The Island of Niihau

Can you imagine that the Hawaiian island of Niihau was once sold for as little as $10,000? A sum you can’t even buy a house for today. Back then, in 1863, King Kamehameha IV put the island of Niihau up for sale for that amoung and Elizabeth Sinclair, who was a resident of the neighboring island of Kauai decided to buy it. Nowadays her descendants, the Robinson family, are the owners of this small Hawaiian island and they have committed to preserve Niihau and keep the Hawaiian heritage alive. Today, Niihau is the most Hawaiian island and the only place where Hawaiian is the first and main language.

Niihau is also knows as “The Forbidden Island” because non-native Hawaiians are not allowed to go there. Today, there are approximately 250 native Hawaiian residents living on Niihau and their lifestyle has remained the same over all these years. There are no shops or restaurants on the island, no electricity, no paved roads, no cars and no hotels. So in other words life is very simple. People get around by bike and on foot.

The island of Niihau encompasses 70 square miles and it is located 18 miles northwest of Kauai. The only job available on Niihau is at the Robinson family ranch, where the majority of the population works raising cattle. They get food from the ranch as well. In addition, the people from Niihau also grow their own fruits and vegetables. They practice fishing and hunting with spears, nets, ropes and knives. The majority of the hunting tools are self-made and the rest are bought on the neighboring island of Kauai.

Niihau is very dry, so the scenery and vegetation is not as lush and tropical as on the other Hawaiian Islands. Niihau doesn’t even have the typical flower lei that is so common on the other islands. But instead, they make wonderful shell leis from unique shells that can be found on Niihau’s beaches. Since these types of shells are so unique and rare, collectors are ready to pay thousands of dollars for Niihau shell lei.

Access to Niihau is very limited and goes by invitiation only, which means that you can only visit it if a Niihau resident or a member of the Robinson family invites you. However, you can still get an up-close view of “The Forbidden Island” because snorkel and helicopter tours are being offered. Boat tours leave from Kauai, however, docking on one of Niihau’s beaches is not allowed, so you will only be able to snorkel in one of the island’s bays without going on land.