Travel Blog #96 – Niihau and the Napali Coast with Holo Holo Charters

Jun 14, 2019 | Activity Information

Today I got to take my Mom to see something very special.
In the 1400+ years that the Hawaiian Islands have been inhabited by humans, an amazingly rich culture has developed here. Throughout different migrations, people landed on these shores and contributed new and different things from their homelands. These migrations eventually merged together and developed a culture that is unique to any other on the planet. Massive farms, construction projects and armadas of advanced sea faring vessels have been common on these islands since ancient times. At various points in history, there were far more people residing on the islands that make up the state of Hawaii then there is currently today. However, even though the people of Hawaii had a great amount of natural resources available to them, there was a point in time where the entire Hawaiian population was in great danger of total annihilation.

When the European explorers, traders and missionaries first came to the Hawaiian Islands they brought with them deadly diseases that the immune systems of the Hawaiian People had trouble fighting. This resulted in plagues of an unimaginable scale. Disease killed off an enormous percentage of the native population. Unfortunately, because of a lack of written language, many of the ancient customs and culture that had been orally passed down through the generations was dieing off as well.

The Hawaiian culture possessed an absolute mastery of many incredible things. They mastered crossing the seas in well organized armadas of canoes navigating by the stars, winds, ocean currents and wildlife to find the relatively small islands of Hawaii. These voyages were done on a consistent enough basis to establish major trade routes to other far off areas of the Pacific. With no metals available the Hawaiians used the various materials that were available to make creations that in many cases were superior to their European counterparts. The coconut rope that was made in Hawaii was far stronger to the hemp rope that was common on European ships and was one of the first commodities that was traded. All of this knowledge and tradition was endanger of being completely lost.

In these times the majority of the land was owned by the Hawaiian Monarchy. In some cases the monarchy gifted large parcels of land to individual European settlers. One of these parcels that included the entire island of Ni’ihau as well as most of the West side of Kauai was purchased in 1863 by Elizabeth Sinclair for $10,000. Elizabeth Sinclair purchased the land directly from King Kamehameha IV and her direct descendants own it to this day.

During the years the the family (whose name has since changed to Robinson) has resided on this parcel they have made some incredible sacrifices to help preserve Hawaiian culture. Perhaps the single largest contribution to Hawaiians that has been made by any family on earth, the Robinson have set aside the entire island as a sort of living cultural preserve.
The Robinsons initially created the preserve of Ni’ihau to act as a quarantine zone to protect the Hawaiian bloodlines from Polio and Small Pox. They had strict policies of who could come and go from the island. To this day the amount of disease that is found on Ni’ihau is practically non existent….and the culture is flourishing.

The populations of this island still live in traditional ways. Hunting, fishing and farming for most of their food (the rest being shipped in by the Robinson family). This small population has been able act as a cultural time capsule. This small community is responsible for much of what is presently known about ancient Hawaiian culture to this day.

Today we went on a trip with Holo Holo Charters to the Napali coastline of Kauai. We took in the spectacle of these over 3000 foot tall sea cliffs before we made our way across the 17 mile wide channel to the island of Ni’ihau. Off the North shore of the island there is a large volcanic caldera that is known as “Lehua Rock”. Lehua is a bird sanctuary. The island is surrounded by incredibly clear, tropical water.

We snorkeled here at a place that was called “Vertical Awareness”. The reason it got this name is because of the shape of the bottom. There is a flat reef that is about 20 feet deep that drops off in a massive undersea cliff to well over a hundred feet down.

This area had an incredible amount of sea life that could be easily observed through the crystal clear water. What I really liked about this dive area is that there was a huge variety to what we saw. There were the typical reef fish that are common along the bright reefs of Hawaii’s shallow coastal waters. Then, in addition to the little reef fish there were also some much larger, deep water pelagic species of fish that were buzzing around through our dive site. The captain told me that it is not uncommon to see Mahi Mahi, Ono or even Ahi cruising in out of the shallows from deep water.

After we were done snorkeling we come back aboard the boat just in time for lunch. The crew set out a large buffet of breads, meats, vegetables and cheeses for a sandwich buffet. In addition to sandwiches there was also a green, fruit and pasta salad selection.

After lunch we made our way back across the channel to Port Allen Harbor. The immense “Holo Holo” did a great job flattening out seas on the way home. This channel can get quite rough and all though we did get the boat rocking quite a bit it was much smoother then it would’ve been on a smaller vessel.

At the end of the trip both my Mom and I agreed that it was all well worth the early wake up and the rough seas. Seeing the cliffs of Napali, and the visiting the island of Ni’ihau with my Mom are memories I will never forget.