A Wet and Wild Kayaking Journey To Mokulua Islands

Lanikai Beach has always been one of favorite beaches on the island of Oahu. Its crystal clear blue water, soft powdery sand, and scenic backdrop is the exact reason why Hawaii is a travel destination. As you sit on the shores of Lanikai, you’ll notice two small islands directly in front of you. These two islands, aptly named Na Mokulua, which in Hawaiian means The Two Islands, has always intrigued me. On any given day, schools of kayakers make the trip from either Lanikai Beach or the neighboring Kailua Beach Park, to “Mokes,” the name that the two islands is affectionately referenced to by locals. I’d finally get my chance to visit Mokes, and despite the trip being a wet one, it was definitely memorable, filled with both tragedy and love.

Joining me on this kayaking adventure was Joel, Andy, and Andy’s dad, Tim. Papa Timbo is definitely filled with gusto. He accompanied us last year on a sunrise hike atop the Makapuu end of the KST and had a great time. This time, we thought we would switch it up and turn a somewhat cloud Saturday into a water-filled adventure by heading makai and vsiting two islands off of Kailua, Popoia (Flat Islad), and Moku Nui (the larger of the two Mokulua Islands).

Preparing our kayaks. Photo by Coty Gonzales.
Popoia (Flat island) would be destination numero uno. Photo by Coty Gonzales.
The trip to Flat Island was a short one. Here’s Andy and Papa Timbo setting their sights on the Mokulua Islands. Photo by Coty Gonzales.
Popia is a state bird sanctuary. You’re only allowed to stay on the trail that follows the perimeter of the island. Photo by Coty Gonzales.
A few moments after docking, we spotted a protected seabird bird. Photo by Coty Gonzales.
The path around the island is pretty well-defined. It’s safe to say that you wont get lost. Photo by Coty Gonzales.

Our adventure started at the mouth of Kaelepulu Stream, which opens into Kailua Beach and the open ocean. This is the side of the beach closest to the Kailua Canoe Club Halau at the entrance end of the Kailua Beach parking lot. We stuffed all of our gear into dry bags, picked up our paddles, and jumped into our kayaks. Only thing, jumping into kayaks isn’t as easy as it sounds. And on a failed attempt at jumping into the front end of my kayak, I tipped over into the cold waters and felt my GoPro slowly leave my hand. Our adventure would begin with a tragedy, almost as if Shakespeare had penned it himself. Joel and I spent a few minutes looking for the GoPro, while Andy and Papa Timbo made their way to Flat Island. After a while, I figured that it was a lost cause and that we should start paddling to Flat Island as well.

The trip to Flat Island was a short one, probably about 15 minutes long. It went by relatively quickly considering that all I could think about was my lost, but not forgotten, GoPro. I could have been upset, but I wasn’t. Accidents happen and this was an accident. Maybe I should improve my kayak entry skills? Maybe I should have had that GoPro strapped to my body? Maybe I should have had a floatie attached to the GoPro? In the few seconds that it took me to lose my beloved digital device, many lessons were learned. “This won’t happen again” I repeated over and over to myself as we landed on Flat Island.

The Mokulua Islands tease you while you’re on Flat Island. Photo by Coty Gonzales.
Yes, Flat Island really is … flat. Photo by Coty Gonzales.
Some people like to paddle out to Flat Island. Photo by Coty Gonzales.

As we began to explore Flat Island, my thoughts shifted from my missing GoPro to thoughts of how much of an amazing day this was turning to be. The clouds had cleared and blue skies enveloped us. The waves were calm, for now at least. Best of all, I was in the middle of the Pacific Ocean staring out at the edge of Oahu and two of the most beautiful beaches in the world. We spent about 30 minutes or so checking out Flat Island, which, at approximately 3.7 acres, really is flat. Comprised mainly of limestone, Flat Island also has many noticeable pukas (holes). Peek through these pukas and you’ll see the ocean below you. Flat Island is a protected state seabird sanctuary. As such, it’s important to walk only along the perimeter of the island, the middle portion of Flat Island is off limits because it’s the breeding grounds for wedge-tailed shearwater seabirds.

