How to Visit Ni’ihau: Hawaii’s Forbidden Island

My husband Steve and I love and respect Hawaii. The Hawaiian experience fascinates us. We’ve seen lava up-close and personal on the Big Island. We flew alongside the Na’Pali Coast on Kaua’i. We visited the former leper colony of Kalaupapa on exotic Molokai. We’ve hiked the most beautiful ridge trails on O’ahu. We drove the Road to Hana on romantic Maui. The Pineapple Island of Lanai is next on our list (fingers crossed for a visit in 2022!). But there’s one island we never thought we’d get to visit: Ni’ihau, the Forbidden Island.

Ni’ihau is not open to traditional tourism. There are no hotels, no restaurants, no wi-fi, not even a paved road. You have to be invited to be able to visit the only village, Pu’uwai. But if you’re lucky, and if you’re truly interested in seeing an unspoiled part of the world, you can visit a portion of the island for a few hours with Ni’ihau Helicopters. Here’s how to make that happen.

More here: How to Choose Which Hawaiian Island to Visit

Know Before You Go

First of all, you need to know that there are no hotels, no vacation rentals, no restaurants, none of the typical “things to do” that you can expect on other Hawaiian islands. Are you intrigued or terrified?

Sunrise over Ni’ihau, seen from Route 550 in Waimea, Kaua’i.

This is not an experience for your “typical” tourist who’s here for a good time and a good meal. This isn’t even really a place for someone who wants a “real adventure.” You won’t be mingling with the locals and asking them questions. This is an experience for someone who wants to see a largely unspoiled Hawaii, a part of Hawaii few will ever see this close.

People come here to truly unplug for a few hours and spent quality time with their families. Companies book tours here for business retreats (ironically, because there is no wi-fi!). Ni’ihau is for the genuinely curious, the introverts, the respectful animal lovers, the people who value peace and quiet.

A completely empty beach on a Hawaiian island? It does exist.
Read on: Your Sneak Peek at Ni’ihau, Hawaii’s Forbidden Island

Cost

As of August 2021, the cost for a 1/2 day tour to Ni’ihau is $465 per person, with a minimum requirement of five people per tour. Even if your group is fewer than five people, more guests could join the tour, so you don’t have to worry about rounding up four other people on your own!

If you would like a private tour, or if no one else signs up for the same tour as you, you can still visit the island. The tour is the same–still a 1/2 day excursion. A private charter costs $2,600, and you will have the experience to yourself.

If you want to take a multi-day hunting safari, that will be $3,000 per person, per day. For more, check out the safari information on the Ni’ihau Helicopters website.

Get ready for the ride of your life!
Can’t make it to Ni’ihau?
Check out our Unforgettable Helicopter Tour over Mau’i and Molokai.

Booking

You won’t find a way to reserve with an impersonal online booking calendar. You’ll have to call or e-mail. (And remember Hawaii is 2-6 timezones behind the mainland!) Ni’ihau Helicopters was very responsive via e-mail, and they made booking with them very easy. Here’s what you need in order to book:

Dates

If you can be flexible with your dates, all the better! We had three dates to work with while we stayed in Waimea, so that made it a little easier for everyone.

Weight

I know, everyone’s favorite, right? When you e-mail Ni’ihau Helicopters to make a reservation, you’ll need to provide the weight for every person in your party. Additionally, you and everything you take with you will need to be weighed at check-in time.

We are so glad we made sure our dates were flexible!

Number of People

This part gets a little tricky. Ni’ihau Helicopters needs a minimum of five passengers to fly (they can take up to seven), but Steve and I were only two people. Thankfully, Ni’ihau Helicopters will actively look for others to join your tour to meet the minimum, but there is no guarantee.

Fortunately, two other people did sign up for the tour with us, but we still needed a fifth. Ni’ihau Helicopters spoke with us and the other couple, who graciously agreed to split the cost of that fifth seat with us, so we could all go and enjoy the trip. As luck would have it, though, two more people signed up the day before! So, we had a total of six people, and the trip was a go!

You will never regret this experience!
More here: What to Know Before You Visit the Hawaiian Islands

Your Itinerary

If you’re like Steve and me, you really want to know what to expect! While having some flexibility is a must due to weather or other factors (as with all helicopter tours), here is your loose itinerary for your 1/2-day tour.

From the time you check in until the time you land back on Kaua’i will be around 4-5 hours, depending on whether or not you have to wait for weather. We waited at the office for about an hour to get the “go or no-go” phone call, as the remnants of Hurricane Linda were upon the Hawaiian islands at the time. Just be flexible.

Check In

You will check in at the Ni’ihau Helicopters sales office on Kaumualii Highway in Kaumakani, on the south shore of Kaua’i. It’s next to the post office in the same shopping plaza as Aloha Sweet Delights, whose pink and yellow sign you can’t miss from the road.

Ni’ihau Helicopters Office

Drive to Port Allen Airport

After checking in, you will drive yourselves to Port Allen Airport. You can park here for free, and this is where you’ll fly back to as well.

