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Following the Devastation in Maui, Here Are The Billionaires Buying Up Hawaii (Video)

In 2023, we witnesses a direct attack, not a wild fire, on the Island of Maui. Of course, we also saw how some of the homes and properties of some of the rich and famous on the island were completely untouched by the fires, and a point was made about blue roofs and the issue with the laser used in the attack not sparking up a fire on that blue material. However, both before and after the incident, billionaires have been trying to buy up a majority of property in Hawaii.

Forbes reporter Phoebe Liu provided an update on this land rush in Hawaii.

Liu reported:

A year ago, Oprah Winfrey scooped up 850 acres on Maui for $6.4 million, adding to the 1,280 acres she already owned on the island. Set inland, her (mostly contiguous) property extends over green hills into a forest preserve on the slopes of the Haleakala volcano. Cattle graze on the mostly undeveloped land she’s working to conserve. “It looks like Scotland but with really good weather,” says her fitness trainer turned property manager, Bob Greene.

Winfrey, who resides in Hawaii about four months a year, first bought a ranch on Maui two decades ago. Her land was left unscathed when wildfires ripped through Maui last August, incinerating 6,625 acres and killing 100 people. In the aftermath, she brought pillows, diapers and other supplies to survivors and, with Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, set up the People’s Fund of Maui, with Winfrey personally contributing $25 million to the effort.

But a pandemic-era luxury real estate boom, which pushed housing prices ever higher, has heightened tensions between Hawaiians and wealthy out-of-state landowners, even leading to a controversial bill introduced last week that would ban non-Americans from purchasing land in Hawaii. Despite trying to help after the fires, Winfrey was criticized for filming her relief efforts and asking the public for money—a response that she claimed was taking attention away from Maui. Others questioned what happened to the $100 million Jeff Bezos, who has a 14-acre estate 12 miles south of the fires, and his partner, Lauren Sánchez, promised in aid. A spokesperson told Forbes that Bezos has given $15.5 million to nine charities so far.

America’s richest have been buying in Hawaii for years, but no one knew exactly how extensive their holdings were. To figure it out, Forbes spent months digging through thousands of property records on Hawaii’s six biggest islands. The results were astonishing: Just 37 billionaires own at least 218,000 acres. That’s 5.3% of the state’s total land and 11.1% of all non-government-owned land—though it is likely even higher given the lengths to which these billionaires go to obscure their ownership. Expressed a different way: Those 37 people, equal to just 0.003% of Hawaii’s total population of 1.4 million, own 11% of its private land.

Some billionaires have long ties to the community. Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff, who first visited Hawaii in 1974, has given $100 million to various causes across the state over two decades and in December, along with his wife, Lynne, donated 282 acres for affordable housing. “I feel a strong spiritual connection to Hawaii,” says Benioff, who has tried to work the Hawaiian concept of ohana, or family, into Salesforce’s culture. “I have a deep understanding of the people and spirit of Hawaii, what we call ‘the aloha spirit.’”


Others, like Meta cofounder Mark Zuckerberg, who is reportedly building a bunker on his partially walled-off compound, seem more concerned with their privacy. Real estate broker Rob Kildow, who says he rides bikes with Citadel billionaire Ken Griffin, remembers one billionaire who lives at the private Hualalai Resort telling him, “ ‘Half the people here don’t know who I am, and the other half don’t give a crap.’”

Wayne Tanaka, director of the environmental nonprofit Sierra Club of Hawaii, tries to be hopeful: “If high-net-worth residents can overcome their desire for isolation and start talking with the people around them, that might open doors and windows to really contributing back to this place.” In the meantime, though, he admits, “More and more of Hawaii is becoming a playground for the rich.”

Top 10 Biggest Billionaire Landowners

Larry Ellison

87,810 Acres

Net Worth: $140.2 billion | Source of Wealth: Oracle | View Profile

Hawaii’s biggest billionaire landowner, the Oracle cofounder bought about 97% of Lanai for $300 million in 2012, instantly making him landlord to almost all its 3,000 residents, many of whom are his employees. Since then, he has decked out Lanai with the luxury resort Sensei, a Four Seasons–branded wellness retreat; superb restaurants; and a sculpture collection—but, as locals have complained, scant affordable housing.

Steve Case

57,400 Acres

Net Worth: $1.5 billion | Source of Wealth: AOL | View Profile

The AOL cofounder was born and raised in Hawaii, where he attended the same high school as Barack Obama. Case is now the state’s second-largest billionaire landowner with 57,400 acres, including his 35,170-acre Grove Farm on Kauai, which leases out land for sustainable development projects.

