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Traveling to Kahoolawe and Niihau

Traveling to Kahoolawe and Niihau.

The island of Niihau viewed from Kauai.

The Hawaiian Islands has eight major islands. But in addition to those islands, it also consists of atolls and numerous smaller islets extending some 1,500 miles. You can easily visit all of the major islands, except for two, Kaho’olawe and Ni’ihau. These islands are not readily accessible to the general public. So if  you are wondering about traveling to Kahoolawe and Niihau, read on.

The Challenges of Traveling to Kahoolawe and Niihau

While it’s not easy, you can get there if you are truly interested in traveling to Kahoolawe and Niihau. These are two of the most secluded and mysterious islands in the Hawaiian Islands chain. But do not expect and luxury accommodations or restaurants on these islands. In fact, there are no accommodations nor restaurants to speak of. There are also no airports on these islands.

Island of Kahoolawe viewed from the slopes of Haleakala on Maui.

Traveling to Kahoolawe

For many years, the island was a strategic naval gunfire and bombing range. But because of decades-long protests, the Navy returned jurisdiction of the island to the State of Hawaii in 1994. Previous to that, there was ranching on the island. But it was very difficult to ranch as there is not much water on the island.

The State Legislature established the Kaho’olawe Island Reserve  Commission to restore and oversee the island and its surrounding waters. Today according to State law, Kaho’olawe can be used only for native Hawaiian cultural, spiritual and subsistence purposes.

There are now only two way you can get there. The first is you must be a researcher in a field that can help preserve the Kaho’olawe’s history, cultural heritage and ecology. The second way is to serve as a volunteer to support those efforts. The Kaho’olawe Island Reserve Commission will screen candidates eligible to serve.

There are no harbors or airports on the island. So you’ll have to swim or wade ashore from a Zodiac rubber raft along with your gear. And after you arrive safely on the island, you’ll then have to work very hard and endure hardships. Plus, you will have to live in a tent during the time you are there.

Traveling to Niihau

On the other hand, it’s much simpler and easier to travel to Ni’ihau. The island is 18 miles southwest from the island of Kauai. People call it the “Forbidden Island” because it was once only open to the US Navy, government officials and guests of the Robinson family. The family is the sole owners the island since 1864.

Today, the Robinson family now grants limited access to tourists. Such tourists arrive by a helicopter tour operator, called Ni’ihau Helicopter. The tour allows you to view the entire island by air. You will learn about Ni’ihau’s colorful history on the tour. Then, you can also enjoy snorkeling and sunbathe on its pristine white sand beaches for half a day.

You can also do hunting on a limited basis. This island has become home to many free roaming animals such as the Polynesian boar, hybrid sheep, eland and oryx. While there, you can also purchase necklaces made from the tiny shells found on Ni’ihau’s beaches.  Such necklaces have gained worldwide fame.

On Ni’ihau, you can get a sense of what life could have been like in ancient Hawaii. The island is oldest of all the inhabited Hawaiian Islands and is, without doubt, the least changed by modern progress.

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