As the most remote of Hawaii’s islands, Niihau has earned its nickname of the “Forbidden Isle.” Adding to the sense of mystery is the fact that until very recently the entire island, which is privately owned by one family, was off-limits to anyone but family members and specifically invited guests of family members. That’s changed slightly in recent years, although tourism is still strictly regulated. If you’re looking for the most off-the-beaten-path Hawaii experience you can have without living here, this is it.
The Robinson family has owned the island of Niihau since the 1860s, and access has traditionally been very limited. Visitors who aren’t related to the family or invited by someone who lives on Niihau are only allowed to set foot on the island via one of a few day trips and guided tours which leave from Kauai. So even if packaged day tours aren’t your thing, you’ll need to get over that if Niihau is on your list! The focus of the day trips varies, and includes diving, hiking and even hunting. Oddly, residents on Niihau aren’t allowed to do any hunting – the only people allowed that right are members of the Robinson family and visitors who pay to take a hunting safari.
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Niihau’s permanent population is just over 150, most of whom are native Hawaiians. The majority of them live in the island’s main town, Puuwai. Because of its relative isolation, this is the only island in the chain where Hawaiian is the primary language. While tourism is not a main source of income for the residents, they are well-known for a particular type of jewelry made from the pupu shell. Other than this jewelry, Niihau’s residents are mainly farmers who raise and grow their own food.
Because you’ll need to plan ahead to visit Niihau, it’s a good idea to check out the island’s official tourism website here. No overnight trips are possible, and the longest tours are roughly a half-day. You can take a helicopter ride from Kauai to Niihau to spend a few hours sunbathing on deserted beaches, hunting for shells and stones in the sand, and swimming with the fish just offshore. Or you can get a chance to do some hunting on Niihau, where the Polynesian boar and a feral breed of sheep are the main game. Hunting is available year-round and they’ll even prepare and ship your trophies home for you.
On the other hand, if the prices of these half-day tours are just too steep for you, you can still take a little bit of Niihau home with some of the island’s famous jewelry.