Quek Leng Chan

55,490 Acres

Net Worth: $9.9 billion | Source of Wealth: Banking, property | View Profile

The Malaysian tycoon owns a third of the island of Molokai—once famous for its leprosy colony—through his conglomerate Hong Leong Group. Until 2008, Quek operated an enormous ranch there, including a golf course and hotel, but ended its operations after the state rejected his development proposals. Now island residents are trying to buy it back.

Frank VanderSloot

6,550 Acres

Net Worth: $3.3 billion | Source of Wealth: Wellness products | View Profile

The billionaire founder of health-and-wellness business Melaleuca owns the historic 105-acre Valley House estate in Kauai, where parts of Pirates of the Caribbean and Jurassic Park were filmed. An advocate for localizing Hawaii’s beef industry, he operates the state’s two largest meat processing plants and is suing a former ranch manager for allegedly stealing 200 cows. “Pineapple is gone. Sugarcane is gone. The only thing left, really, right now is cattle.”

Neil Bluhm

3,900 Acres

Net Worth: $6.3 billion | Source of Wealth: Real estate | View Profile

Bluhm owns 3,000-plus acres through his approximately 30% stake in publicly-traded land management company Kaanapali Land. The property includes coffee lots, mixed-use residential real estate, golf courses and areas zoned for conservation.

Brad Kelley

2,750 Acres

Net Worth: $2.7 billion | Source of Wealth: Tobacco | View Profile

With over 1 million acres across the U.S., Kelley is one of the country’s largest landowners. The former cigarette entrepreneur extended his holdings to Hawaii in 2013 when he bought 2,750 acres from Steve Case’s Grove Farm. Now he leases some of them to cell phone tower company American Tower.

Oprah Winfrey

2,130 Acres

Net Worth: $2.8 billion | Source of Wealth: TV shows | View Profile

Winfrey’s hilly pastures in Hawaii feature ancient stone walls, grazing cattle, a bed-and-breakfast operation for hosting friends and an (unprofitable) organic farm. Intent on preserving the land, she’s committed to keeping it vacant and planting native species to help restore lost watershed.

Mark Zuckerberg

1,450 Acres

Net Worth: $166 billion | Source of Wealth: Facebook | View Profile

The Meta cofounder spent at least $145 million on land that he’s turning into an enormous 1,450-acre, partially walled-off retreat in Kauai. He is raising beer-fed Wagyu and Angus cattle on the land and involving his daughters in the process, according to a January Instagram post in which he shared a photo of a giant steak and quipped that “of all my projects, this is the most delicious.”

Tadashi Yanai

500 Acres

Net Worth: $40.1 billion | Source of Wealth: Fashion retail | View Profile

Japan’s richest man—and the founder of clothing retailer Uniqlo—is also a golf enthusiast. More than a decade ago, he bought two golf courses for $75 million from Maui Land & Pineapple, which is majority owned by Hawaii-born Steve Case (see above).

Marc Benioff

300 Acres

Net Worth: $10.2 billion | Source of Wealth: Business software | View Profile

The bulk of Benioff’s land in Hawaii is a 160-acre parcel of mostly vacant land that he and his wife Lynne bought in 2022. The couple intends to put it to philanthropic use; one possibility is donating it to the Hawaii Island Community Development Corporation in addition to the 282 acres they’ve already given the group. Aside from that, Benioff has had a residence for himself in Hawaii for two decades and also owns a smattering of other homes that his family members live in, he told Forbes.

Full List

HAWAII’S BILLIONAIRE LANDOWNERS

According to estimated data from Hawaii property records, Forbes research and direct sourcing, these 37 billionaires own 11% of Hawaii’s private land.


Note, February 20, 2024: This article has been updated to reflect Winfrey’s additional $15 million in donations to the People’s Fund of Maui since we first reported the story.

Tim Brown

Tim Brown is a Christian and lover of liberty, a husband to his "more precious than rubies" wife, father of 10 "mighty arrows" and jack of all trades. He lives in the US-Occupied State of South Carolina, is the Editor at SonsOfLibertyMedia.com, GunsInTheNews.com and TheWashingtonStandard.com. and SettingBrushfires.com; and also broadcasts on The Sons of Liberty radio weekdays at 6am EST and Saturdays at 8am EST. Follow Tim on Twitter. Also check him out on Gab, Minds, and USALife.

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