Niihau – Hawaii’s Forbidden Island Offers Hunters A Traditional Hawaiian Experience

Hunters vacationing or hunting in Hawaii may enjoy a unique opportunity on the private island of Niihau, the Forbidden Island, where time is said to have stood still.

Purchased from King Kamehameha in 1864 by Elizabeth Sinclair, this island has been generally off limits to the public, preserving many of the traditional ways of life for the 200 indigenous Hawaiians living there.

Sinclair’s descendants, the Robinson family, now offer supervised day tours and day hunts on Niihau. SCI member Rick Sarkisian reports enjoying a hunt there for Polynesian boar and feral sheep this past May.

Niihau lies 18 miles from Kauai across the Kaulakahi Channel and is one of the oldest yet least modernized islands in the Hawaiian chain. Inhabitants’ primary language is Hawaiian, and they fish and hunt for their food in the traditional way with ropes, knives, spears and nets.

The island encompasses 72 square miles of an extinct volcano and features planted forests and brushy flatlands. Located in the rain shadow of Kauai, Niihau is surprisingly arid, so it does not have the lush tropical flora visitors might expect to find in Hawaii.

It is home to free-ranging wild boar, feral hybrid sheep, aoudad, eland and oryx. The pigs are decedents of those brought by the first Polynesian settlers centuries ago, but the sheep were introduced in 1864 as part of the Niihau Ranch cattle and sheep operation.

The ranch was shut down in 1999, unprofitable for most of the 20th century. The other species were more recently transplanted from Molokai Ranch. In 1992, the owners decided to allow hunting safaris as a form of income for the island and to prevent growing populations of animals from severely damaging the habitat of the island.

Sarkisian says he heard about the place while hunting on the Big Island in 2018. He researched the history and gave it try when he returned to Hawaii the following year.

Access is by a 20-minute helicopter charter from Kauai. Upon landing, Sarkisian says a local Hawaiian guide, Enoka, met him in a World War II vehicle once used as a weapons carrier.

Hunting involved driving in this truck to areas where Enoka knew the animals would be, then spotting and stalking on foot. Sarkisian says the sheep were very skittish and not at all easy to hunt.

Although the terrain where he hunted was flat, it was very brushy, making visibility difficult at times. Once he shot the sheep, he says several locals appeared to help with the skinning and butchery. He spent the rest of the morning hunting for boar. This involved having several people beating the brush to kick out boar, which tend to bed down during the day. Although they saw numerous pigs, Sarkisian says none of them had large tusks.

After a lunch break in a lean-to on the beach, they visited a waterhole that animals use in the afternoons and evenings. They watched numerous eland and other animals come to drink.

At the eleventh hour of the hunt, a large boar came to the water, and Sarkisian was able to take him as he left the pool.  Sarkisian warns that these boars are not big-bodied animals.

Polynesian pigs, he says, tend to run small with big heads and big tusks. His weighed about 150 pounds and is considered a typical island pig. His sheep, he says, is almost bare-skinned due to the brush constantly tearing at the hair on the animals there. The ram has a double curl and good mass, making it a very nice trophy.

Sarkisian is very happy with his experience. He says Enoka knew where to find animals and that he and his assistants did everything they could to get him a shooting opportunity.

Although Hawaiian is their primary language, most of the team spoke English as well. While they were mostly comfortable posing for photographs with him, Sarkisian says no one would allow him to take any video of them.

Other than that, he says they are very personable people, and he enjoyed his time with them.

Hunting on Niihau is open year-round. Hunters who do not want to travel with their firearms can rent a rifle from the operator. Sarkisian says he was provided a very accurate Remington 700 BDL in .270 with a 3-9x Bausch & Lomb scope. He says hunters should be prepared to walk a lot in hot, humid conditions and to shoot anywhere from 80 to 200 yards. He recommends the experience as a simple, fun hunt in an an unusual place.

“Anyone can do this hunt and have a good time,” he says. He only reminds fellow SCI members that these are day-hunts only. There are no accommodations on the island and all visitors must leave at the end of the day.

Helicopter charters originate from Kauai and are aboard an Augusta 109A twin engine. The cost is $2,200 per day per hunter with a maximum of four hunters at a time.

That includes one Polynesian boar, one sheep, roundtrip charter to Niihau, transportation on the island, a guide and skinners, lunch and snacks with cold drinks, trophy care in the field, packing of meat and boxing horns and skins for taxidermy. They can also handle shipping to your home if you desire.

Aoudad are another $2,700 for the trophy fee, and eland are $3,700. Rifle rentals cost $120. Hunting spouses are another $1,300; youth hunters are $1,000. Non-hunting observers are $700 and can spend the day touring, or combing the beaches, which are covered in tiny shells from which the inhabitants create beautiful shell leis and other jewelry. Some visitors choose to sun bathe with the monk seals that lay on Niiahau’s beaches.

World War II history buffs will be intrigued by the island’s past, particularly the “Niihau Incident,” which occurred on December 7-13, 1941. An Imperial Japanese Navy Air Service pilot crash-landed his Zero on Niihau after participating in the attack on Pearl Harbor.

The island residents were initially hospitable to him, in typical Hawaiian fashion, until they learned of the bombing. A struggle ensued between residents of Japanese descent trying to protect the pilot and the other residents of Niihau. Meanwhile, the pilot was trying to rendezvous with the Japanese Navy, whose intelligence had identified Niihau as uninhabited. A film entitled Enemy Within and released just this past April (https://www.imdb.com/title/tt6525952/) depicts the events.

Hunters interested in visiting this island should contact Niihau Safaris at 877-441-3500 or send an email to niihauisland@hawaiian.net. More information is available at https://niihau.us.

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