Destinations

Niihau: Hawaii’s “Forbidden Island”

Every year, millions of people visit the Hawaiian islands of Oahu, Kauai, Maui, and the Big Island. Some visitors even make it to Lanai and Molokai.However, there’s another island in the chain that has always fascinated me, and that is the island of Ni’ihau. It is known by many as the “forbidden island” due to the fact that it is privately owned and not open to the public. What is it about places that are “forbidden”? I hear that word and suddenly I have a singular mission in life: to go there. That’s what it was like for me when I visited Kauai for the first time. Since Ni’ihau is visible from some areas of the island, I became obsessed with finding out more about it. I spent my evenings in Kauai online, researching Ni’ihau. I learned that it is called the “forbidden island” because you just aren’t allowed to visit it (without paying a lot of money, anyway).

The island is owned by the Robinson family, and has been in their possession since 1864. The only people allowed to access the island are government officials, U.S. Navy personnel, and the around 160 native Hawaiians who live on the island (and their family and friends as guests). The Robinson family, when they purchased the island, made a commitment to preserve the native Hawaiian way of life, and this is why the island is so closed off from the outside world today.

Niihau_cliffs_aerial

Ni’ihau is one of those rare places in our world where time has stood still. The island’s residents are largely still practicing traditional ways of fishing and hunting, and where the Hawaiian language is still spoken in daily life. Technology and industrialization do not have a place on this island. It is still pristine, preserved in it’s beauty.The island is home to animals such as the Polynesian Boar, Hybrid Sheep, Eland and the Oryx. Although only 18 miles away from Kauai’s shores, it is a world away.

Niihau_sep_2007

The only way for outsiders to visit the island is through a supervised guided tour which are limited to half day excursions where you can go for a swim, view some monk seals, and generally enjoy the scenery and wildlife of the island. These tours are very expensive as well (I know…I looked into it). These half day tours usually arrive by helicopter.

There are also day trips that you can take by boat which will bring you to a snorkel spot offshore just off the coast of Ni’ihau and leave daily from Kauai. These tours are much less expensive and although they don’t take you onto the shores of the island itself, do allow you to catch a glimpse of it’s shores. This is what I did when I visited Kauai. Here are a few photos from my Ni’ihau excursion:

Ni’ihau’s claim to fame is the lei pupu that they make there. The pupu shells are beautiful, gem-like shells that are found exclusively on the island of Ni’ihau and are made by the locals with exquisite craftsmanship. These shell necklaces are extremely valuable and sell in stores around the other islands (particularly in Kauai, Ni’ihau’s closest neighbor).

Eight_strand_lei_Niihau,_Bishop_Museum,_accession_1983.348.001

Have you ever been to Ni’ihau? If so, I would really (really!) like to hear from you! Let me know in the comments or talk to me about writing a guest post. If you’ve never been to Ni’ihau (like most of us haven’t), would you want to go?

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