On the Hawaiian island of Lanai, a new partnership between a storied hotel chain and a tech ﬁrm leads to the inception of Sensei Lanai, A Four Seasons Resort, and balances rigorous, science-backed treatments with enough indulgence to sway even wellness sceptics. Text by Jancee Dunn; photographs by Robb Aaron Gordon/Courtesy of Four Seasons Resorts Lanai
I love the idea of wellness travel, with its enticing promise that I’ll emerge a new—or at least newish—person. But when I’m eyeing a resort, I cross it off my list if the offerings seem too intense. I don’t do cardio boot camp. I don’t drink bee-pollen smoothies, adaptogenic-mushroom coffee, or ashwagandha shakes. I like my wellness to be gentle. Fun. Nature-ﬁlled. And is it so wrong that I like my wellness to involve a bread basket?
So, I was intrigued to hear that Four Seasons had opened a wellness-focused property, the all-inclusive, adults-only Sensei Lanai, A Four Seasons Resort (doubles from INR2,36,878; all-inclusive; three nights minimum). It’s the brand’s ﬁrst venture with Sensei, a wellness tech company created by the eminent cancer researcher Dr David Agus and billionaire Oracle founder Larry Ellison, who owns 98 per cent of the land on Lanai, a stoplight-free island 13 kilometres west of Maui.
Nestled in fog-shrouded mountains, the property is a complete reimagining of the former Lodge at Koele, a rustic, English country-house escape. With no direct beach access, the hotel never quite found its footing. But Ellison rightly anticipated that wellness travel would surge—and that secluded Lanai would be the perfect location for it. After a four-year, INR567 crore renovation, the gleaming 96-room retreat was unveiled in November last year. With starting rates around INR2.2 lakh— meals, activities, and air transfers included—it banks on clients willing to splurge on a different kind of Hawaiian getaway.
Wellness the Sensei way is the opposite of an ascetic medi-spa; its low-key mantra is ‘Move, Nourish, Rest’. This philosophy is put into practice by each guest’s wellness guide, who tailors a plan based on the latest research and input from advanced-degree-bearing experts.
At just 3,100 residents, Lanai is so small that there’s no direct ﬂight from the mainland, so— in true Four Seasons fashion—the cosseting began when I landed in Honolulu. There, I was whisked via limo to a private lounge before boarding a zippy eight-seat turboprop. Thrillingly, I was the sole passenger for the 15-minute ﬂight from Oahu. I snapped a photo and sent it to my parents.
After checking in to my light-suffused room, done up in white with a balcony facing the orchid-bedecked grounds, I headed to the Sync Room for a health assessment with Kelly LaLonde, a cheerful, self-assured woman with an easy laugh who was to be my Sensei guide. “We just want you to tune in to you,” cooed the white-clad LaLonde, who previously calmed stressed-out employees at Google’s LA ofﬁce. (Like many of the 20 experts on staff, LaLonde has a master’s degree—in her case, in sports science.) She ran a series of tests, from 10-year heart-disease risk evaluation to the Functional Movement Assessment, which measures balance and mobility. She asked about my intentions—How do I deﬁne wellness?—then walked me through my schedule: a whirlwind of meditation, yoga, cardio, massage, and sessions with various experts, all of whom check in with Dr Agus weekly to ﬁne-tune their programmes.
My ﬁrst consultation was with Marcus Washington, a psychologist who used to counsel military vets. As we sat in a bougainvillaea-draped enclave, I told him how I toggle constantly between worrying about my young daughter and my elderly parents.
Washington listened intently, nodding and gently probing further. He coached me on acceptance and shared tactics to help me stop brooding and feel more in control. Yoga with Anne van Valkenburg was similarly rigorous, and my nutrition consultation with the cerebral, funny Quentin Nichols was a wide-ranging symposium on anti-inﬂammatory foods, the beneﬁts of zinc, and healthy gut bacteria that took place over a long hike along the spectacular Koloiki Ridge.
Alongside the custom schedule, the resort offers up to 16 daily activities, many exuberantly over-the-top. There’s a stable of 25 horses for riding, an 18-hole putting green, and a clay shooting range. I decided against the aerial adventure course (with 70 obstacles providing “a variety of opportunities for personal growth”) and opted for a workshop about connective tissue, Functional Fascia, and a trip to the golden beach at the nearby Four Seasons Resort Lanai for sunning and snorkelling.
When I wasn’t working on my ‘wellness journey’, I was gleefully stufﬁng my face at Sensei by Nobu, a restaurant overlooking a tranquil pond. I found chef Nobu Matsuhisa’s ﬁrst wellness menu, available only at the resort, clean but richly satisfying. I loved it all, from my tender Wagyu steak with mushrooms from Sensei’s farm to roasted snapper with tomato ponzu to pineapple shave ice with the best coconut ice cream I’ve ever had. There’s alcohol, too, and even a morning bread-basket. If I hadn’t been told the croissants were made with quinoa ﬂour, I’d never have known.
Treatments take place in 10 teak-panelled stand-alone hales (‘houses’ in Hawaiian), each with its own steam shower, infrared sauna, and deep wooden ofuro tub. The privacy was a dream: no hurriedly changing among strangers in the dressing room. No sitting in the midst of a chattering bachelorette party in the spa lounge. No studiously avoiding eye contact with the only other person in the steam room.
As I reclined on a massage table, my therapist took pictures with a Sensei-developed thermographic camera to locate inﬂammation. Then she showed me an eerie image: my shins a soothing blue, my neck and shoulder blades the angry red of molten lava, a sign they’d need extra attention. The high-tech approach worked. The lomilomi massage, using oil scented with local ti leaf, was heavenly; afterwards, the therapist brought ﬁsh tacos for lunch. Why can’t every massage end in tacos?
Throughout my stay, LaLonde would check-in, instantly available but always low-key, and tweak my schedule as needed. Under her assiduous direction, I found that the most restorative part of a wellness regime was merely having the time to think. I ﬁnally had space to fully enjoy the quiet moments, like watching amethyst-coloured birds ﬂit among the hibiscus during my meditation sessions or humming as I wandered to the stable to visit the miniature horses, donkeys, and dwarf goats that—why not?—live alongside the horses. One windswept night, I meandered over to one of the eight spring-fed outdoor tubs and slipped in for a soak as I gazed out at a blue-black sky glittering with stars.
Normally, I’m a spiky New Yorker, but by my last day, I was ﬂoating around with a blissed smile, one step away from greeting people with ‘namaste’. Yes, it’s a splurge—even with the plane, and all the complimentary Billecart-Salmon you can tip back. But this plush hideout is a little bit surreal and entirely unforgettable.