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10 Places You Can’t Go in Hawai‘i

Hawai‘i is full of amazing places. Most of them you’re free to visit, but there are a few where you’re just not allowed. Here’s a peek into Hawai‘i’s coolest off-limits corners.


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Photo: Builders For Battle, David O. Woodbury

The Red Hill Underground Fuel-Storage Facility

It’s one of Hawai‘i’s most audacious feats of engineering—a series of 20 reinforced concrete fuel tanks, each roughly the size of the 23-story Ala Moana Building, buried deep underneath Red Hill. Designed during World War II as an impenetrable, bombproof reserve of fuel for the military, the facility can hold 252 million gallons of diesel and jet fuel. The facility is connected via a tunnel to Pearl Harbor, and can supply fuel to Pearl Harbor, Hickam Air Force Base and even Barbers Point Naval Air Station.


The very existence of Red Hill’s hidden guts was a closely guarded state secret from the date of completion in 1943 until the early 1990s, when the facility was declassified. C. S. Papacostas, professor and chair of the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at UH Manoa, got a rare chance to tour the place in 1995. “It was the most impressive thing I’ve ever seen,” he says. “The tanks are incredibly huge [height: 250 ft. diameter: 100 ft.]. We visited the inside of an empty tank, walking on scaffolding near the top, and it was so deep that you could not see the bottom. The effect was overpowering.”


Papacostas was lucky to have visited the fuel tanks when he did—since Sept. 11, 2001, the facility has been locked down tighter than ever, and today virtually no civilians are granted access.


Photo: Courtesy of the Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art, ©1999 David Franzen

Doris Duke’s Bedroom, Shangri-La

Update: The Shangri La officially opened to the public in October 2014

It’s one of the most magnificent properties in all of O‘ahu—Doris Duke’s old oceanfront Diamond Head estate. The place is filled with priceless Islamic antiquities, and since 2002, has operated as a museum, open to the public.


But there’s an entire wing of the mansion that remains off-limits, and will likely remain so for the foreseeable future. Included are Duke’s palatial marble bedroom suite, a guest room that she furnished with an authentic 18th-century Syrian interior, and a Moroccan Room she used as her study. Deborah Pope, director of Shangri-La, says the private wing is partially dismantled at the moment, but could potentially be as breathtaking as what’s already on display. Turns out it’s a question of funding. “We’re not trying to deny people access,” she says.


“Opening each of these rooms would cost in excess of $1 million, when you add in the building preservation issues and the conservation of the collections inside. My annual capital budget is about half that, and while it allows us to stay abreast of regular, mundane repairs, it’s not enough to start large new projects right now.”


For now, you can check out photographs of the forbidden areas on Shangri-La’s website. But it’s hard not to imagine what it would be like to walk through these amazing rooms in person.


Puuwai, Niihau

It’s known as the Forbidden Isle, but if you really want to set foot on Niihau, all it takes is a chartered helicopter tour. Where you can’t go, at least not without the explicit permission of the Robinson family, which owns the island, is the village of Puuwai, population fewer than 200. Former Honolulu Star-Bulletin photographer Ken Sakamoto is one of the few to have gained access to the community, and says his visit was a memorable, if brief, experience. “There’s a school, and a church, and a playground, and that’s about it,” he recalls. “Bicycles are the primary form of transportation. Everyone was so friendly.”

Photo: Ken Sakamoto


It’s one of the last places in which an entire community speaks Hawaiian fluently, and is also home to the greatest concentration of pure Hawaiians. The Robinsons have been legendarily protective of this traditional way of life, and it doesn’t look like this is going to change anytime soon.


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