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Niihau: The Forbidden Isle

Seventeen miles from Kauai, across the Kaulakahi Channel, sits the privately owned island of Niihau. It's known as the Forbidden Isle, because access is limited to the Robinson family, who owns it, and the 200 or so Native Hawaiians who were born there.

Niihau was bought from King Kamehameha in 1864 by a Scottish widow, Eliza Sinclair. Sinclair was introduced to the island after an unusually wet winter; she saw nothing but green pastures and thought it would be an ideal place to raise cattle. The cost was $10,000. It was a real deal, or so Sinclair thought.

Unfortunately, Niihau's usual rainfall is about 12 inches a year, and the land soon returned to its normal, desertlike state. Regardless, Sinclair did not abandon her venture, and today the island and ranching operation are owned by Bruce Robinson, Eliza Sinclair's great-great-grandson.

Visits to the island are restricted to custom hunting expeditions and flightseeing tours through Niihau Helicopter. Tours depart from Kaumakani and avoid the western coastline, especially the village of Puuwai. There's a five-passenger minimum for each flight, and reservations are essential. A picnic lunch on a secluded Niihau beach is included, with time for swimming, beachcombing, and snorkeling. The half-day tour is $385 per person.

For more information contact Niihau Tours (Box 690370, Makaweli 808/335-3500 or 877/441-3500 www.niihau.us).

Updated: 07-2013

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