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When you come to Kaua‘i you can’t help but notice the small island on the horizon as you near the west coast. This is the forbidden island of Ni‘ihau, the smallest of the inhabited islands, measuring about 16 miles by 14 miles. Visitation is not allowed on Ni‘ihau, and the islands 250 inhabitants are all pure-blooded Hawaiians who live in a place as close to traditional Hawai‘i as you will ever find.
Ni‘ihau is privately owned by the Robinson family of Kaua‘i, and it has been in their family since 1864 when it was purchased with the hope of raising cattle on it. The Robinsons are the descendents of the Sinclair family, who originally purchased the island from King Kamehameha V. It was in 1863 that the Scottish-born Eliza Sinclair set out to find a place to settle and raise their cattle. After turning down land on Oahu, they planned to head to California and make their purchase there, but Kamehameha offered to sell them the remote island of Ni‘ihau 17 miles off the coast of Kaua‘i. As the Sinclairs toured the island, they found a lush green island flourishing with all they could hope for. This would be the place they would buy. They made the purchase for a negotiated $10,000 and the island was theirs, sort of. At first many of the residents of Ni‘ihau refused to acknowledge them as the owners, including some who had deeds from Kamehameha III stating their ownership to various pieces of the island. Negotiations took place and in the end the Sinclairs paid a tenth of what they had originally paid for the whole island to obtain the land, a mere 50 acres. It was years later the Sinclairs learned the truth about Ni‘ihau, that it was no green oasis or flourishing island with the ability to sustain cattle. In the year of their purchase Ni‘ihau had experienced a rare rainy spell, causing the island to burst into bloom. In their dismay they purchased a 21,000 acre parcel of land on Kaua‘i for their range plans and later expanded that amount to 51,000 acres, all of which they own to this very day, only now as the Robinson family. They still live on their estate on the island of Kaua‘i.