Made up of a series of islands in the Pacific Ocean, Hawaii is unlike any other state. People love spending time on the Big Island of Hawaii and on popular nearby islands like Maui and Oahu, but the Hawaiian archipelago is actually comprised of seven inhabited islands, along with many more uninhabited, smaller landmasses. Here are a few of the most interesting lesser-known Hawaiian islands.4
You can’t exactly visit Kaho’olawe, at least not in a traditional sense. Those who are willing to pursue volunteer opportunities related to conservation can travel to the island, for instance, and there are kayaking and other tours that can at least take you nearby. However, since the state has officially closed the island off to the public, it remains shrouded in an air of mystery. Southwest of Maui near the popular snorkeling destination known as the Molokini Crater, this barren and arid island named for the god Kanaloa does not have fresh water, rendering it completely uninhabitable for humans. This wasn’t always the case, though, since researchers have found archaeological evidence that seems to suggest that it actually was inhabited for at least 1000 years in the ancient past. Kaho’olawe wasn’t always arid, either, and recently the state has been making efforts to help it re-vegetate with native flora. Kaho’olawe also boasts a fascinating history due to the fact that it has been used for a variety of purposes including as a penal colony in the 19th century, an ill-fated forest preserve in the early 20th century, and as a space for munitions testing and military bomb drills through most of the 20th century.3
You’ll find Ni’ihau just about 17 miles to the southwest of Kauai in Kauai County. Of all the populated islands in Hawaii, Ni’ihau — sometimes called the Forbidden Island — is the smallest, measuring only about 70 square miles.
The only people who are allowed to live on this island are Hawaiians, and tourism is prohibited so as to preserve the culture there. That means that unless you are invited directly by one of the residents of this tiny island, the only way you can visit is by booking a helicopter tour to one of its more remote beaches. Those who live on the island work hard to preserve Hawaiian culture in a variety of ways, including the fact that Hawaiian, not English, is the preferred language there. Even though King Kamehameha IV actually sold it to a Scottish woman named Elizabeth Sinclair for $10,000 in 1863, her descendants, the Kamaaina Robinson family, have remained on the island and have ensured that they stayed close to their traditional cultural practices. People who live on Ni’ihau take part in cattle and sheep ranching since the low and somewhat arid landscape on the island is well-suited to these activities. Along the west coast of the island, one can spot its primary village, Puuwai.2
Necker Island (Mokumanamana)
Necker Island, aka Mokumanamana, is a tiny Hawaiian island near the similarly tiny Nihoa island in the chain of other tiny islands in the northwest of the Hawaiian archipelago. In fact, measuring a mere 39.5 acres of basalt rock, Necker is the second smallest of all the islands in the Northwestern Hawaiian Island chain. Just because it’s small doesn’t mean it’s not mighty, though, since it is surrounded by an impressively large marine habitat. The thing that makes this island special isn’t necessarily what is on it so much as the impressive and flourishing marine landscapes that surround it on all sides. These habitats include Shark Bay on the north side and large stretches of coral reef lining the southeast end of the island.
The island is also a historical site because of the numerous religious artifacts and the evidence of ceremonial locations that have been found on the island. In fact, researchers have located 52 such sites on this tiny island, leading them to believe that it was historically considered a sacred place of worship, which is why it would have been visited but not inhabited.
The biodiversity on the island is unique as well. There are at least 15 types of insects that are endemic to the island, which means Necker is the only place in the world one can find them … not bad for such a tiny patch of land, eh?1
Lana’i may not be as obscure as Necker or Ni’ihau, but it is still far less well known than other large inhabited Hawaiian islands like Oahu and Maui. The good news is that unlike Ni’ihau, this small island encourages tourism, which means its relative obscurity compared to the other big islands can help travelers beat the crowds to experience Hawaii a bit more intimately.
Lana’i can be found only about 9 miles from Maui and is divided into three distinct regions. North Lana’i is rugged and covered in dirt roads that are perfect for exploring the island using a vehicle with 4-wheel drive. This is one of the only ways to get to the mysterious Shipwreck Beach, where a real shipwreck can be seen right off the shore. In Central Lana’i, those who are more interested in hiking and exploring nature will be thrilled by the extensive forests of this region. This is also where one can visit Lana’i City, which has been there ever since the region became a central part of the pineapple trade. Finally, those wanting to snorkel or sunbathe on beaches that truly seem like paradise cannot go wrong with a visit to South Lana’i, especially Hulopoe Bay, considered by many to be one of the most gorgeous beaches in the entire world.