An all time favorite memory of Oahu, Hawaii is the day we got some friends together and kayaked out to the iconic Chinamans Hat island (also known as Mokoli’i or Mokolii island), and then did an epic hike and barbecue on the beach.
We spent almost the whole day kayaking, snorkeling, and soaking up sun and nature. It was legendary stuff, and it makes me miss Hawaii every time I think about it.
The Chinamans Hat hike involves some short and sketchy rock climbing, and then you’re rewarded with amazing panoramic views of Kaneohe Bay and the whole Ko’olau mountain range in the background.
This guide will explain how you can kayak Chinamans Hat and visit this little island for yourself!
What Is Chinamans Hat?
The Chinaman’s Hat island, also called Mokolii island, is a neat little mini island that got its name from the unique shape that looks kind of like a traditional Asian rice farming hat.
Legend says the hat belongs to a giant who rests below the surface of the water, and the island has become one of the most famous natural landmarks in Hawaii, showing up on all the souvenir postcards and calendars.
Chinamans Hat is located on the east side of Oahu near Kualoa Regional Park, and the best way to reach the island is by kayak, which you can rent online.
You can also swim or wade across to the island when the tide is low, although I don’t have any experience with that yet.
Kayak Trip To Chinaman’s Hat Island
On the day of our visit to Mokoli’i island, we loaded up 3 kayaks with 5 people, a drone, a small bag of charcoal, a cooler of meat, and a 20 inch portable grill, and set off into the wild blue yonder.
To protect our phones, drone and other water sensitive things, I brought a 30 liter Earth Pak dry bag which fit the bill perfectly. They also make 10, 20, and 40 liter versions of this bag.
Definitely bring at least one dry bag for this trip! There were a few times where we almost tipped our kayaks, so we could’ve lost our stuff if it wasn’t for the dry bags!
As the crow files, the distance from Kualoa beach to Chinamans Hat is less than 1/2 mile.
Our kayak journey to Mokolii island was pretty straightforward and only took about 30 minutes, although it seemed longer in our heads because we were trying our best not to flip over and drop all of our stuff into the ocean as a gift to the fish.
Landing on the island went smoothly, but the rocks can be slippery so watch out for that when you first step onto shore. We pulled the kayaks up on the rocks so they wouldn’t float away.
Aside from a lonely pair of palm trees and some bushes, there is no shade at all on this island, so you’ll want to bring a hat, drinking water, and sunscreen.
Water shoes are also helpful at Mokoli’i because much of the island’s surface is rocky, although there is a small hidden beach on the back of the island (north side) where you can find patches of dirt and white sand.
Anyways, we were now standing on the outer brim of the Chinaman’s Hat, and loving it!
Cooking lunch was the next order of business. We were able to bring just enough meat and charcoal to cook up a storm.
Chef Tony got the grill started and put on some meat strips and brats, while the girls snorkeled near the shore and I flew my DJI Mavic Drone for some shots of Mokoli’i island from above.
What transpired over the next hour was a blur of foodie awesomeness that probably set some kind of accidental Guinness World Record for the most scenic BBQ ever.
To me, these kinds of adventures are what Hawaii is all about.
Chinamans Hat Hike
With lunch out of the way, our next plan was to climb to the top of Chinaman’s Hat. We gathered everything up and paddled the kayaks around to the front (southwest side) of the island, where the path to the top starts.
The Chinamans Hat hike is a fun, rocky scramble that takes about 20 minutes and you’re rewarded with some amazing views of the whole windward side of Oahu island.
With that said, it’s much steeper and more challenging than you might expect, so bring shoes to wear. People have fallen and died on this hike. I had sandals on, and at one point I was sure that I’d made my last mistake.
Three of us pressed on and reached the top safely, then we stopped to admire the 360 degree panoramic views of the windward coast of Oahu.
To the left we could see Kaneohe Bay stretching out in the distance, and to the right we could see the Ko’olau mountains, where Jurassic Park was filmed.
Sometimes you can even see wildlife on this island, including Hawaiian monk seals and sea turtles, but this time it was just us and the views.
It was pure scenic bliss, and we would’ve been happy to stay there all day. Alas, our kayak rentals needed to be returned, so we had no choice but to get going.
All in all, the trip to Chinaman’s Hat was easily one of the most memorable days we spent in Hawaii, and probably one of my all time favorite travel moments anywhere.
How To Get To Chinaman’s Hat (Mokolii Island)
Mokoli’i island (Chinaman’s Hat) is located on the east side of Oahu island, less than 1/2 mile out to sea from the nearest beach at Kualoa Regional Park.
The kayak trip to the island takes about 30 minutes one way, and the hike to the top of the rock takes less than 20 minutes.
It’s also possible to swim to the island or wade at low tide, but be extra careful if you do this, and be knowledgeable about high and low tide times or you could get stranded on the island.
Kayak Rentals In Oahu Hawaii
Oahu has lots of good kayak rental options on the windward side of the island.
Here are a few recommendations from Viator:
- Ocean Adventure – Full Day Oahu Self-Guided KAYAK Adventure
- Single Person Oahu Kayak Rental – Full Day
- China Mans Hat Self-Guided Kayak Tour
- Stand Up or Kayak – Mokoli’i Island with Transportation
Other companies you can check out are Twogood Kayaks, Kailua Beach Adventures, or Windward Watersports, all of which are based in Kailua.
Safety Tips For Chinamans Hat Island
Bring life jackets and water shoes to Mokolii island, even if you go there by kayak. A number of people have died at China Mans Hat over the years.
A man drowned in 1982 after rescuing several kids who had trouble wading back to shore from the island. Two U.S. Army soldiers also tragically drowned in 2011 while wading back from the island.
A final word of safety is to lock your car at the beach park and don’t leave any valuables in sight. There are a lot of car break-ins on Oahu, and the Kualoa Regional Park is no exception.
The beach parking lot has a gate that closes at 8 PM, so try to be done with your kayak adventure before that, otherwise you could get locked in.
Remember to pack out any waste you pack in. We cleaned up after ourselves and didn’t notice any trash on Mokoli’i island, so hopefully it stays that way!
Take note of the above precautions and you’ll have a great trip. This is Hawaii after all. Be safe and have fun!
More Oahu Hawaii Travel Tips
Thanks for looking! I hope you enjoyed this travel guide for kayaking to the Chinaman’s Hat (Mokolii Island) in Oahu, Hawaii.
Don’t forget to check out my other Oahu hiking guides and my complete list of the best things to do in Oahu Hawaii!
Where To Stay In Oahu
Best Oahu Tours
- Best Things To Do In Oahu Hawaii - Fun, Couples, & Free
- Best Hikes In Oahu Hawaii - Most Epic & Beautiful Hiking Trails
- Best North Shore Beaches In Oahu Hawaii
where did you rent your kayaks from?
Hi Karen. Here is a two person kayak rental in Kailua for a full day. You could also check out Twogood Kayaks, Kailua Beach Adventures, or Windward Watersports, all of which are based in Kailua. Good luck!