Coming in for a landing to take us away!
Related: What to Expect Flying in a Tiny Plane

Helicopter Tour of Ni’ihau

This is pretty spectacular! First of all, the pilot flies in to pick you up, which feels very much like a movie star moment. You’ll fly over to Ni’ihau, with views of the island the whole way, then fly all across the island to see the terrain, beaches, animals, and the largest lake in Hawaii (which is usually dry!). You’ll land at Nanina Beach with a view of the back side of the Le’hua Crater, which people can visit by boat from Kaua’i for a snorkel tour.

I know you can’t tell, but that’s us behind those masks!
Flying to Ni’ihau!

Enjoy Nanina Beach and Have Lunch

Once you land, your time is your own. You can walk along the beach, collect shells, look for monk seals and sea turtles, and enjoy the peace and quiet. The provided lunch is in the cooler your pilot will bring along, and you can eat whenever you start to feel hungry.

Be sure to make friends while you’re there!
Lunch with a view!

Fly to Port Allen

Your pilot will let you know when it’s time to fly back. Don’t forget to enjoy the views of Kaua’i on the way!

Back to Kaua’i!
Read next: The Most Helpful Hawaii Blog Posts You Will Ever Find

What’s not included?

You will not go to the village of Pu’uwai. You won’t visit it on the ground, nor will you meet the locals, unless they want to visit you. The few residents who live here don’t necessarily want to be a part of the rest of the world. They’re not living in a fishbowl for tourists to gawk at or admire. They’re living their lives, not living spectacles. Ni’ihau Helicopters does employ some Ni’ihauans, so you might get to meet one of them when you check in!

You can peruse the hand-made Ni’ihau jewelry while you’re at the office checking in.
Can’t quite afford a Ni’ihau Shell Lei? Check out The Best Hawaiian Souvenirs

What to Bring With You

You won’t be able to take much with you, but there are a few things you won’t want to forget!

Sunscreen

Just make sure it’s “reef safe” so everyone can continue to enjoy the reefs.

Bug Repellent

Full Water Bottle

Dry Bag

Water Shoes

Quick Dry Towel

Bag for Shell Collecting

More here: 5 Things You Forgot to Pack for Hawaii

Highlights of the Tour

You really should see it all for yourself, but in the meantime, here are some of the highlights for my husband and me!

Flying in a Helicopter

If you’ve never flown in a helicopter before, you’re in for a treat! It’s a crazy sensation to all of a sudden start hovering above the ground! This was Steve’s and my third helicopter flight, and that hovering sensation was just as fun and fascinating as the first time.

You’ll see both Ni’ihau and Kaua’i, but even better, you’ll see herds of animals from the air, too! We saw monk seals on the beaches, wild boar, orynx (similar to an antelope), and more. Our pilot was great about pointing them out to us, which was perfect because I am terrible about seeing animals in the wild!

Can you see the orynx?
You won’t get the same views any other way!
Read on: 5 Important Things I Learned on My First Trip Back to Hawaii

Observing Endangered Hawaiian Monk Seals

You will definitely see monk seals on your trip! Monk seals are very much endangered, and while there are some who call the other Hawaiian islands their home, Ni’ihau is home to the vast majority of these beautiful sea animals. You’ll see them from the helicopter, but they will also be on Nanina Beach with you! It was fun to watch them swim, see them roll around on the sand and the lava flats, and watch them watch us!

Just remember that they can come to you if they want, but it’s illegal for you to get too close to them. Use the zoom on your camera or phone if you want a closer look.

This sweetie pie was fascinating to watch!
He was less impressed with us!
Also interesting: The Best Ways You Never Knew Hawaii was Earth-friendly

Visiting an Exclusive Beach

How many beaches can you predictably have to yourself in Hawaii? Not many! Even on far less touristy Molokai, we didn’t have the beaches completely to ourselves. Nanina Beach, however, is pretty much just for you and the several hundred monk seals who call Ni’ihau home.

Nanina Beach is gorgeous, secluded, and peaceful.
More here: Pro Tips for Your Trip to Hawaii

Bringing Home Treasures

You are not allowed to take sand, shells, coral, sea glass, or anything else from any of the beaches in Hawaii. They say it’s bad luck, and people have actually sent things back to Hawaii after going home because bad things started happening to them. However, Ni’ihau sees so few visitors, and they end up with so much “sea junk” that they don’t have the manpower to remove, that they actually encourage visitors to take things from the beach.

Because of the ocean’s currents, Ni’ihau receives sea junk such as boat bouys, digital cameras (mostly from tourists to the other Hawaiian islands who lose them overboard on snorkeling trips), rope, nets, and anything else that might fall overboard from a ship or floats away from the famous “Garbage Patch” in the Pacific Ocean. Often the Ni’ihauans will use the things that wash ahore, which is pretty creative, but there’s too much for them to be able to clear completely on their own. As long as it’s not alive and it will fit in the helicopter, it’s fair game!

This is the only beach in Hawaii where taking shells home with you is allowed and encouraged.

Want more? Check out my dedicated Hawaiian Islands Page for all my best Hawaii tips, and insights on every island we’ve visited, including Ni’ihau!

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Published by quickwhittravel

Hey there! I am an avid traveller and adventurer, and you're always welcome to join me! The things I love most are God, my husband Steve, and seeing new places! My favorite places include Sydney, Australia; Ise City, Japan; and Bergen, Norway--but there's always room for more favorite places!

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