue. One word of caution on stopping in Manele, though, is a tournament held by the Maalea (Maui) Boat Club takes place in Manele Bay over the last weekend of August every year, and this is about the only time when finding a place to tie up is any trouble.

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Black Manele from the air

Lanai is a world famous island, lavishly appointed with golf courses and king-like service, however, what isn’t as widely known is how amazing the fishing along the South shore can be. While the rest of the state might be experiencing windy and lumpy conditions, the fishing grounds here are smooth and calm. Not out quite as far as in Kona, but certainly far enough for a great day on the water. This is one of the few places around the state where the Marlin will come in to shallower waters for any length of time, and it has become commonplace to see the Maui charter boats cruising up and down the South Coast in 150 fathoms of water just a few miles offshore between the lighthouse and the point, with the reels going off at regular intervals. It’s quite a sight when the big tournament is run and some hundred or so boats line up along the trolling alley in search of the winning combination of skill, preparation and luck.

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"Fish on" off Lanai

 

Many large Blue Marlin have been caught along Lanai’s shores, and the Lahaina Jackpot Tournament which is held every year from Lahaina, Maui in late October boasts the distinction of being the only tournament in the world that has weighed two granders in the same tournament. With Lahaina only a few miles from Lanai, the tournament anglers regularly fish these waters instead of the nearshore water off Lahaina itself. Imagine catching a thousand pound fish and taking second place in a tournament! Would you consider yourself lucky or unlucky in this situation?

 

After a great day on the water, if the trip is an overnighter or multi-day event, a night in Manele will restore whatever faith that went astray in your mind in the mad world of business. With no electricity on the docks, there’s usually only a candle lamp or two around, and togetherness barbecues become the rule rather than the exception. The bluff on the Northeast side provides nice wind protection, and the complete lack of ambient light allows for great evening games of Star-Light, Star Bright, First Star I See Tonight. Of course, the reclined position in which star viewing is done often leads to slumber sooner rather than later, but nobody will be upset with you for that decision.

After a refreshing sleep with the sounds of waves hitting the seawall and the slight lapping of water against the hull, the chances of being woken up early the next morning by someone are actually pretty good. No, there won’t be any aircraft noise or shouts of domestic squabbles coming in through the portholes, and there definitely won’t be any traffic noise to awaken you. Rather, you will likely meet the locals with their long, reelless bamboo poles angling for shad and filling their buckets up for dinner. After wakening at first startled, any uncertainty will soon succumb to curiosity and down right intrigue as you watch the morning ritual and think that overnight you have gone from the city to the country and beyond in a matter of a single cybermoment.


If you hadn’t done it the day before, the early morning would be an opportunity to take a trip to the top of the hill to explore Lanai City and experience this unique wonderland of quiet and peace - and see for yourself that the jail really is a shipping container. Simply walk over to the road and begin walking up the hill, and if you caught any fish like Mahi Mahi or Ono the day before, carry some pieces of it in a cooler (even better is a whole fish). There’s only one street going up, so there’s no real chance of getting lost. As you walk up the hill, we’ll bet you can’t get three hundred yards past the driveway from the Manele Bay Hotel without someone offering you a ride to the top. Smiles and pieces of fish are the best currency here, and the experience of catching a ride and offering someone dinner might well exceed that of catching the fish in the first place. The people of Lanai are the friendliest we’ve ever met, and for many, their daily life is about sharing, giving, and helping anyone with a smile. And fishing.

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Typical Lanai City Home


Going To Manele Bay

Visitors choosing to visit this scenic wonderland about sixty-five miles from Honolulu can start their trip from Oahu or Maui, and should choose a skipper who has done the trip a few times. We’d recommend at least a four day trip so you can experience the town at the top of the hill, the beaches and diving of Holopoe, plus the magnificent splendor of the Manele Bay Hotel. An aerial recon trip either before or after the fishing trip could also be taken in order to survey the area and appreciate its beauty.

Like everywhere else in Hawaii, the fishing is good for Marlin and other species all year, and the snorkeling and diving are simply beyond belief. Only the worst winter weather or a large Southerly swell should stop a seasoned skipper from entering or leaving the harbor at Manele, and of course, it’s just gorgeous during the summer months.

On the Weekend of the Lanai Rendezvous tournament, the Maui charter boats usually fill up pretty quick, but Oahu boats can usually accommodate you if that event turns your reel. It’s takes the better part of a day to get to Lanai from Oahu as opposed to an hour from Lahaina (at fishing speed, of course), but the fishing between Oahu and Lanai, especially over the Penguin Banks off the Southwest shore of Molokai, can be great as you travel across and get tuned up for the tournament.

If you would like a great fishing trip with drop dead beautiful scenery and shimmering seas mixed in, or you’d like to spend a few nights in Lanai where the cost for a charter runs about the same as the hotels (except you can’t fish from your hotel room), you might like to consider chartering a boat from either Oahu or Maui and planning to visit this one of a kind island retreat.

 

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