Getting to Kaho'olawe and Ni'ihau

Unlike the other islands which make up the Hawaiian archipelago, the islands of Kaho’olawe and Ni’ihau are not as accessible to the general public. For this reason, these two islands have always been shrouded in mystic and mystery. If you are considering going to the island, especially to Kaho’olawe, you can’t expect the luxuries of a typical Hawaii trip. First of all, you won’t find hotels and any other lodging or food establishments on these islands. For sure, it will not be the kind of trip where you can simply make a reservation and have a travel agent do all the work for you.

Getting to Kaho’olawe Island Reserve

Unfortunately, a trip to the island of Kaho’olawe will take more than a passport or a visa to the US. Even if you are a citizen of the United States or a resident of Hawaii, going to the island won’t be so easy. It is, after all, an island restricted for commercial use, so the only way you can get there is if you are doing research in a field that can help restore and preserve the Kaho’olawe’s history, cultural heritage, and ecology. For now, the Hawaii state law, as enforced with the help of the Kaho’olawe Island Reserve Commission, mandates that the island reserve should only be used for spiritual subsistence, environmental restoration, and educational activities. Therefore, it shouldn’t come as a surprise to you if you don’t find anything on your Hawaiian tour book that will help you get to the island.

Ohana access

If you want to help out in the restoration of the island, the only way you can get there is through an Ohana access granted by the Kaho’olawe Island Reserve Commission (KIRC), which is also known as Protect Kaho’olawe Ohana (PKO). If you are interested in becoming a volunteer, you need to fill out the volunteer registration form which you can download from their website (, so you can be included in the volunteer database. This will be evaluated by the Commission, and around 1,800 volunteers are expected to be deployed to the island within the next 3 years. Although the registration forms and access dates for 2009 are already available on the website, the Commission may make some changes considering the weather and water conditions, as well as other untoward circumstances that may come up.

Preparing for the trip

Since you won’t find modern amenities on the island reserve, you will be required to bring your own supply of the things that you would need during your trip. This means that you will have to take with you an adequate supply of food (canned food is preferable), bottled drinking water, and also water for washing. It is necessary for you to bring your own sleeping bag and canvas to cover the ground. Before leaving, make sure that you get in touch with the Commission for any last-minute changes on the trip by sending an e-mail at If there is any advice against sea or air travel in smaller crafts, there’s a good chance that your trip would be cancelled.

The way to Kaho’olawe

You will head for Kaho’olawe from Maui, where you’ll be met by a member of the Commission. You will board a small fishing boat that will take you close to the island reserve, after which you will need to transfer to a smaller rubber boat called a Zodiac. Since the Kaho’olawe coast is not safe to dock boats of any kind, you will need to swim all the way to the island. Although there are US Army trucks on the island, you’ll get around on foot most of the time.

Getting to Ni’ihau

Compared to the trip to Kaho’olawe Island Reserve, getting to Ni’ihau is much less difficult and way more touristy. Nicknamed “The Forbidden Island,” Ni’ihau used to be open only to US Navy personnel, government officials, and invited guests of the Robinson family who have been the owners of the island since 1864. The island is also known as the “Mystery Island,” because it is often omitted from tourist maps, so don’t be too surprised if you can’t find it on yours. The Robinson heirs who now run the island of Ni’ihau have given limited access to tourists, so you may now enjoy snorkeling in its pure waters and basking alongside monk seals on the powdery white shores of the island for half a day.

The island is accessible only to Ni’ihau Helicopters, which are also managed by the island’s owners. Ni’ihau Helicopters Inc. operates from Kaumakani on the island of Kauai, so you will be picked up and dropped off in Kauai. The tour costs $365 for one person, and this is also inclusive of lunch and snacks. The helicopter ride to the island includes an aerial tour, in which the pilot also gives passengers a historical overview of Ni’ihau. The ride to the island is already half the fun. Before you get to land on one of the island’s beaches, you will have your chance at seeing a lot of amazing scenes, such as reef sharks mating in an inlet off the Ni’ihau Island’s shore. If you are headed for a Hawaiian destination other than Kauai, let’s say, Oahu, you will need to take care of your travel arrangements. The Ni’ihau tour package does not include hotel accommodations in Kauai and your airfare to your other point of destination in Hawaii. If you would like to know more about charter, group tour, and special tour rates, you may call Ni’ihau Aloha LLC toll free at 1-877-441-3500. You may also inquire and make reservations by e-mail at

If what you are looking for in a Hawaiian getaway—or any island adventure, for that matter—is a way off the beaten track, then Kaho’olawe and Ni’ihau will be the right place for you. What could be more fulfilling than being able to help heal a badly damaged island, while having your own ultimate journey? What could be more beautiful than being able to set foot on an island that most people didn’t even know exists?