Ni’ihau: Hawaii’s ‘Forbidden Island’

For most people, Hawaii is associated with white sandy beaches, luaus, tan surfers, and a laidback lifestyle. But outside of the popular tourist destinations like Honolulu, Oahu, and Maui, there is an island that most people don’t even know exists.

Located 17 miles off the west coast of Kauai lies the island of Ni’ihau, better known as The Forbidden Isle. The island has mysteriously been “protected” from outsiders since the 1800s. Read on to find out what they are hiding, and to learn about Ni’ihau’s fascinating history.

Ni’ihau Is An Island Stuck In Time

Stuck In Time
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Pinterest

The island of Ni’ihau might have the same beautiful, sandy shores as Hawaii but you will never get to touch them. The island has had little to no contact with the outside world and today, it looks as though it is stuck in time. The islanders there live the same as their ancestors did hundreds of years ago, hunting and fishing to survive.

The only reason it has become preserved is thanks to a woman named Elizabeth McHutchenson and a strange deal made in the 1800s.

It All Started With Elizabeth McHutchenson

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Wikipedia Commons
Wikipedia Commons

Elizabeth McHutchenson, better known as Eliza, was born in Scotland in 1800. She grew up and married a ship’s captain, Francis Sinclair, in 1824, and the two shared six children. After the birth of their sixth child, the Sinclair family decided to set sail and begin a new life in New Zealand.

Little did the family know that this decision would change the course of the future of the family forever.

Everything Seemed To Be Working Out

Everything Seemed To Be Working Out
Culture Club/Getty Images
Culture Club/Getty Images

The family arrived in New Zealand in 1841 and settled in Pigeon Bay where they set up a rather successful farming operation. Although the family was now involved in the farming business, Francis was a sea captain and used his skills to sail the family’s farming supplies to trade.

Five years after arriving on the island, Francis and his eldest son set out to sea, where they were met with a great tragedy. Their ship sank, taking the lives of everyone on board and resulting in the loss of all of their cargo.

Eliza Wouldn’t Give Up That Easily

She Wasn't Going To Give Up
Historica Graphica Collection/Heritage Images/Getty Images
Historica Graphica Collection/Heritage Images/Getty Images

After losing both her husband and eldest son, Eliza now had nothing to show for the years of work she had put into their farm in Pigeon Bay. With five children to look after, Eliza knew she couldn’t give up.

She turned Pigeon Bay into a thriving farm once again, married off all of her children, and decided the family would move to Canada. In 1863, the family set out once again, this time for Canada in hopes of starting a new farm.

It Wasn’t What They Were Expecting

WAVE: The Museums, Galleries and Archives of Wolverhampton/Getty Images
WAVE: The Museums, Galleries and Archives of Wolverhampton/Getty Images

Upon arriving in Canada later that year, the family was disappointed when they reached Vancouver Island. The land was still mostly wild and underdeveloped — not the ideal conditions for establishing a successful farm.

While Eliza was debating on moving to California, she heard about a promising place — the Hawaiian Islands, then known as the Sandwich Islands. It was then that she decided to relocate the family to Hawaii and meet with King Kamehameha V in hopes of purchasing Ni’ihau Island.

There Was One Condition

One Condition
Peter Hermes Furian/iStock.com
Peter Hermes Furian/iStock.com

King Kamehameha V agreed to sell the island to the Sinclairs for $10,000 in gold in 1864. However, before he gave them full control of the island, he requested that the family protect the island and its residents from outside influences.

The Sinclairs agreed to the terms and began their new life on the island. Eliza was considered a chieftess by the island natives and the family did all they could to help those on the island.

They Cracked Down In The 1930s

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Underwood Archives/Getty Images
Underwood Archives/Getty Images

The Sinclairs now owned Ni’ihau Island as private property and were able to separate themselves as much as possible form the ever-encroaching United States. They took King Kamehameha V’s request seriously and in the 1930s, announced that Ni’ihau would be closed to all visitors entirely.

This was to keep the island safe from the spread of diseases like polio and measles, as well as to maintain the Native Hawaiian culture of the island which is known as “kahiki.”

The Island Today

Time Machine
Polihakle/Wikipedia
Polihakle/Wikipedia

Today, the island is still privately owned by the Robinson family, descendants of Eliza Sinclair and her family. They have managed to uphold their ancestor’s pledge to King Kamehameha V and have kept the island private and unaffected by outside influences of the modern world. They still live off of the land and using old skills like hunting and fishing in order to survive. The island is also one of the only places in the world where Hawaiian is the dominant language.

