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The Lodge at Koele: A vacation from the typical Hawaii that's not just hype

By Chris Baldwin, Contributor

Four Seasons Resort Lana'i, The Lodge at Koele is on one of Hawaii's smallest islands (Lanai), but it just may be one of the best vacation secrets in all of the Pacific.

The Lodge at Koele's - Golf Course
There are two great courses near The Lodge at Koele - but only two.
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The Lodge at Koele's - Golf CourseThe Lodge at Koele's - Lush GroundsThe Lodge at Koele - Beach
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LANA'I, Hawaii - Everyone wants to truly get away and to leave all those work pressures, bills and disappointments far behind - to feel like the clock's stopped or at least slowed down a little.

That's why people pay thousands of dollars to go on vacation and dream about that getaway for months at a time.

How often does it really happen though? Once or twice a lifetime. Or even less frequently than Rory Sabbatini says he's sorry. In many ways, trips where you completely disengage from the minutia of everyday life are the holy grail of vacations.

Kicking back on a pool-side lounge chair, munching on a cheese and fruit plate that was delivered while you swam laps in heated water on a small Hawaiian island … well, you've at least got a hell of a fighting chance to find that grail.

There's no guarantee you'll be able to stow the iPhone at The Lodge at Koele - a Four Seasons resort on Lana'i. But if you can't, you might as well start heading for the ends of the earth. Because you came pretty close here (or at least as close as you can get while being in understated luxury).

First, there's the flight to Maui, six hours from the West Coast of the U.S. alone, a virtual odyssey from East Coast parts. Then, there's the 45-minute ferry ride to Lana'i. Once you're on the island, it's another 40-minute shuttle van trip (and that's if the local driver is in a fast-moving mode - not likely) up the windy road to the lodge itself.

Lana'i is an island with a population under 2,000 and only 28.5 miles of paved roads - and The Lodge at Koele is the most isolated hotel on it. It's in the wooded, towering pines part of an island that also has sunny bays where dolphins frolic.

This is anything but your typical U.S. mega luxury resort. There are only 102 rooms at The Lodge. It's not cramped or small, though. Far from it. The hotel's spread out like a manor with different wings, and at only two stories tall, it seems even longer.

The grounds themselves give The Lodge at Koele, it's true sense of space, though. You can wander along meticulously maintained gardens, past gazebos, a conservatory and even a stable of horses (available to ride across Lana'i's largely unspoiled scenery).

It's easy to feel like a nobleman who's enjoying his own country estate.

Who worries about the boss when you feel like the king of the world? Minus any cheesy Leonardo DiCaprio "Titanic" preening, of course.

"I'm pretty well off, I'm not going to lie to you," said a guest from Wisconsin who asked that his name not be used. "But this place makes me feel like I'm filthy rich. Like I should have 10 servants instead of two."

Yes, you're going to run into some people at The Lodge at Koele who look at life a little differently than most regular folks. I overheard one woman moaning loudly on the shuttle bus about how dumb the workers were at the trendy $500 jeans clothing store she owns.

You'll also see a gorgeous woman get behind you on the bus and think she looks like a model. Then you'll find out later, she is.

With the cheapest garden rooms starting out at $345 per night, The Lodge at Koele tends to attract vacationers who don't have to worry about price tags. Which is something of a shame and probably has more to do with the intimidation of the Four Seasons' name than anything.

This isn't Kansas after all. It's Hawaii - and even those staying in Sheratons and Marriotts on Maui are routinely spending more than $300 a night.

And on Maui, you're not getting the chance to shoot clay pigeons in a remote setting where sometimes only the trees are witnesses to the gunshots. Yes, there's a shooting range and plenty of other chances to go hunting on the island.

No beach, plenty of nature at Lodge at Koele

The Lodge at Koele is as different from your typical Hawaiian resort as Al Sharpton is from Don Imus. Most Hawaii palaces are fixated on the beach. The Lodge doesn't even have one. Oh, you have access to the pristine blue water beach at the other Four Seasons on the island down at Manele Bay. But Koele itself stands out as the anti-beach resort.

The pool, while nice, is also small. There are none of the huge water slides and elaborate waterfalls that most major Hawaii resorts have. Instead, The Lodge's pool is simply a quiet, nice spot to relax with the people you came to Lana'i with.

In other words, it's fitting for a resort that seems to do almost everything against convention.

Many resorts try to hit you over the head with all the things you should do. The Lodge at Koele all but forces you to chill.

All the rooms include a cushioned window seat perch that's perfect to lose an afternoon reading a book in. Yes, a book. The Lodge makes you consider crazy things like that. The nighttime entertainment here centers around an old-fashioned game room. There's not a video game system in sight.

Instead, you'll find guests from 5 to 70 (on this brief stay alone) playing pool, shuffleboard, foosball, chess, checkers and other games that have been around much longer than Paris Hilton.

There are two great golf courses on the island - Jack Nicklaus' The Challenge at Manele and one right near The Lodge, The Experience at Koele - but only two. You don't feel the pressure to rush to get in rounds at a bunch of courses here. Though, here's betting that you'll want to play The Experience at Koele twice during your stay.

About the only thing that might snap one out of a rare Zen state might be The Lodge's food, It's mediocre to decent at best for high-end luxury hotel meals and priced like it's one of the Four Seasons chain's outstanding restaurants.

When you're getting away from it all like this, you probably won't care that a top chef hasn't followed you, though. Everyone needs to make some sacrifices.

Another cheese plate please!

Chris BaldwinChris Baldwin, Contributor

Chris Baldwin keeps one eye on the PGA Tour and another watching golf vacation hotspots and letting travelers in on the best place to vacation.


 
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Dates: January 1, 2014 - December 20, 2014
Play five rounds at two of the best courses in Hawaii for one great price. The package includes two 18-hole rounds at Mauna Kea Golf Course and three 18-hole rounds at Hapuna Golf Course, starting from $500 per person.
Price range: $500