A visitor to Kauai is bound to hear whispers of Hawaii’s “Forbidden Island.” Famous for both its isolation and shell jewelry, tales abound about this privately owned island seen from Kauai’s south and west shores. After the purchase of Niihau, at the personal request of Hawaii’s king, the owners of Niihau began to protect the Hawaiian culture and customs of the monarchy era.
To protect the Niihau peoples’ traditional food supply of fish, the owners also preserved the island’s coastline, which today has the last intact coastal ecosystem in the Hawaiian Islands. Its extensive beaches and reefs support the largest colony of monk seals in the main Hawaiian Islands.
This arid island poses numerous challenges to the owners and residents economically. Formerly most income came from ranching and mesquite charcoal, but today Safari Hunts and support services for NASA and the U.S. Navy predominate.
Purchased primarily for emergency air support, a helicopter offers another way for the owners and residents to travel back and forth from Niihau, bypassing a long boat ride. To support the helicopter, the owners offer tours to the island and Hunting Safaris.
On this island the Polynesian boar and feral sheep thrive and standard hunting trips include one boar and one sheep in a full day hunting excursion.
The game is plentiful, but shooting and stalking skills will be tested so hunters come expecting a challenge. Sharing this islands’ wild terrain are Barbary sheep, Eland and Oryx antelope and special hunts for these other game have been started on a limited basis.
Another form of income for the residents is revenue from the beautiful Niihau Shell Jewelry they create and sell. Lacking in the large varieties of tropical flowers on other Hawaiian islands, their shell necklaces are a historical tradition of adornment.
A shell Niihau Shell Lei resides in the British Museum as a memento of Captain Cook’s first visit to the island chain. The tiny kahelelani shells found on Niihau are said to contain a certain luster lacking in the shells found on other islands, and the making of many of these leis are a family affair.
For more information on Niihau Island, tours to this island, hunting safaris or Niihau Shell Leis, please visit the Niihau Helicopters office located in Kamakani by the Thrifty Mart off Hwy 50.