Bruce and Keith Robinson told ABC News, “We’ve tried to maintain the request of the King when it was turned over […] We maintain the island for the people and continue to work it as he had.”

Life On The Island Is Relaxed

Relaxed Life
pagu0728/Instagram
pagu0728/Instagram

Being separated from the world has its perks. For the most part, life on the island has been described as being incredibly relaxed and harmonious. While the island still doesn’t have running water or electricity, the inhabitants sustain themselves by collecting rainwater and using solar panels.

Almost every house on the island has a solar panel of its own. Being away from the hustle and bustle of a big city and technology, life is slow-paced.

The Island’s Inhabitants Can Come And Go

Inhabitants Can Come And Go
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Pinterest

Not everyone can come and go as they please on the island, but the island’s inhabitants can. TheNi’ihauans aren’t ignorant as to what life is like on the mainland, and many split their time between Kauai and the ‘forbidden island’ because there is more work on Kauai.

This makes determining how many people live on the island difficult. In a 2010 census, it was estimated that 170 people live on the island, yet that number is believed to be closer to 70.

The Island Has Numerous Rules

There Are Rules
eahawaii1902/YouTube
eahawaii1902/YouTube

Although living on the island might sound like heaven-on-earth for some people, the inhabitants are still controlled by a series of laws created by the Sinclair and now Robinson family. Supposedly, those who call Ni’ihau home aren’t allowed to have guns or alcohol in their possession and are required to go to church every Sunday.

Furthermore, one former resident claims that men are not allowed to have long hair or earrings and that breaking any of the rules can result in eviction from the island.

Many Provisions Are Delivered Straight To The Island

Delivered To The Island
Scott Barbour/Getty Images
Scott Barbour/Getty Images

Considering how isolated the island is to the other parts of Hawaii, it’s necessary that some provisions such as food and supplies are brought over. Weekly deliveries come by barge and contain goods — except for items that are banned such as alcohol, tobacco, and guns.

Interestingly enough, while the Islanders may not be allowed guns, due to the island’s position, the US Military has set up a defensive operations base. There, they employ several of its inhabitants.

What It’s Like To Actually Live There

What It's Really Like
Ken Sakamoto
Ken Sakamoto

There are mixed claims about what it’s like to actually live on Ni’ihau. Some sources compare it to a utopian society where everyone follows strict laws and cultural beliefs, while others say otherwise. Peter T. Young, the former Department of Land and Natural Resources director of Hawaii, explained it best.

He claims that “[Ni’ihau] is isolated for the rest of us, but it’s not an isolated island for them. They don’t look any different, they don’t act any different […] They live in a place that the rest of us have a very limited opportunity to see.”

The Island Is Guarded Against Outsiders

Guarded Against Outsiders
eahawaii1902/YouTube
eahawaii1902/YouTube

Both the Robinson family and those living on the island agree that they want to keep their close-knit community far away from the eyes of tourists and other Hawaiians. Unauthorized entrance by people who don’t live on the island is strictly prohibited and there are consequences for anyone that tries to make their way onto the island illegally.

However, getting to the island is difficult enough, so people intruding on the island isn’t a major concern.

There Are Limited Tours Available

Limited Tours
eahawaii1902/Getty Images
eahawaii1902/Getty Images

Amazingly, despite being so closed-off to non-residents and even media, the island does offer very exclusive tours and limited guided tours. While you may not be able to go deep into the island, some tours will at least get you to its shores.

For a pretty penny, some tours take you on a privately chartered helicopter for a half-day tour around the island. However, an all-day guided hunting safari costs around $1,700 per person which offers more access to the island.

Tours Will Never Get You Close To The Residential Areas

Never Close To Residential Areas
Christopher P. Becker/Wikimedia Commons
Christopher P. Becker/Wikimedia Commons

According to island owner Bruce Robinson, “The tours are solely for people to come to see an unspoiled Hawaiian Island […] We will not take [tourists] to the village or put the residents into a fishbowl-type of situation. We don’t even fly over the village. That is not what we’re about.”

He continued saying, “We respect their privacy, we respect their desire to live untouched by the outside world and we intend to preserve that.” So, if you sign up for a tour, don’t get your hopes up to see what living on the island is really like.

