Monday, September 25, 2006

Niihau, My Nemesis

After checking into my room in Kalaheo, an old paniolo town in southern Kauai, I decide to take a drive up to the Waimea Canyon. It's close to sunset, but I want to scope out the windy roads so that I will be more familiar with the area tomorrow, when I officially explore Waimea Canyon.

After I am sufficiently familiar with the roads, I head back down for dinner. As I descend Waimea Canyon Road, I see before me, on the horizon, my nemesis, the island of Ni'ihau.

I am obsessive-compulsive. After being lucky enough to have traveled to Oahu and Maui, I set myself the goal of stepping foot on every inhabited Hawaiian island. (Hence, my current trip to Kauai.) I have just one left. It is Niihau. It sits, taunting me, knowing that my chances of getting there are about 50:1.

The Forbidden Isle was purchased by the Robinson family in 1864 for $10,000 in gold. It continues to be owned and operated by the family. It is home to 160 employees, all Native Hawaiians. Life is simple and very sheltered. Hawaiian is the lengua franca. Few visitors are allowed. And therein lies the problem. Unless you are a cop, elected local official, or Naval personnel, the only way of getting an invitation onto the island is via helicopter tour ($250) or as a member of a safari team ($1,500 per person). I do not want to spend more than a hundred bucks to get there and I highly doubt I can pass the physical agility test to be one of Kauai's finest (Niihau is under Kauai Police Department's jurisdiction). So how the hell am I supposed to get there?

I grab a big juicy Barefoot Burger and fries in Waimea. Dinner! I get back in my car with the food in a brown paper bag and drive west, to the secluded beach abutting the naval radar station. I sit on the white sand, attacking the burger and fries, with Niihau straight ahead of me. As I eat, I am distracted by the calm water and take in the dry, warm breeze with a deep sigh that signals the onset of nirvanic relaxation. But then, I focus on Niihau again. I sit. And I think. I sit. And I plot. I sit. Nothing.

After my meal, I stand up, brush the sand off my shorts and legs, and head back to my room. I spend the following days enjoying the rest of Kauai. Samura Saimin (twice). The Na Pali coast. Hanalei. Kilauea. The Fish Express in Lihue. Niihau is quickly forgotten.

I take an interisland flight from Lihue to Kahului. I am in a brand new but flimsy feeling Bombardier. As we approach Maui, I see Kaho'olawe, the once inhabited island. Instantly, like a Pavlovian dog, I am reminded of my frustrating inability to reach Niihau.

I sit. And I think. Maybe I can rent a rubber dinghy and arrive on Niihau's shores under cover of darkness, a la Schwarzenegger and Rae Dawn Chong in the 1985 epic, Commando. Maybe I can....

I sit. And I think. I sit. And I plot.


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