Chinaman’s Hat | Kualoa Beach Park | March 2019
One thing that’s been on our bucket list since arriving to the island has been to kayak to one of the smaller islands off of the Windward side of Oahu. However, just like snorkeling , we never really put much thought into it because going for a hike is easier than working out the details for such an adventure. We’d have to figure out the tides, surf, and best time to go, as well as rent or borrow a kayak or paddle boards. Way too much work when we could be halfway to a trailhead in no time at all!
But after our recent discovery that snorkeling is actually pretty cool, we decided to venture out a bit more and journey to another island. Mokoli’i Island, also known as Chinaman’s Hat, is located a third of a mile off the coast from Kualoa Beach in Kaneohe Bay. Many kayak or use a paddle board to get there, but we had also heard of people walking or swimming. I wish I could tell you that we did lots of preparation to take on this challenge in the safest way possible, but honestly all we did was wake up one morning, asked “Should we try this out?”, and checked the tides online. Upon seeing we were approaching a very low tide thanks to the recent super moon, as well as no high surf advisory, we just went for it.
We drove up to Kualoa Beach and arrived around 8:30, knowing that low tide would be at 10:50am. I was expecting to see lots of other people with the same idea that we had, however when we arrived there were only a few people there that had camped the night before, and none were heading to the island. This was troubling news for me, because I happened to know that there is a school of tiger sharks nearby and I was really hoping that there would be more people so the odds of the sharks coming after me would be more in my favor. Curtis even admitted later to being a bit apprehensive, but despite our lack of confidence and planning, we just began wading out into the ocean.
The entire time, I kept thinking how ridiculous this was. What were we doing, just making our way over to this island with no experience or planning, and no one else doing it? There we were, just two adventurous souls, walking/swimming hand in hand to reach this tall uninhabited island. I chose to disclose to Curtis how bad I was at swim lessons growing up when we were about halfway there, with the water about neck deep on me. I’ve never been a very confident swimmer, and I hear way too many stories of how unpredictable and unsafe the ocean can be. I had thought about the sharks beforehand, but once we were in the water I started remembering all the other sea creatures that could possibly be out there.
But we continued on, saying over and over how ridiculous this was, Curtis continually checking his swim trunk pockets to make sure the keys and GoPro were still there. (I’m happy to report that we did not have another incident involving losing the keys like we did a month ago!) Occasionally there would be small waves rolling in, but nothing to be concerned about. For the longest time it felt like we weren’t making any progress — the safety of the beach was getting farther away, but the tiny island didn’t seem to get any closer. But suddenly the depth of the water became less and less, and soon enough we were walking onto the shore of Chinaman’s Hat. I was honestly in total disbelief. We did it! We actually made it!
We turned on the GoPro to find it had a low battery, but still managed to get a few pictures to document our success. We had no idea what time it was, but we knew that we didn’t want to spend too much time here and risk getting too far from low tide or having the surf or weather turn on us.
We knew that it was possible to climb up this tiny island, but I had heard that it was steep and involved rock climbing. I was skeptical that I could make it in my water shoes without any traction, but since we were already there I decided to go as far as I could. The climb started off gradual, and eventually it did turn into a rock climb, but there was a pretty secure rope in place that helped us reach the top. And once again, I felt the same overwhelming feeling of success: I climbed to the top of this island! I can’t believe I did this! I had doubted myself so much that day, that each victory had me in such excitement and disbelief!
While at the top, we spotted a diver off the coast of the island, but for the majority of our time on Chinaman’s Hat, we were all alone. A whole island to ourselves! I knew that kayaking here is a rather popular activity, so I was in shock that we were all alone!
After enjoying the peak of the island for a while, we made our way back down and started walking around the coast of the island. On the East side, there was a small cave and tide pools where we spotted some unique sea creatures. When we were ready to head back, another kayak arrived and several more were on their way. There seemed to be more waves on our way back, but they actually helped us to make it back this time. We arrived back at the beach after 11, this whole venture taking just over 2 hours.
We weren’t quite ready to head home, so instead we started walking South and East along the beach. I had heard of an area that is “owned” by Kualoa Ranch, but since all beaches in Hawaii are supposed to be accessible to the public, we just had to follow the coast to get there. We passed by a campsite, but besides that there was mostly just a lot of empty beach.
However, we eventually came around a bend and found a very populated clearing. There were lots of people playing volleyball, swimming, and lounging on the beach. I think Kualoa Ranch refers to this as the “Secret Island,” and according to their website people pay like $50 per person to come here… We wandered inland a bit and found the large pond with the beautiful Kualoa Mountains in the background, where we stamped into a letterbox we had found along the way. It was odd finding all this out here after walking down the vacant beach, but hey, we learned something new and now we know the secret to Secret Island. Let me know if this travel hack saves you $50 a person like it did for us. 😉
We made our way back to the main beach, but before leaving Curtis went out to snorkel for a bit in the bay. The water was shallow and perfectly still, I would’ve been fine to go out but I had left the extra snorkel set in the car and opted to just sit and relax after all the excitement we had just had.
So there you have it friends, that’s how we took a perfectly good weekend day and for the first time, rather than spending it in the mountains, we went to the beach. Anything is possible!