Did you know that Ni‘ihau, a Hawaiian Island, is a forbidden island? It’s true! The island has been privately owned by the Robinson family since 1864. Only family members and invited guests are allowed to visit. Even today, the traditional dialect of Hawaiian is still spoken on the island.
Ni‘ihau is located 17 miles west of Kaua‘i and it’s the smallest inhabited island in Hawai‘i. In this blog post, we will share some amazing facts about Ni‘ihau that you likely did not know!
The Island of Niʻihau (/niˈiːhɔː/; formerly spelled Niihau) is known as “The Forbidden Island”. It is the westernmost and seventh largest inhabited island in Hawaiʻi. The island is about 18 miles (29 km) west of Kauaʻi, and the tiny, uninhabited island of Lehua lies 0.75 miles (0.80 km) to Niʻihau’s south. Its area is 69.438 square miles (180 km). It has no native population and currently does not allow tourism.
Discovery of Ni’ihau
Niʻihau was discovered by British captain George Vancouver during his 1791-95 expedition around the world on HMS Discovery; it was probably first seen by Europeans on February 20, 1778, when Captain James Cook was sailing by on HMS Resolution.
Although King Kamehameha I conquered most of the Hawaiian Islands, Niʻihau has remained under the private ownership of the Robinson family since 1864. The island is currently managed by Bruce and Keith Robinson; residencies on the island are available to relatives of current residents, and to invited guests.
Attempted visits to Niihau
Although Niʻihau has been forbidden to outsiders for most of its history, this has not stopped people from trying to visit the island. In fact, there have been many attempted visits over the years, some of which have resulted in tragedy
In 1922, two men and a woman tried to land on the island in an attempt to start a colony. The woman, Thalia Massie, was the daughter of a prominent Navy admiral. The three were met with resistance from the locals and eventually gave up and left. However, Massie later accused one of the Hawaiian men, Joseph Kahahawai, of rape. Kahahawai was kidnapped and killed by Massie and her husband, which caused a media frenzy and led to the trial of the Massies. The case resulted in a hung jury, but the Massies were later pardoned by the governor.
In 1969, two men tried to land on Niʻihau in an attempt to overthrow the Hawaiian government. The men were met with resistance from the locals and eventually gave up and left. However, one of the men, Pierre Omidyar, would go on to become a successful entrepreneur and philanthropist; he is best known as the founder of eBay.
Hawaiian Cultural significance of Niihau
Despite its forbidden status, Niʻihau has remained an important part of Hawaiian culture. The island is home to the Niihau Shell Leis, which are made from the shells of a type of sea snail found only on Niʻihau. These leis are considered to be some of the most valuable in all of Hawaiʻi.
Accidental invasion in WWII
When the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor in 1941, the entire nation was thrown into a state of panic and devastation. But for one small island off the coast of Hawaii, this terror would come even closer to home. One of the pilots involved in the attack, Shigenori Nishikaichi, crashed his plane on Niihau after being shot down. His arrival on the island set off a chain reaction of chaos and fear as he proceeded to hold the whole village hostage.
Luckily, two brave men from Niihau managed to avert disaster by disarming Nishikaichi and eventually killing him. One of these heroes, Yoshio Harada, received a Purple Heart for his courageous efforts during those frightening days. Through their bravery and determination, these two men were able to ensure that Niihau remained safe from the effects of war, even in its darkest hour.
No one knows how many people actually inhabit Niihau
Niihau is a small, isolated island located in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. It’s home to a few hundred people, but no one really knows how many people actually live there. The Robinson family doesn’t have to report population numbers, and because several residents come and go from the island, the true population is a huge mystery. However, one source estimates that the real number of permanent residents of Niihau is closer to 70.
The island has been inhabited by Native Hawaiians for centuries, and the Robinson family has owned it since 1864. They are the only ones who are allowed to live on Niihau full-time; everyone else is just a visitor.
With all its exciting stories, rich history, and strong traditions, one can still visit Niihau, albeit – more of a peek. Is curiosity killing you? There are 2 ways to visit Niihau. One is by a privately chartered helicopter for a half-day guided aerial tour of the island. You get an aerial tour, lunch, and a snorkeling trip onshore. A more physical way to explore the island is through a $1700 per person hunting safari. Gives more access but is well away from the inhabited part of the island.
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