The Island Is Booming With Wildlife

Wildlife
Sylvain CORDIER/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images
Sylvain CORDIER/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images

Because the human population on the island is so small, it allows for all of the island’s plants and animals to thrive, including some endangered species. One of these endangered species is the monk seal, whose population in Hawaii has grown every year after the species began to successfully breed on Ni’ihau.

At the moment, there are around 35 seals with 10 to 12 pups being born on the island each year. This is yet another reason why the island is so well protected.

The Inhabitants Are Known For Their Shell Leis

Shells
Etsy
Etsy

Ni’ihau shells are typically referred to shells that are specifically found on the ‘forbidden island’ which are then used to make shell leis. There are typically three different kinds of shells used although they vary in color and texture.

The majority of the inhabitants of the island are avid artists and craft makers, with many of them focusing on creating these specialized leis. These can be found in stores throughout the Hawaiian Islands, with their prices varying depending on the availability of certain shells.

Entertainment On The Island

Entertainment
eahawaii1902/YouTube
eahawaii1902/YouTube

Because there’s such little technological advancement on the island, when they’re not working, for entertainment, most inhabitants rely on spending time at the beach, watching DVDs or VHS videos, or whatever else to preoccupy themselves. However, like any other person, a lot of the islanders get bored and some opt to leave the island at some point in their life.

With the option to come and go as they please, many people upon reaching their 20s leave to experience the outside world although they’re welcomed back upon their return.

Life On The Hawaiian Islands Over 80 Years

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Welcome to Hawaii, where six beautiful islands of paradise await you! If you arrived in 1950 when this photo was taken, you might have seen a scene like this, where native Hawaiian dancers perform the traditional hula. Hula dancers sway their hips to tell a story.

Hula was developed by Polynesians who originally settled on the Hawaiian islands. Hula is typically accompanied by “mele,” which are traditional island chants, songs, or poems. The hula is meant to dramatize the mele in a visual dance form. There are two main categories of the dance: Hula Kahiko is ancient hula that was performed before Western encounters with Hawaii. Hula ‘Auana is an evolved version with western influences.

A Hawaiian Lei Makes For A Warm Welcome

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B. Anthony Stewart/National Geographic/Getty Images
B. Anthony Stewart/National Geographic/Getty Images

Here a woman is seen making leis circa 1954. She threads carnations together to create colorful flower necklaces that can be used as gifts for visitors to Hawaii. The lei tradition was brought to Hawaii by Polynesian voyagers from Tahiti and they were made with flowers, leaves, shells, seeds, nuts, feathers, and sometimes animal bones or teeth.

The lei is one of the ultimate symbols of Hawaiian culture to visitors who are greeted with a warm “Aloha” and a fresh flower lei. If someone gives you a lei, you must always accept it. You must also never take it off in front of the person who gave it to you.

Life In The Suburbs Of Hawaii

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B. Anthony Stewart/National Geographic/Getty Images
B. Anthony Stewart/National Geographic/Getty Images

This is what life in Hawaii was like back in 1954. Neighbors chat across a white fence, not unlike suburbia on the Mainland. But unlike the Mainland, this neighborhood is nestled in a lush, majestic valley on the island of Oahu.

Wouldn’t it be amazing to wake up to this scene everyday? These people certainly did. These folks live in the Hawaiian capital of Honolulu. Honolulu is the westernmost major U.S. city and also is the most remote major city in the entire world. It is likely that these families settled in Hawaii in the aftermath of WWII.

Preparing For A Hawaiian Feast

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B. Anthony Stewart/National Geographic/Getty Images
B. Anthony Stewart/National Geographic/Getty Images

These cooks are preparing for a traditional Hawaiian luau in 1954. When pigs are roasted for a luau, part of the preparations include placing hot rocks from the fire pit into the pig carcass.There are plenty of different ways to consume a roasted pig at a luau. Perhaps these cooks will prepare laulau, a native Hawaiian dish.

Laulau typically consists of pork wrapped in taro leaves. The laulau is then steamed to perfection. Sometimes instead of pork, laulau can also be stuffed with salted butterfish, beef, or chicken. Laulau is traditionally steamed in an underground oven called an imu.

False Killer Whales Practice A Routine On Oahu

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Bates Littlehales/National Geographic/Getty Images
Bates Littlehales/National Geographic/Getty Images

A woman is seen working with dolphins in this photo from 1969. These are false killer whales, the third-largest type of dolphin. There are three populations of false killer whales that inhabit the waters surrounding the Hawaiian islands. As a result, these are the dolphins that get observed the most, since populations are sparse elsewhere in the world.

