Not all of the Hawaiian Islands have been as westernized as others. Most people would say that Oahu is by far the most commercialized of the islands and that Molokai is the least. They are only partly right. The little known island of Ni’ihau is actually the least modernized and the least populated of the islands. Ni’ihau is located less than twenty miles from the island of Lanai. It is a private island not open to tourism. Thus the island has earned the name as the forbidden island. Ni’ihau is the only island where the predominant language is still Hawaiian. There is one school here that runs grades K-12 and the lessons are taught in Hawaiian.
English is introduced as a second language. The entire island is owned by the Ni’ihau ranch, which is owned by the Robinson family. The Robinsons provide food, clothing shelter, education and just about anything else their people need. There is no widespread electricity here. Don’t expect to find cell phone service either.
Ni’ihau is the smallest inhabited Hawaiian Island; it’s about 70 square miles. The economy of the island depends on farming, but that has not been very prosperous for over thirty years. The Robinson family has looked to the government for support in exchange for allowing military drills and mock practice operations. The Robinsons do not allow visitors on the island. In fact if a resident marries someone from another Hawaiian Island, they will not be invited back into the community.
Ni’ihau is such a closed community that there really is no way to visit the island. The Robinsons have, however allowed a small window of opportunity to peak into the island. One is through a helicopter tour, but don’t expect this one to be listed in the budget category of a tourism book. The pilot will fly visitors to a beach location on the island. Here they will have the opportunity to go snorkeling, and lunch is provided. When leaving the island, the pilot will fly over most of the uninhabited parts of the island.
The second opportunity to see the island is to go on a Nihau Safari. Again, don’t expect this one to be cheap. Everything needed to hunt for Polynesian boar and sheep will be provided for you. There is also snorkeling and scuba diving tours around the island of Ni’ihau. Most of these tours depart from Kauai and you cannot come ashore during your excursion.
There is a supply boat that runs from Lanai to Ni’ihau once a week. The boat runs from Kaumakani, which is the headquarters of the Ni’ihau ranch. There is also a settlement of former residents that prefer to live in Lanai. The residents of Ni’ihau are free to go to Lanai and shop and do whatever they want.
There are about 250 residents of the island, most of whom live in Pu’uwai, which means heart in Hawaiian. The village is on the western side of the island. Each house is surrounded by a stone wall to keep out the neighboring wildlife. The living here is pretty basic. They still collect their water and they have no indoor plumbing.