Mokolii Island (Chinaman’s Hat in Hawaii): Introduction To Offshore Adventures In Hawaii

Chinaman’s hat is a common sight on the windward side of Oahu from both various summits on the Koolau summits (for example: the Manana summit) to simply driving along the Northern section of the island. Shaped like a Chinese peasant’s chapeau from rural China, you may be surprised to learn one can easily access the island for a small adventure. While seemingly small from afar, this off island destination becomes increasingly intimidating as your approach her shores.

Those fascinated with Hawaiian folklore may be interested to know a tale about this place [source]:

Besides its natural beauty, Chinaman’s Hat is also a mysterious place. According to local legend, Hiaka, the volcano goddess Pele’s sister, created the island by sleighing a frightening dragon, a no’o, and setting his huge flukes in the water as a landmark.

Mokolii means “little lizard” in Hawaiian

On this Saturday offering excellent weather, I set out with my roommate (Andy Dewald) and a couple friends from my department (Katherine Livins and Ahnate Lim) for a short excursion on Chinaman’s Hat. Ahnate ventured on to the island with his girlfriend while the remaining 3 of us rode out to Kailua to rent a Kayak. First, we packed lunch into my insulated grocery bag and also stuffed electronics into my not-so-waterproof bag (more on this later).

Kayak strapped and ready to go

Our destination after “safely” strapping on was the Kualoa Reional Beach Park, which offered the shortest access way to Chinaman’s Hat.

Our kayak at Kualoa Regional Beach Park

During low tide, it is possible to simply walk to the offshore island. However, be careful as the tide is not low for the whole day and tide tables should be carefully read to note best times to enter and leave the island. Recently, two travelers died while attempting to walk back to Oahu when the tide had risen.

Do not go where Andy is pointing, but rather a bit to the right

Continue reading if you want to know if we survived!

From the beach, it was a 10-15 Kayak ride to our destination where Ahnate and his friend was already waiting for us as they had simply walked onto the island.

A closer look at the small island tempts one to climb its small peak

As you arrive on the island, you will land on one of the 2 beaches where you can secure your kayak or whichever item you used for travel. When traveling around the island, be sure to wear shoes as the rocks will be hot and bumpy. Also bring a dry bag as there are many chances for food and other items to fall into the water as you travel around the island.

Andy being responsible with his dry bag

It only takes about 20-30 minutes to walk around the island and a similar time to swim around once. If weather and skill allow, attempt both. You will soon find a second beach on the island.

Second beach where we ate lunch

Andy brought wingless chicken wings while Ahnate brought oreos, all around excellent choices.

Ahnate has the luxury of washing his friend’s feet, for purely biblical reasons we were told.

Another spot near our lunch spot

From the island, you may become nostalgic as you look back at Oahu if you are a fan of Lost. This view is common on the show and you may notice there is a giant foot missing on this side of Oahu.

Looking back at Oahu. Excellent views of the grand Koolau mountain range from the Windward side

After lunch, we decided to climb to the highest point on the island. Our first attempt ended in failure as we picked the wrong side to climb from. Instead of climbing from where the secluded beach resides, go back to the original beach where you may have parked your Kayak and travel a bit to the right of the island until you see an obvious trail leading up.


This is a straightforward trail that requires some cardio to climb over rocks. Although not particularly dangerous, practice caution as there are some sections with narrow footholds and some areas may be crumbly.

Short climb to the top

Once you reach the top, you will be offered an amazing unfiltered panoramic view.

From the top of Chinaman’s Hat

On the way back, Ahnate and his friend used floatation devices to get back as the tide was too high to simply walk back. Andy and I hijacked the Kayak and made Katherine swim back to shore. Coincidently, I found out my backpack is not fully waterproof but simply water resistant as we had a short fall from the kayak a couple feet before we reached the shores of Oahu. Luckily my camera was OK but Andy’s wasn’t so lucky. A dry bag may prove to be invaluable on this short adventure.

Another view from the top

Explorers: Marvin Chandra, Andy Dewald, Ahnate Lim, and Katherine Livins

About Marvin

Endurance hiker and our resident daredevil with a heart of gold. Extreme chocolate raisin eater and master of sensory dominance.