Holo Holo, our 65 foot power catamaran makes the trip across the Kaulakahi Channel faster than anyone else, leaving you more time to sightsee and snorkel Niihau and the clear waters of Lehua Crater.
Niihau, at 69.9 sq. miles, is the smallest of the inhabited Hawaiian Islands. Niihau is also known as the “Forbidden Isle” due to the fact that until recently, the island was entirely off-limits to all but relatives of the island’s owner, U.S. Navy personnel, government officials and expressly invited guests.
The entire island is owned by the Robinson family who purchased it from the Kingdom of Hawai’i for $10,000 in gold in 1864. It is said that because the normally arid Ni’ihau was unusually lush due to a period of above-average rainfall, Elizabeth Sinclair (later Sinclair-Robinson), bought the island in preference to other real estate parcels such as Waikiki, Pearl Harbor, or the island of LÄna’i. In 1915, grandson Aubrey Robinson closed the island to most outside visitors; even relatives of the inhabitants could visit only by special permission.
Contrary to popular belief, Niihau is not the geologically oldest of the eight main islands. Kaua’i, which neighbors Niihau 17.5 miles to the north-east, is older. This is because Niihau was formed by a secondary vent that formed after the Kaua’i volcano was erupting. It is estimated that Kaua’i was formed 5.1 million years ago, while Niihau is estimated to have been formed 4.9 million years ago. Niihau consists of one extinct volcano whose entire eastern flank collapsed into the sea in a massive fault slide. The island has an arid climate because it is situated in the rain shadow of Kaua’i and with a maximum altitude of 1,280 feet (390 m), lacks the elevation needed to catch significant amounts of trade wind rainfall.
On the beaches of Niihau are found pupu, which are the only shells to be classified as gems. The sale of shells and shell jewelry provide a much needed additional source of income for the local populace. The shells and jewelry are so sought after, that in 2004, Governor Linda Lingle signed a bill to protect Niihau shell leis from counterfeiting. Other economic activities for the islands’ 160 inhabitants include fishing, sheep ranching, charcoal production, and honey cultivation. Flathead mullet aquaculture is popular on Niihau, with ponds and lakes stocked with mullet fry. They are harvested once they reach 9 to 10 pounds and are sold on the islands of Kauai and Oahu. However, hunting on the island by the natives is forbidden as the Robinson family possesses exclusive hunting rights only to be granted to tourists of the island.