There are places in Hawaii — Oahu especially, where this photo was taken — where you can see these elusive creatures up close. Dolphins are typically friendly to humans and these false killer whales have been known to catch fish and bring them to humans who are diving or boating.

Vacationers Sunbathe In The Warm Kailua Sun

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If you didn’t live in Hawaii, then the next best thing was to go there for vacation! That’s exactly what these folks are doing at the Kailua Kona Hilton Resort in 1975. The resort has inevitably been renamed, but you can still visit the location.

1975 was also the year of the big earthquake and tsunami in Hawaii. On November 29, 1975, a 7.4 magnitude earthquake shook several of the islands, triggered a tsunami, and killed two people.

Hawaii Has Been Exposed Since The Early 20th Century

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After World War II, Hawaii has been touted as a popular vacation destination. This photo is from a 1938 editorial in Vogue. It’s one of the first examples of general public exposure to surf culture, which really wouldn’t take off for another 20 years or so.

As early as the ’30s, the American public was shown a whole new realm of vacation destinations. It was the country’s newest state and although it was part of America, the tropical paradise was as if you were visiting a foreign country. Classic photos like these showed tourists what fun and adventure people had on the Hawaiian islands.

Legend Nick Beck Catches A Wave

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George Silk/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images
George Silk/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images

This is surf legend Nick Beck catching a wave in 1963. A surf craze swept the nation in the ’60s as awesome shots just like this one were published in LIFE magazine. The publication introduced readers to surfing but also warned of its perils, too.

Nick Beck was born on Kaua’i, which is the fourth largest of the Hawaiian islands and the oldest. After a lifelong career as a teacher, Beck eventually settled down and became the principal of Hanalei Elementary School. Later in his life, he worked towards slowing development of Hanalei and Kaua’i to preserve their natural beauty.

Waikiki Was Where You Had To Be

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This is Waikiki Beach in 1960. Even back then, vacationers would flock to this infamous location to enjoy a slice of paradise. O’ahu, where Waikiki Beach sits on the South Shore in Honolulu, isn’t the biggest island, but the most populated. In Hawaiian, Waikiki stands for “spouting fresh water.” There used to be springs and streams that separated this beach from the interior of the island.

Waikiki Beach is known for its clear blue waters, white sands, and iconic view of Diamond Head crater. This certainly looks calmer than what you would see there now. Today, Waikiki is a tourist hub and with plenty of development that lines the beach.

People Have Been Flocking To Ho’okipa For Decades

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In this photo from 1987, these ladies enjoy the surf on the beach at Ho’okipa on the north shore of Maui. Ho’okipa is a popular destination for all sorts of water-related activities. “Ho’okipa” means hospitality in native Hawaiian and there’s nothing more inviting than old-fashioned Hawaiian hospitality!

Ho’okipa is home to four distinct surf breaks, where the swell and reef form barreling waves that are perfect for surfing. This beach in particular is known as one of the most renowned windsurfing sites in the entire world.

A Heiau is a Sacred Site

king-kamehameha-grounds
Wolfgang Kaehler/LightRocket via Getty Images
Wolfgang Kaehler/LightRocket via Getty Images

There are many sacred places in Hawaii, which are called a heiau. They all look different; some are sacred grounds marked by stacked rocks with offerings to the gods. Others are more elaborate, resembling a temple.

It’s very important in Hawaiian culture to preserve and take care of these places, and sadly, many were destroyed during the 19 century when Christian missionaries ended Hawaiian religion. Those that remain date as far back as the 13th century.

Hale O Pi’ilani Heiau

Hale O Pi'ilani Heiau
The Washington Post via Getty Images
The Washington Post via Getty Images

Located on the islands of Maui, outside of Hana sits Hale O Pi’ilani Heiau. This heiau holds great importance and is the largest heiau in all of Polynesia, and also one of the best preserved. It dates back to the 13th century and is made of basalt rocks that were brought up the mountain ridge.

The rocks are stacked 50 feet high, with a perimeter of 341 feet by 415 feet. Inside of the walls is even more walls, as well as enclosures, platforms, and pits. Some historians believe that this heiau was designed to be a residence. Others theorize that it was a kingdom.

