Introducing Niihau, the Forbidden Isle

Niihau is Hawaii’s seventh largest island and is closest to Kauai.

Never heard of it? That’s not surprising; we call it “The Forbidden Isle.”

Although Niihau’s nickname sounds mysterious, the reason for it being “forbidden” is not so intriguing: the island is actually privately owned, so its availability to visitors is highly restricted. However, Niihau has a rich history, diverse wildlife, and interesting traditions, so it’s worth a peek if you can find your way there.

The island was purchased from King Kamehameha V in 1864 by Elizabeth McHutchison Sinclair for the amount of $10,000 in gold. Her descendants, Bruce and Keith Robinson, still own the island today.

Niihau is inhabited by and abundance of wildlife and about 130 native Hawaiians. The primary language on the island is (you guessed it!) Hawaiian. They do have a K-12 school on the island for the children, which focuses on computer literacy and “living off the land,” as well as traditional school subjects. However, some residents of Niihau do choose to commute to nearby Kauai for school and a variety of reasons, including medical appointments, work, and more.

The island’s main source of income is a U.S. Navy Base that is located on the island for training purposes. They also are famous for their unique Niihau shell jewelry. The shells that wash up on Niihau’s shores are tiny, so it takes considerable skill to bead bracelets, necklaces, earrings, etc. with them. These items vary in complexity, with some of the more elaborate pieces commanding thousands of dollars each.

The newest source of income for the island is tourism. Up until the 1980s, it was only possible to visit the island if you were invited by a resident. Now, the Robinsons have started a small tour operation consisting of helicopter day trips as well as hunting tours. If you would like to get a glimpse of a unique aspect of Hawaiian culture, a Niihau tour is an exciting option. Contact us to learn more.

Photo Credit: Christopher P. Becker

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