Grolier’s Encyclopedia describes Niihau thus: “Niihau (189 sq. km/73 sq. mi.) is made up of a central tableland (reaching about 390 m/1,280 ft) fringed by low-lying plains. The owners, descendants of Elizabeth Sinclair (who bought it in 1864), encourage the preservation of traditional Hawaiian culture and discourage outsiders from visiting the island.” As such, it has been called "The Forbidden Island." The usual climate of Niihau is arid. When I was a child, the planes were covered by golden dry grasses interspersed with kiawe (mesquite) tree forests. Now, much of the older kiawe is gone having fallen victim to a blight and a once thriving charcoal operation.
Today the planes are crowded by younger kiawe bush growing taller that a man’s head. Roughly 250 native Hawaiians live there. Some of them work on the ranch that raises cattle, sheep and horses. Two species introduced many years ago, now wild and of which there is an overabundance, are sheep and boar. These are hunted by the island’s residents, but their numbers are large enough to have a significant negative effect on the island’s natural ecology. This makes Niihau a hunter’s paradise. You can hunt as many as you wish knowing that you are doing the ecology good. For huntting safari's, contact Ni'ihau Helicopters.
Of course, the beaches and coastal waters are pristine. Fish and other sealife are abundant as the reef ecosystems are intact. One can fish off the rocks with merely heavy nylon line and a "spoon" lure bated with chunk of fish and attached to a bamboo pole . Just dangle the lure in about five feet of water and these huge Ulua would strike. As most local fishermen know, on the other islands Ulua is only caught in deep water. What a fisherman's paradise!
Want to visit Niihau? Here's an article from the Honolulu Star-Bulletin recounting a journalist's visit to the island and containing information for arranging a helicopter flight from Kauai.
If you are interested in further information about the family’s early days in the Hawaiian Islands, here is some reading you might enjoy:
Stories of Long Ago, Niihau, Kauai, Oahu, Ida Elizabeth Knudsen von Holt (Daughters of Hawaii, Honolulu, 1985)
Niihau, The Last Hawaiian Island, Ruth M. Tabrah (Press Pacifica, Honolulu, 1987)
Niihau: A Shoal of Time, Gavan Daws and Timothy Head, American Heritage Magazine, Volume XIV, Number 6 (American Heritage Publishing Co., Inc., New York, October 1963)
Kauai - The Separate Kingdom, Edward Joestring (University of Hawaii Press, Honolulu, 1984)
Photo by P. Mouginis-Mark