Once we had our fill of Flat Island, we got back into our kayaks and made our way toward Lanikai beach with the idea of landing there, regrouping, and then heading back out for the Mokulua Islands. Midway between Flat Island and Lanikai Beach, we decided to hook a left and b-line straight to the two tiny islands teasing us with every hearty stroke of our paddles. I’d have to say that it took us roughly 45 minutes to an hour to get from Flat Island to Moku Nui. Our main obstacle were the waves, which Joel and I tried our best to avoid.

The landing beach at Moku Nui was crowded. Photo by Coty Gonzales.
Andy eating meat. Photo by Coty Gonzales.
The summit of Moku Nui. You could walk up there pretty quickly, but then you would be breaking the law! Photo by Coty Gonzales.
Houdini. Photo by Coty Gonzales.
There are some really neat rock formation on Moku Nui. Photo by Coty Gonzales.

As we got closer to Moku Nui, we could see that the sandy beach was filled with tons of other kayaks. Moku Nui was a party and we were about to join in, but first we had to get past the rugged waves near the shore. One by one, arriving kayaks went crashing into the sand with hard landings. Joel and I waited for the perfect time, we noticed a moment of calm and then decided to paddle in hard. We had finally made it to the Mokulua Islands. I was stoked.

There were at least 50+ peoples on the island when we arrived. In my little fantasy world, I thought that we’d have the island all to ourselves. Maybe on a weekday. Apparently, Hotel Mokulua is booked to maximum capacity on Saturdays. I was no less excited to be there. Quickly, I grabbed my camera from my dry bag and began to snap away. Facing the island, we made our way around the trail that contours to the right. This is a rocky trail that leads to a nice tide pool that is about 4-5 feet deep. The guys had a blast jumping in. I had a blast taking in the sights. From the tide pool, you get an excellent view of Moku Iki, the smaller of the two Mokulua Islands. Although both Moku Nui and Moku Iki are Hawaii state seabird sanctuaries, only the larger Moku Nui is accessible to the public. Access to Moku Nui is strictly prohibited.

Eventually, we reversed our tracks and headed back to the crowded beach area. Once there, we continued around to the left of the island, which is a bit more sandy than it is rocky. Here, you’ll notice a few more people enjoying the waves with their kayaks, canoes, and surfboards. If you continued further around and to the back side of the island, there is a cliff area that people love to jump off of.

A few people checking out “Queen’s Bath.” There sure are a lot of different “Queen’s Bath” spread across the different islands! Photo by Coty Gonzales.
Looking back toward Kailua. Photo by Coty Gonzales.
Andy and Joel checking out Queen’s Bath. Photo by Coty Gonzales.
Andy getting ready to leap in. Photo by Coty Gonzales.
Fun. Photo by Coty Gonzales.

Back at the beach, we noticed that the crowd had gotten even larger. At this point, there was probably 75-100+ people on the beach. We also noticed a bride, complete with a pearly white wedding dress. There wasn’t a petal filled aisle for the bride to walk down, instead, the makeshift aisle was lined with, of course, surfboards. At the end of the aisle was a beautiful barebones wooden trellis. We didn’t stay long enough to watch the bride and groom exchange vows because we had bigger fish to worry about, namely, kayaking safely back to Kailua Beach.

Launching off from Moku Nui was much more exciting than the launch from Kailua Beach or Popoia. The waves were rough and there were literally hundreds of eyes watching our every move, or at least it felt like it. We got off to a rocky start, someone came over to help us reposition the kayak, and then we were off. We kayaked parallel to Lanikai beach for a bit, and then we hooked a left and worked our way straight to Lanikai Beach. Once we got close to Lanikai, we decided that instead of docking there we would make our way straight for Kailua Beach. If you’re looking to work your upper body, especially your biceps, tricpes, and lats, then consider taking up kayaking. It’s certainly a calorie burner.

We eventually found our way back to Kailua Beach, and we were very stoked once our kayaks hit the sand. Joel and I decided to take a dip in the cool Kailua waters while we waited for Andy and Papa Timbo. Joel still thought that he could find the GoPro. I told him that it was a lost cause. Maybe some lucky kid will find an awesome surprise just in time for Christmas.

Our trip to Popoia and Moku Nui was unforgettable. For someone that mainly focuses on looking mauka for his adventures, I really did enjoy going makai this time. Family, friendship, tragedy, and love. What more could Shakespeare have asked for?

