The island of Lanai, the story goes, was discovered by Kaululaau, the son of a Maui chief named Kakaalaneo. Kaululaau was a mischievous young man, always getting in trouble, and when he accidentally destroyed an entire crop of breadfruit, his father’s punishment was to banish him to Lanai.
At the time, Lanai was an unexplored island, and evil spirits were believed to reside there. But the energetic Kaululaau cleared the land and found the island to be free of such spirits. In time, people began to settle the island.
Perhaps a few evil spirits did lurk around Lanai, however, because frustrated residents trying to establish an economy on the island seemed to fall under a curse. Sugarcane and cattle were just two ambitious enterprises that came and went without success.
Everything changed in 1922, when James Dole arrived on Lanai and purchased the entire island. The price tag? A cool $1.1 million.
Dole had the magic touch. He wanted to grow pineapple on the island, and his efforts were remarkably successful. Soon, canned pineapple from Lanai, a product that no one had even heard of before—became a huge hit on the mainland United States. As large plantations were built, the island became a major exporter of this sweet, fleshy fruit; in fact, at one time, tiny Lanai produced 75 percent of the world’s pineapple!
To accommodate the increasing number of workers arriving on Lanai to toil in the pineapple fields, Dole built a plantation camp in the flatlands. This is now Lanai City. For the next few decades, Lanai was widely known as Hawaii’s vibrant “Pineapple Island.” Thousands of acres were covered with pineapple.
In the late 1980s, pineapple’s “crown” began to wither, and the industry no longer turned a profit. Now owned by Castle & Cooke Resorts, Lanai has reinvented itself as a one-of-a-kind vacation destination, with two upscale resorts and golf courses. Only about 100 acres of pineapple for local consumption remain on the island.
Each summer, Lanai celebrates its unique heritage with the Pineapple Festival, a colorful event paying homage to the island’s favorite fruit.