Oʻahu Hike We Like: Mokoli‘i Island (Chinaman’s Hat)
This hike requires a fun kayaking adventure before even beginning to tackle the trail.
Editor’s Note: We love hiking! Fortunately, O‘ahu is full of great hikes. In this web series, we bring you our favorite O‘ahu trails.
PHOTOS: GETTY IMAGES
TRAIL NAME: Mokoli‘i Island
DIFFICULTY: Moderate to Difficult
LENGTH: 0.2 miles one way, about 30 minutes total (0.4 miles round trip)
Hiking can be dangerous, and not every trail is a good idea for every person. Keep your personal fitness and skill level in mind, and always take proper precautions when venturing off-road. Heed “no trespassing” and other warning signs.
Mokoli‘i Island is one of the postcard landmarks of Oʻahu. The little island, also known as Chinaman’s Hat, manages to make it into thousands of pictures each year, but very few people venture any closer. But not us. We were determined to visit the island.
While it is possible to walk to Mokoli‘i, it is very dangerous due to the changing tides and sharp rocks. We instead decided to rent kayaks and head out. Instead of lugging two two-person kayaks on the roof of our car all the way from Kailua Beach, we found a company, Hawaiʻi Beach Time, that both delivered and picked up the kayaks for us, which was very helpful.
Instead of starting the adventure from Kualoa Regional Park, we chose to start at a small unnamed beach directly across from the entrance of Kualoa Ranch. By doing so, we were not going directly against the current on the way there or on the way back.
We dug our feet into the sand and pushed our kayaks into the water just before 11 a.m. Within a few seconds, we were pulling our paddles through the water with our eyes on our landing point: the westernmost point of Mokoli‘i.
At first, our kayaks were scraping the top of the rocks and coral a bit, because it was low tide. After a couple minutes of paddling, though, we were able to reach water that was deeper and allowed us to paddle freely. While the waves didn’t get more than a foot tall on the way over, the current was constantly pulling our little two-person kayaks out toward the ocean. Even though it didn’t take much effort to counteract the pull of the current, it could’ve been very easy to not notice the pull at all.
After about 40 minutes of paddling, we navigated our way onto Mokoli‘i, jumped out and pulled our kayaks onto a very small rocky beach. It was finally time to start the hike.
PHOTOS: JOSH PHILLIPS
The start of the hike is actually a bit unclear. Toward the left is a very steep dirt path. Toward the right is a less obvious rocky path. I highly recommend the rocky path for its many foot- and handholds.
While the hike is only 0.2 miles and takes just 20 minutes, it is quite difficult, especially if you do it in the middle of a hot day like we did. The path alternates between thin dirt trails and short rock-climbing sections. The thin dirt trails are lined with weak but tall shrubbery, so they obstruct your view but don’t provide any support when you grab on to them. The short rock-climbing sections don’t actually require any arm strength (I have none, and I managed to do it). Think of them as tall, thin, steep steps. The hardest rock-climbing section is the one right before the top. Unfortunately, you can’t tell that you are almost at the top, so it can be hard to decide whether or not to keep going.
SEE ALSO: 24 O‘ahu Hikes We Really Like
Once you find the proper foot- and handholds and pull yourself to the top of Mokoli‘i, it is so rewarding. First of all, you feel like a warrior, because you’ve literally rock-climbed your way to the very top of an island. More importantly though, the view is absolutely stunning. On one side is a completely unobstructed view of the blue hues of the Pacific Ocean. On the other side is an amazing view of part of Oʻahu’s eastern coastline, from the Marine Corps base to the tip of the lush mountains of Kaʻaʻawa.
Overall, while this hike is quite difficult, the view from the top is unlike the views from any other hikes on the island.
Although it only takes around 10 minutes, the trip back down can be quite difficult at times. If necessary, stop and help the other people in your group get down before continuing on.
As for the kayaking journey back, odds are the tide will be a bit higher, with waves around 4 or 5 feet tall. The paddle in should take about as long as the paddle out—around 40 minutes.
Map & Directions
Check the times that the tides change before heading out. You will want to leave at low tide and return before high tide.
Avoid this hike if you are afraid of heights.
Keep in mind that everything you climb up, you must climb down.
Wear a pair of slippers and bring a pair of athletic shoes in a waterproof bag to change into on the island. Hiking in slippers or kayaking in soggy athletic shoes are not great alternatives.
Know your limits. Turn around if you don’t feel comfortable.
Bring a snack to munch on posthike. You’ll need the boost of energy before kayaking back.
If you would like to take pictures, put your camera and/or phone into a tightly sealed zip-close bag to protect it from the water.