Pu’u o Mahuka Heiau

Pu’u o Mahuka Heiau
Instagram/@juaneaya
Instagram/@juaneaya

The Pu’u o Mahuka Heiau was constructed during wartime. Historians believe it first started being built in the 17th century, and more was added in the 18th century. This heiau sits on a hill on the island of O’ahu, overlooking Waimea Bay and Waimea Valley.

A high priest by the name of Ka’opulupulu oversaw this heiau, which could serve as a look-out spot for much of the north shore of the island during a conflict. Historians also believe that this site was as a heiau luakini, or sacrifice temple to bring good luck in war.

Kaulu Paoa Hula Heiau

kee-beach-kaulu-paoa-heiau
Instagram/@michael.rinne
Instagram/@michael.rinne

Located on the north shore of the island of Kaua’i, the Kaulu Paoa Hula Heiau is rich with Hawaiian history. It’s at this site that the chief of Kaua’i, Lohiau, was laid to rest. His body was buried within a cave in the sea cliffs after he died.

Legend has it that Lohiau died at this site when he fell in love with the goddess of fire, Pele. Pele’s younger sister and Wahineomao scaled the cliffs to try to bring the chief back to life. Three rainbows appeared as the two women chanted with herbs, but Lohiau didn’t come back to life. This site is also attributed to the hula goddess, Laka.

Haleki’i-Pihana Heiau State Monument

Haleki'i Pihana Heiau State Monument
Wikipedia Commons
Wikipedia Commons

Haleki’i-Pihana Heiau State Monument is a 10-acre park that is home to two laukini heiau (Hawaiian temples where human sacrifice was performed). Both temples are located near the mouth of the ‘lao Stream in Wailuku, Maui. Both of the temples have connections back to key Hawaiian chiefs and have been studied by archaeologists for years.

On November 25, 1985, the complex was added to the National Register of Historic Places. The temples are believed to date back to the 1200s.

Kamakahonu

Kamakahonu
Douglas Peebles/Corbis via Getty Images
Douglas Peebles/Corbis via Getty Images

Kamakahonu is the former residence of Kamehameha I, the founder and first ruler of the Kingdom of Hawaii. He is also the ancestor of King Kamehameha V who sold Ni’ihau to the Sinclairs. Kamakahonu is located at the north end of Kailua Bay on the Big Island of Hawai’i. It was here that Kamehameha I lived out the final years of his life.

The location has also served as the residence for other Hawaiian rulers and government officials. Today, it is the site of a lighthouse and is part of King Kamehameha’s Kona Beach Hotel.

Ulupo Heiau State Historic Site

Ulupo Heiau
Patrice Walker/Flickr
Patrice Walker/Flickr

Ulupo Heiau State Historic Site is on the edge of Kailua, Hawai’i and is closely connected with the ancient legend of the Menehune, a mythological dwarf people in Hawaiian tradition. However, it later grew to be associated with the high chiefs of O’ahu. It was a thriving area, reaching its peak in 1750, only to be conquered in the 1780s.

Although it was first believed to have been used as an agricultural temple given the bounty on the island, it is assumed that it was later converted into a place for human and animal sacrifices.

Keaʻiwa Heiau State Recreation Area

Keaʻiwa Heiau State Recreation Area
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Pinterest

Keaʻiwa Heiau State Recreation Area is the ruins of a holy temple. It is located at the top of a hill in a neighborhood referred to as ‘Aiea Heights on O’ahu. With views of the Pearl Harbor memorial, the site is also popular for camping and hiking.

The temple is believed to have been established in the 1600s, and the site is surrounded by ancient medical herbs which people still come to seek out for their medical benefits.

Wailua River State Park

Wailua River State Park
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Pinterest

The Wailua River State Park is part of the Wailua River Valley. The river is open to visitors who can enjoy its waters by swimming, boating, kayaking, and even water skiing. Furthermore, within the Wailua River State Park is the Wailua Complex of Heiaus.

This is a National Historic Landmark that was once where the center of chiefly power was located on the island. Within the complex, there are places of worship, refuge, and the locations of royal births.

Hokukano-Ualapue Complex

Hokukano-Ualapue Complex
National Parks Service
National Parks Service

The Hokukano-Ualapue Complex is located to the Hawaii Route 450 in Ualapue, on Moloka’i Island. It is a National Historic Landmark and is considered to be a pre-contact archaeological site. Throughout the entire complex, there are six temples, many of which are regarded as one of the most important collections of ancient Hawaiian sites in the entire state.

