For somewhere truly remote in Hawaii, consider the island of Niihau.

Tourism there is restricted, but for the few who manage to get there, the island offers a fascinating look at Hawaii’s past.

Off Kauai, Niihau is a mostly deserted island that’s been owned by the Sinclair/Robinson family since 1864. Nicknamed the “Forbidden Island,” it indeed remains mostly closed to outsiders. The only tourists allowed on Niihau, 18 miles across a rough ocean channel from Kauai, are those few who join an owner-controlled half-day helicopter tour or a hunting safari day trip (for feral sheep and eland, an antelope-like creature that was introduced to the island).

I took such a helicopter tour. It was expensive and the scheduling/organizing was tricky, but it was an exhilarating and utterly memorable half-day trip.

A former military pilot took a half-dozen of us scudding above the channel, obligingly tilting the helicopter so we could get a better look at massive humpback whales undulating through the waves below. Reaching the 72-square-mile island, we surged over cliffs, beaches and scrubby trees.

The helicopter lands at a deserted white-sand beach far from the island’s only village, a tiny scattering of simple houses where the Hawaiian language is still in use. There’s no interaction with the islanders in order to preserve their privacy.

Walk the deserted beach or swim and snorkel. In an hour’s walk, I reveled in the peacefulness and wild things, watching monk seals snooze on the beach and Laysan albatrosses huddle on their ground nests, long white wings tucked tight. And, with the pilot’s permission, I collected some of the tiny spiral shells from which islanders painstakingly make shell leis sold at Kauai shops.

Details: Niihau Tours cost $385 per person, plus $15 handling charge, for a half-day helicopter tour. Two tours daily, Monday-Saturday; tours depart only if there are at least five people. Plan ahead and be flexible on dates ( or 1-877-441-3500).

Other companies advertise Niihau snorkel/dive tours, but since Niihau is a private island and landing is forbidden, they mostly head to nearby Lehua Crater, an uninhabited crescent-shaped island that is part of the cone of an extinct volcano.