When North American travelers converse over the fifty states they’ve been to, it’s often over shared road trip “war stories”. Whether it’s that cross-country trip many years ago or that recent weekend blitz where you picked up five states you normally would never have a reason to go to, all of these continental U.S. “expeditions” start with someone getting in a car and going – for whatever reason. Heck, even Alaska can be included. The largest state in the union is arguably the most epic Point B’s of any North American road trip one can draw up.
Hawai’i is a completely different beast.
Hawai’i is the only state in the union that requires a (usually pricey) flight. I suppose it is possible to catch a cruise to Hawai’i from California, but I can’t imagine one that will take your car over (other than a very expensive car shipping service). Hawai’i is also the only state I know of that absolutely requires intra-state flights to get around all the major islands. (Washington and Alaska provide ferries for inter-island travel, though some Aleutian islands require flights-only as well, I’m sure. Hawaii does have a limited ferry service, but it’s not inclusive of all islands).
I, for one, couldn’t live in Hawai’i (full disclosure, I’ve yet to visit the state – so my opinion could change upon traveling there). For a person that constantly likes to “get away”, I don’t know if I could live in a permanent state of “get away” – living amongst the paradise that the state provides. It also wouldn’t be easy or cheap to just take off on a U.S. roadtrip – requiring a flight and rental car on the other side, not to mention two fairly full travel days book-ending your trip. Hawai’i does provide some of the most scenic drives of any state, this is true, but after spending months driving through all the islands, I’d need a new road and some more land! That said, living there would knock off some of the price of a flight to American Samoa (the territory’s only U.S. flight connection is through Honolulu) – so there is that…
What surprises me most about Hawai’i is how such large swaths of its total area (including marine territory) are almost completely off limits or basically inaccessible, even to the locals. Sure, islands like Ni’ihau and Kaho’olawe are relatively small and there are certainly military bases or other restricted land on continental U.S. soil that are larger than these two islands. It still bears mentioning separately, as these two islands are considered part of the eight main Hawaiian islands – yet, truly only six islands are easily able to be visited by your average tourist.
There are actually over 100 residents of Ni’ihau, the easternmost end of the major Hawai’i archipelago. It’s nicknamed “The Forbidden Isle” due to it’s private ownership status. Two brothers, Bruce and Keith Robinson, own the island and do their best to block it from the outside world. Their plight has not been without controversy as the two siblings seek to preserve the original Hawaiian traditions on the island and have reportedly turned down various offers to turn over the land to the state. Tourism is strictly regulated, but possible (and not that cheap). The Seattle Times recently had a writer go down there (you can read her experience here). Half-day tours via helicopter are available at $385 a pop but they won’t take off without a full group of five people willing to part with that kind of money for a unique, but rather limiting experience. That said, those traveling down to Hawai’i with an adventuresome spirit and a little extra cash to burn could feasibly shoehorn this side trip into their itinerary.
Kaho’olawe is a 45-square mile island just south of Maui, off limits and unpopulated except for various state-employed workers. Unexploded ordinance remains on the island years after being used for various military tests, requiring constant maintenance and cleanup. The island has been in possession of the state of Hawai’i since 1990.
As far as I know, the easiest way to get to Kaho’olawe is by registering yourself to help in the cleanup. One can join up with the Protect Kaho’olawe ‘Ohana through the Kaho’olawe Reserve Commision. The website provides the forms for registration, though be ready to slog through a two-year wait list just to get the opportunity to “work” there for a few days. You won’t be paid for your volunteer efforts, though you will have to pay a $125 access fee. Needless to say, this is something to plan far, far in advance. If you want to get to all eight major Hawaiian island, be prepared to be patient!
Midway Island and the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands
Hawai’i stretches much further into the Pacific Ocean than most people realize. Kure Atoll, the northwesternmost of any Hawaiian island, is located almost three full “Hawai’is” away from Kaua’i if you laid copies of the state next to each other. Midway Island, which is not part of the state of Hawai’i, is, of course, home to the site of the famous Battle of Midway of World War II. It’s populated now only by a few government staff and public travel, albeit it scarce, has been possible (and expensive) in most years. Budget cuts have threatened public access for at least the near future, but Google Maps has “street viewed” the island if you want to take your own personal “trip”.
Outside of Midway, the other “real” Hawaiian islands in the Northwestern archipelago are basically inaccessible to all but the most intrepid travelers. Somehow hitching a ride with an official expedition (if that’s even possible) seems to be the only way to transit out to any of these islands.