However, the most revered temple in the complex is ‘Ili’ili’ōpae, the largest temple on the island and the second largest in all of Hawaii.

Deception Island, Antarctica

Deception
Sharpshooters /VW Pics/Universal Images Group via Getty Images
Sharpshooters /VW Pics/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

Deception Island lies in the South Shetlands Islands archipelago in Antarctica. For years, explorers considered it to be the safest island on the continent. Explorers, whalers, and fur-sealing hunters used the island as their supply base. But not everyone knew that there was an active volcano there threatening to erupt at any moment.

During the 1960s, several countries sought Deception Island for oil mining. But the volcano erupted in both 1967 and 1969, destroying all bases and equipment. Today, the island is only visited by the occasional research base and tourist boat.

Gunkanjima In Nagasaki, Japan

Gunkanjima In Nagasaki, Japan
Carl Court/Getty Images
Carl Court/Getty Images

Gunkanjima, which means “Battleship Island,” was once the most densely populated island in the world. Also called Hashima Island, the area was sought-after for its coal mining. When the Mitsubishi Corporation bought the island in 1890, they began building apartments there around 1916.

Families rapidly moved to Gunkanjima for work opportunities. At one point, there were 5,259 people per 16 acres. But as petroleum replaced coal in the 1960s, facilities began to close. The residents left, leaving behind shells of concrete apartment blocks. Today, the island sits abandoned, and tourists can visit part of it.

Poveglia Island In Venice, Italy

Poveglia Island In Venice, Italy
Marco Secchi/Getty Images
Marco Secchi/Getty Images

Resting between Venice and Lido, Poveglia is one of the most notorious islands in Italy. It was first occupied in 421, and throughout the 1300s it became a quarantine for those with the bubonic plague. If people were discovered with the disease, they were sent to Poveglia to die.

In the late 1800s, Poveglia served another purpose: as a mental institution. The asylum was poorly constructed, and rumors leaked about a doctor who threw a patient off of the bell tower. The island was finally closed in 1975. Today, Poveglia is off-limits to everyone except for those with special permission.

Disney’s Discovery Island In Florida, U.S.A.

Disney's Discovery Island In Florida, U.S.A.
YouTube/MattSonswa
YouTube/MattSonswa

If you look closely at the official map of Disney World in Orlando, Florida, you’ll see an unlabeled green mass. This was once Disney’s Discovery Island, which mysteriously closed in 1999. The island served as a pirate-themed break from the hustle and bustle of the park. It featured exotic birds that guests could handle.

Near the turn of the century, Disney’s Animal Kingdom Theme Park opened in Orlando. Disney’s Discovery Island was subsequently shut down. Since then, the island has remained untouched and off-limits. But a few YouTubers have gotten in to explore the decade-old ruins.

Brentford Ait In London, England

Brentford Ait In London, England
Harry Todd/Fox Photos/Getty Images
Harry Todd/Fox Photos/Getty Images

Brentford Ait is an island in the River Thames. It used to house several trade buildings, including a notorious pub called Three Swans. In the late 18th and early 19th centuries, the pub would reportedly get so loud that neighbors could hear it on both sides of the river.

By 1812, resident Robert Hunter had had enough. He bought Brentford Ait, closed Three Swans Pubs, and even demolished the house and fishing pond. In the 1920s, people planted trees on the island to conceal its buildings. If you were to see Brentford Ait from London, you would only see trees.

McNab’s Island In Nova Scotia, Canada

McNab's Island In Nova Scotia, Canada
Pinterest/Ellen at vivid.travel
Pinterest/Ellen at vivid.travel

As its name implies, McNab’s Island is owned by the McNabs and was abandoned by them. Peter McNab settled on this Canadian island in the 1780s, and his descendants remained there until 1934. During World War II, the military built forts on the island that still remain today.

McNab’s Island has remained empty for decades. However, buildings such as a cholera quarantine area, soda factory, and family cemetery still lay there today. Even the old lighthouse remains on the coast. Today, tourists may visit McNab’s and visit some heritage sites.

Suakin Island In Suakin, Sudan

Suakin Island In Suakin, Sudan
Eric Lafforgue/Art in All of Us/Corbis via Getty Images
Eric Lafforgue/Art in All of Us/Corbis via Getty Images

Suakin Island had been a bustling port city and hub for over 3,000 years. First developed during the tenth century B.C.E., Suakin Island acted as a trade outlet for the Red Sea. In later years, the island became an outlet for Muslims on the pilgrimage to Mecca. But one business became its wrongdoing: the slave trade.