The requisite group shot. Photo by Coty Gonzales.
Definitely some cool wedding photographs. Photo by Coty Gonzales.
Crowds. Photo by Coty Gonzales.
An aisle of surfboards leading to a wooden trellis. Photo by Coty Gonzales.

Explorers: Andy Dewald, Tim Dewald, Coty Gonzales, and Joel Sabugo.

Total Time: About 3.5 hours.

Total Distance: About 5 miles roundtrip.

Tips for Kayaking to Mokulua Islands, or Mokes: 

  • We rented our Kayaks from Mokulua Rentals. They are conveniently located just next to Buzz’s Steakhouse in Kailua. Heading toward Lanikai, turn right into the residential street directly after Buzz’s Steakhouse. At the end of the street, and to your left will be Mokulua Rentals. It’s a mom-and-pop type rental company. They’re also really friendly and offer very competitive rental prices. Tandem kayaks are priced at $40 for 4 hours or $50 for a full day (compared to $69 half-day and $79 full day at the popular Kailua Sailboards & Kayaks). Park your car at Kailua Beach, give them call, and they will have someone come to pick you up. You’ll then walk over and pick up your kayaks.
  • The great thing about Mokulua Rentals is that they also provide you with dry bags at no extra charge. Throw all of your gear into the dry bags to keep them, errr, dry.
  • If you plan on bringing a GoPro along with you, don’t forget to strap it to your body or attach a floatie to it.
  • Sunscreen is a must.

Directions to Kailua Beach Park: From Honolulu, you’ll take the Pali Highway toward Kailua, Go straight onto HI-61 N and then continue onto Kailua Rd. Continue onto Kuulei Road and then turn right onto S Kalaheo Ave. S Kalaheo Ave turns slightly left and becomes Lihiwai Rd. Continue onto Kawailoa Road and Kailua Beach will be on the left.

By Coty

Founder of Exploration: Hawaii. Adventure, Minimalism, Vinyl, Typography, and Coffee + Matcha. A single space after a period, please.

7 replies on “A Wet and Wild Kayaking Journey To Mokulua Islands”

[…] It’s Flashback Friday! This is another one of those hikes that our crew did a while ago, but never found its way to the Exploration: Hawaii blog. This Flashback Friday post brings us way back to August 2012. Located in the beautiful and affluent town of Lanikai, the “pillbox” hike, as it is known by the locals, is a short but scenic climb up Kaiwi Ridge. Once you reach the ridge line, in less than 10 minutes, you’ll begin to understand why this is such a popular hike amongst locals. The views are breathtaking. Directly in front of you is Lanikai Beach, and in the distance are two distinct islands affectionately know as “Moke’s,” which is short for Mokulua Islands. […]

This looks like an awesome adventure I’ll definitely be partaking in… but I’m a little confused. You mentioned: Lanikai Beach, Kailua Beach and then Mokulu Islands, Flat Island, Popoia and Moku Nui. Can you give me a run down on where you started, step-by-step, to how you ended?

Hi Lyndsey! So we started off at Kailua Beach, about where the Kailua Canoe Club Halau is (by the entrance of Kailua Beach). From there, we kayaked to Flat Island (aka Popoia; directly in front of our launch point). We hung out at Flat Island for a little while and then went directly to Moku Nui (the larger of the two islands that is collectively known as “Mokes”). We then landed on Moku Nui and hung out there for a bit. Leaving Moku Nui, we paddled in the direction of Lanikai Beach (directly in front of us) and then made a right in calmer water and worked our way back to Kailua Beach where we started and where our car was waiting for us.

Hope this helps!

About that route you took…

Would it be more efficient, easier, and faster to kayak to flat island, then back to Kailua beach, then drive to Lanikai beach and kayak to Moku? I ask because you said the kayak to Flat Island was only 15 minutes.

you missed the cove. There is this really cool cove with deep blue ocean right up against high cliffs you can jump into with this crazy stand-alone monolith. Its on the backside of the island

Hey, great website! Its helping me plan my trip in late May. About that cove, I’ve seen pictures where it looks really nice when the sun hits it, and then other where the sun is blocked by the hillside, which makes it very shady. Do you know at what time of day the sun hits thise water directly?

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