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Have you ever heard of Ni’ihau, Hawaii’s “Forbidden Island?” Probably yes, if you’re reading this post… but maybe you want to learn more about Ni’ihau, what makes it special, and how to visit Ni’ihau.
Ni’ihau, the westernmost inhabited Hawaiian island, sits within eyesight of Kauai – but is basically impossible to reach. Okay, let’s be honest: it’s not impossible, it’s just pretty darn hard to visit Ni’ihau. The whole “Forbidden Island” nickname makes sense since you need permission to visit (even though the invite-only status isn’t why it earned the moniker), and there are no hotels or other tourist attractions on Ni’ihau. Despite that, it is possible to visit Ni’ihau – and you might be surprised at how many different options there are.
I’ve visited Kauai, and have seen the low, flat island of Ni’ihau in the distance looking west across the Pacific… and that’s what inspired me to visit someday. While most resources I’ve found mention a few of the options below, this is the most comprehensive list you’ll find. I reviewed every tour operator to determine if they really counted as going “to” Ni’ihau, and these ones fit the bill. Whether you want to explore Ni’ihau by land, sea, or up in the air, you’ve got options… Really the only limiting factor is your budget.
Without further ado, here’s a list of all the ways you can visit Ni’ihau (and how much each one costs).
In this post, I promote travel to a destination that is the traditional lands of the Kō Hawaiʻi Paeʻāina (Hawaiian Kingdom) people. With respect, I make a formal land acknowledgment, extending my appreciation and respect to the past and present people of these lands. To learn more about the peoples who call these lands home, I invite you to explore Native Land.
1. Niihau Helicopters Tour (Official)
I’m starting this list of ways to visit Ni’ihau with what I consider to be the best way – and the way I want to do someday! This is an “official” tour – meaning it is endorsed and operated by the Robinson family who own Ni’ihau. That means it’s one of only two ways you can actually set foot on Ni’ihau (the other is below).
This half-day tour comes at a steep price, but is an unforgettable experience: you’ll take a twin-engine helicopter ride from Kauai, do an aerial tour of the island, and set down at a beach where you can sunbathe, swim, or snorkel. It’s not uncommon to spot harmless reef sharks in the water or endangered Hawaiian Monk Seals sunbathing on the beach. The tour also includes lunch and refreshments before the return flight back to Kauai. Honestly, this is a bucket list tour for me!
2. Niihau Hunting Safari (Official)
The only other official Ni’ihau tour that allows you to visit the island itself is a little bit less conventional than standard tours you might expect.
This option isn’t for everyone, but if you like hunting there’s perhaps no more exclusive place to hunt than Ni’ihau. You can hunt natural populations of animals, including Polynesian Boar and hybrid sheep, to help keep the population in check; the island is also stocked with wild game including Wild Eland, Wild Aoudad (Barbary Sheep), and Wild Oryx that you can hunt too.
The fees are quite high for this hunting safari – it’s definitely a bucket list trip. The fee starts from $3,000 per person per day and includes one boar and one sheep, as well as transportation to and on the island, a guide, and management of the animal after your successful hunt. Adding on a wild game trophy costs an additional $2,700-$3,700 depending on the animal.
3. Niihau + Napali Super Tour with Holo-Holo Charters
If you’re looking for an easy way to visit Ni’ihau – but not set foot on land since you can’t/won’t pay for the above options – then you’ll want to choose a boat tour. This one, the “Niihau + Napali Super Tour” from Holo-Holo Charters is the most popular option I found.
The 7-hour tour sets out from Port Allen on Kauai, takes you to explore along the Napali coast of Kauai then crosses the Kaulakahi Channel to circle around tiny Lehua and finally arrive in Ni’ihau. There you’ll have the chance to snorkel before a buffet lunch with beer and wine served afterward. The tour ends by crossing the Kaulakahi Channel back to Kauai; you’ll come home one of relatively few who ever journey this far west in the Hawaiian islands.
4. Niihau + NaPali Coast Snorkel & Scuba Tour with Blue Dolphin Kauai
Blue Dolphin Charters out of Kauai offers a great tour if you want to snorkel or scuba – this is actually one of several good scuba tours to Ni’ihau. (Ni’ihau is a good scuba spot because it offers a rarely-visited reef that’s old and has unique features!)
This 7.5-hour tour sets out from Port Allen and cruises up the Napali coast before crossing to Ni’ihau. Once at the Forbidden Island, you can scuba, snorkel, float on boogie boards, ride the waterslide, or just dip your toes in the water. Underwater visibility can be up to 150 feet, making for an incredible aquatic experience! Breakfast, lunch, and Mai Tais are included in the price, as is snorkel gear; you can add-on scuba gear for an additional price and need to be certified already.
5. Niihau 3-tank Boat Dive with Fathom Five
Die-hard scuba fans will want to pay attention to the rest of this list – there are definitely the most options for you! First up is a three-tank dive with Fathom Five, a scuba charter company based in Kauai. You’ll work with the team to choose from among 11 dive sites near Ni’ihau and Lehua; dives range from 45 to 105 feet and are considered intermediate to advanced (so not for those who just did a lesson or two while visiting Oahu once!).
In addition to the fascinating reef near Ni’ihau and Lehua, you’ll have the chance to spot sharks and even the endangered Hawaiian Monk Seal if you’re lucky.
6. 3 Tank Niihau Boat Dive with Seasport Divers
For another three-tank dive option at Ni’ihau, consider Seasport Divers. This experienced dive takes place Tuesdays, Fridays, and Sundays during the normally calmer time of year, which runs from late spring to early autumn. Dives range from 60-120 feet in depth depending on the location.
You’ll meet up at the dive shop in Poipu at 6am; the 12-hour trip brings you back in time for dinner. Light breakfast and “large” lunch are included, as well as snacks, juice, and water. In addition to the standard rate, you can do a Nitrox upgrade to make those deep dives more enjoyable.
This dive charter is $355 per person (+$36 for gear rental); 2 tanks of Nitrox range from $28-$35. There’s also a snorkeler option for $250 per person. You can book this tour on Tom Barefoot or directly with Seasport Divers.
7. Ni’ihau & Lehua Scuba Adventure/Charter with Bubbles Below Kauai
For one last scuba option, Bubbles Below Kauai also offers a Ni’ihau and Lehua day-long charter option. This experienced dive is much like the others; you’ll have the chance to do several dives over the course of the day, exploring lava formations like tubes and arches, examining reefs, and keeping an eye out for wildlife. Bubbles Below Kauai has a great resource on the kinds of Ni’ihau dive sites you can experience depending on the conditions – it’s enough to convince me to get certified so I can go!
This dive charter is $400 per person with a snorkeler ride-along option for $175 per person. You can book this tour directly with Bubbles Below Kauai.
8. 10-Hour Niihau Adventure with Captain J’s Deep Sea Fishing
If your idea of a good time is fishing, there’s an option for you near Ni’ihau too! Captain J’s Deep Sea Fishing operates out of Kauai and offers an all-day option to visit Ni’ihau. This option isn’t cheap – especially when there’s no guarantee of a catch – but past guests have snagged swordfish, mahi-mahi, and more.
(They do have some important policies about which fish are caught, kept, and cut, so be sure to read those here before booking.)
And there you have it – all the ways you can visit Ni’ihau – by land, air, and sea! Have any questions about how to visit Ni’ihau? Let me know in the comments!