During the 19th century, Suakin Island became a slave trade hub. As the slave trade declined in the 1920s, so too did the island. The area was forgotten for decades. In December 2018, Turkey bought the island for a tourist destination, so its fate is up in the air.

Holland Island In Maryland, U.S.A.

Holland Island In Maryland, U.S.A.
ASTRID RIECKEN For The Washington Post via Getty Images
ASTRID RIECKEN For The Washington Post via Getty Images

Holland Island in the Chesapeake Bay of Maryland is rapidly eroding. The last house has already disappeared into the sea, and the rest is soon to follow. In the 1600s, the first settlers arrived at the island, and Holland became the most popular Chesapeake island by 1910.

In 1914, however, disaster struck. The wind and tide eroded the land where houses stood. Attempts to build stone walls did not succeed. Hence, most people took their belongings and left. In 2010, the only remaining house on Holland Island (built in 1889) collapsed. The rest is soon to follow.

Spinalonga In Crete, Greece

Spinalonga In Crete, Greece
Nicolas Economou/NurPhoto via Getty Images
Nicolas Economou/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Near Crete lies the lesser-known Greek island, Spinalonga. Those who learned about Spinalonga may remember it for its dark history. In the 16th century, the island was first ruled by the Venetians until it was taken over by the Cretes in 1878. By the next century, Spinalonga became a leper colony.

As a smaller leper colony, Spinalonga was under-staffed. According to reports, only one doctor stayed on the island at one time. It closed down in 1957 as one of the last leper colonies remaining. Today, Spinalonga is referenced in pop culture, such as Victoria Hislop’s book The Island.

Inishmurray In County Sligo, Ireland

Inishmurray In County Sligo, Ireland
Twitter/@webshots
Twitter/@webshots

If you were to travel four miles off the course of Donegal Bay, you would see the empty homes and schoolhouses of Inishmurray. This Irish island has a long history of sixth-century monasteries, Viking invasions of the 800s, and abandoned family belongings.

While Inishmurray has gone through many changes, the island received a 100-person population by the 1880s. However, the residents soon favored the mainland over the isolated island. By 1948, Inishmurray was empty. If you decide to visit, you’ll see ancient church ruins and empty homes.

King Island In Nome, Alaska

King Island In Nome, Alaska
Twitter/@DarwinBeliever
Twitter/@DarwinBeliever

For almost half of a century, King Island on the Western coast of Alaska has remained abandoned. It was initially inhabited by over 200 Inupiat people who called themselves Aseuluk, or “people of the sea.” They built an incredible town along the cliffside called Stilt Village.

During the mid-1900s, the Bureau of Indian Affairs forcefully relocated the Aseuluk to mainland Alaska. By 1970, King Island was left abandoned. The National Science Foundation funded a project to return the Aseuluk to the island in 2005. The results have yet to be reported.

Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose Island In South Andaman, India

Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose Island In South Andaman, India
Twitter/@amibhat
Twitter/@amibhat

Two miles from Port Blair, India is an island that was reclaimed by nature. Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose Island was first settled in 1789, where it was originally named after its surveyor, Daniel Ross. The area was owned by the British and remained that way for almost 200 years.

In 1941, Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose experienced an earthquake. Although no one left, there was a struggle as the Freedom Fighters aimed to retake the island. Afterward, no one stayed. The Japanese took the island in 1942, and the Allies reclaimed it in 1945 but then deserted it.

North Brother Island In New York, U.S.A.

North Brother Island In New York, U.S.A.
YouTube/DCE
YouTube/DCE

North Brother Island hosts one of the darkest histories in New York. The island remained empty until 1885 when it was bought to build the Riverside Hospital. There, doctors quarantined patients with tuberculosis, yellow fever, typhus, and smallpox. The most well-known resident was “Typhoid Mary” Mallon, the first documented carrier of typhoid fever in the U.S.

In 1905, the General Slocum steamship caught fire. Over one thousand people on North Brother Island died. By 1963, the hospital closed, and the island became abandoned. It’s no wonder why North Brother Island is considered haunted.

Ōkunoshima Island In Takehara, Japan

Ōkunoshima Island In Takehara, Japan
Chris McGrath/Getty Images
Chris McGrath/Getty Images

Ōkunoshima Island has remained abandoned since World War II. Only three families lived on the island until 1925 when the Imperial Japanese Army used the site for chemical weapon testing. Researchers produced mustard gas and tear gas for the war there. Today, its only inhabitants are incredibly friendly bunnies.

