Island History

Back when Gov. John D. Waihee III occupied Washington Place, I had the good fortune to visit Ni‘ihau, aboard the Niihau Helicopters craft, with Bruce Robinson, Shirley Akita (then head of the state Department of Education on Kaua‘i), Waihe‘e and his Kaua‘i-born bodyguard Kippy Akana, and a Belgian prince the residents of Ni‘ihau somehow found out about.

The residents of Ni‘ihau wanted to meet some real royalty, and I happened to be allowed to go along for the ride, camera in hand, with the understanding that Bruce Robinson would nod or shake his head if it was OK for me to shoot certain scenes or people.

Once on the island, we were transported to Pu‘uwai, the island’s town, shown Ni‘ihau School (which at that time had a single photovoltaic panel supplying power to a single computer), and treated to a lu‘au, with dances and more. The food was excellent.

In late 1993 and early 1994, Wailua resident Hank Soboleski traveled to Ni‘ihau several times in his position as a U.S. Department of Agriculture entomological technician with the USDA Agricultural Research Service at Wailua.

Access to Ni‘ihau and its Native Hawaiian resident population has been restricted since the 1920s or 1930s, only to visitors with permission given by the island’s owners. Onlya relatively few outsiders have ever actually visited on the island in its entirety since that time, Soboleski looked forward to his first visit with happy anticipation.

He, too, remembers being greeted warmly by residents of the island, who speak a distinct dialect of the Hawaiian language as their first language.

The areas of Ni‘ihau where reservoirs are present have the same, distinctive, salty scent, as does the salt pond area at Hanapepe, Soboleski recalled.

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