When the Japanese armed forces were testing their weapons, they used rabbits for their studies. After the war ended, the Allies debated either burning, dumping, or burying Ōkunoshima, but they were told to stay quiet about the experiments. They released all the test rabbits onto the island, where they still live today. Tourists can visit Ōkunoshima to feed the bunnies.

St. Kilda In North Uist, Scotland

St. Kilda In North Uist, Scotland
Martin Zwick/REDA&CO/Universal Images Group via Getty Images
Martin Zwick/REDA&CO/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

St. Kilda is an archipelago, and its biggest island is Hirta. Historians are unclear when St. Kilda was first inhabited, the earliest written records go back to the Late Middle Ages. It became known as a puffin and seabird breeding site, but residents left en masse in 1930.

There are several reasons why St. Kilda was evacuated. An influenza outbreak and crop failures occurred at the same time. Tourism and military occupation ruined the natives’ routines, making them more susceptible to the harsh weather. Today, St. Kilda is a UNESCO World Heritage Site with a few functional buildings and several ruins.

Antipodes Islands, New Zealand

Antipodes Islands, New Zealand
Twitter/@kimi_collins
Twitter/@kimi_collins

The Antipodes Islands have never been occupied for long. They was first charted in 1800, and during the latter half of the century, all attempts to live there failed. People tried to establish cattle ranges on the islands, to no avail. In 1893, the Spirit of the Dawn crashed there, and the crew barely survived.

The Antipodes Islands are considered uninhabitable. The harsh winds, little food, and freezing climate make it a less-than-ideal place to live. However, the islands serve as an Important Bird Area for hosting half the world’s population of erect-crested penguins.

Palmyra Atoll In Hawaii, U.S.A.

Palmyra Atoll In Hawaii, U.S.A.
Rick Loomis/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images
Rick Loomis/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

Palmyra Atoll is part of the Hawaiian Islands, although the nearest land to it is 3,355 miles away. Despite being owned by the U.S., the island is uninhabited. Since the 18th century, sailors have visited Palmyra Atoll to explore and hunt for treasure.

In the 20th century, the U.S. Navy took over Palmyra Atoll. They built airstrips and docks during World War II before they abandoned the island. In the ’80s, the island was in the news for a double-murder that occurred there, which became the basis for the 1991 true crime novel And the Sea Will Tell.

Clipperton Island, Mexico

Clipperton Island, Mexico
Xavier DESMIER /Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images
Xavier DESMIER /Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images

Travel 670 miles from Mexico, and you’ll find Clipperton Island. However, nobody will be there waiting for you. In the 1700s, Spanish explorers discovered Clipperton before the French quickly overtook it. By the early 20th century, Britain and Mexico occupied the island to build a mining settlement.

However, the settlers struggled on Clipperton. Scurvy broke out, and residents violently fought each other for control of the island. By the end of World War II, no one lived on Clipperton. Occasionally, scientists will visit the island, but otherwise, it is forgotten.

Tree Island In Hainan, Peoples’ Republic Of China

Tree Island In Hainan, Peoples' Republic Of China
DigitalGlobe via Getty Images
DigitalGlobe via Getty Images

Tree Island is a historic location in the South China Sea. In the 15th century, fishermen visited the island for their daily catch. Evidence indicates that people lived there, since homes and temples still stand today. Little information on the island’s history is readily available, though.

Tree Island is currently open to the public, with an ancient temple from the Ming Dynasty and beach volleyball courts. However, its ownership is currently disputed, as Vietnam and Taiwan claim some ownership rights as well.

Lazzaretto Nuovo In Venice, Italy

Lazzaretto Nuovo In Venice, Italy
Pinterest/Atlas Obscura
Pinterest/Atlas Obscura

If you were to enter Venice’s lagoon on a boat, you’d steer by Lazzaretto Nuovo. The island housed monks and monasteries starting in the 15th century. Around this time, it became a “contumacy” or quarantine for ships arriving in the Mediterranean. They wanted to protect Italy from the plague.

During Napoleon’s reign, Lazzaretto Nuovo became a base for the Italian Army. In 1975, the Army finally abandoned the site. Today, tourists can visit the island and the single museum that stands there. But no permanent residents live there.