Located on Windward Oahu at Kualoa Regional Park, Chinaman's Hat (aka 'Mokoli'i Island') provides one of the most awesome adventures in Hawaii.
The island itself is located 0.5 miles straight out from the lifeguard tower at the southern end of the regional park. To access the island, either swim (highly recommended for those with adequate swimming abilites!) or Kayak out to the small spit of beach located on the western edge of the island.
From the beach hike south along a narrow path twenty feet over the ocean until seeing a well worn path on your left. Scramble up to the small, ridge-like summit for sweeping views up and down the Windward coast, the Koo'lau Mountain Range, the Mokolua Islands to the south and Laie Point to the North. Looking directly back towards the direction from which you came you may have the funny feeling you've seen that mountain range before, and that's because that section of the Koo'lau Range was featured prominently in the Jurassic Park movies (as well as many other films.)
Notes on the hike: Along the path there is quite a bit of loose gravel rock and some short 5-10 foot tall easy rock scrambles. While there is little risk of falling completely down the mountain due to its 'ledgy' nature, great care should be taken to avoid other injury, including broken bones, etc. With that in mind, those kayaking to the island would greatly benefit from wearing water shoes or brining along tennis shoes for the hike. Also, it i wise to leave room between hikers should smaller pieces of rock become dislodged and to test rock before weighting it with a light tap. If the block sounds hollow, do not use it! It is also smart to always direct weight down on a horn of rock as oppossed to pulling outwards which can more easily snap or break the hold. Take your time and assist one another. If it looks too difficult, make sure there is not an easier way nearby as the trail braids a bit as you get near the top.
Notes on the swim: If swimming you'll obviously want a snorkel or just goggles. Less experienced swimmers would benefit from fins due to the mild current which runs north to south between the regional park and the island, as well as to assist in reaching the small beach as there are often waves wrapping around the island which create a fair amount of turbulence in the final stretch. If swimming straight out from the lifeguard stand you'll have to climb over a short concrete breakwater some 50 feet out (easy) and from there navigate using breast stroke only for a hundred yards or so until past the more shallow section that contains sharp coral. Once beyond that patch, the water depth varies from 3-7 feet for the remainder of the swim. While you may see some people (and even locals) walk their way out to the island during low tide, we beg you not to do this as it brutally disturbs the ecosystem. Coral reefs can be killed by people walking on them or touching them. In this case, you'll hear 'the reef here is already mostly dead anyway' and similar nonsense. While that may be partially true, it sets a bad precedent for behavior elsewhere, sets a bad example for the thousands of tourists who daily visit this area and would export those habits around the world, and puts the swimmer at risk of being seriously cut by the razor sharp coral which can lead to infection and require stitches. Please respect the ocean, the island, and the reef, and kayak if you are worried you'd need to put your feet down during the swim. If brown water is present or clarity is low, wait for another day to make the swim. Agricultural and other run-off from nearby streams can pollute the water. To check for conditions prior to going out, see here.
Notes on Sharks: According to friends of ours who work on Oahu as Marine Biologists and Shark Researchers, Kaneohe Bay and the waters around Chinaman's Hat contain a high number of Hammerhead Sharks which are typically harmless to humans, but its worth noting that they are probably in and around those waters. Additionally, Tiger Sharks, Galapagos Sharks, and other potentially aggressive marine life including Portugese Man o' War and Box Jellyfish are always a risk when swimming in Hawaii, and the judgment of whether to undertake these and other risks are entirely up to the individual.
Notes on Sea Turtles: Sea Turtles, or 'Honu', are amazing animals but it is illegal under federal and state law to touch or otherwise disturbe them as doing so can effect their dietary and mating habits further risking these endangered creatures. In addition to being illegal, it is also worth keeping in mind that honu are considered sacred to Hawaiians who believe them to be 'aumakua' a kind of ancestral guardian spirit. So not only are you committing a crime and harming these innocent and amazing creatures, you are also showing blatant disrespect to the culture and heritage of the people and the 'aina. The best way to experience an interaction is to limit your time to just a few moments, take a few pictures, and slowly move away.
Notes on Kayaking: If Kayaking, you'll want to start a few hundred yards north of the lifeguard tower to avoid having to paddle around the concrete breakwall. Be careful not to drag your paddle along the reef in the near-shoe area, waiting to take deeper strokes when a bit further out to sea. Never turn your kayak sideways into a wave if you can help it, meaning you may have to approach the small sand beach on the island at an angle, and once there be sure to pull your kayak up as far out of the water as it will go and secure it to something if possible. If looking to rent a Kayak, both Twogood Kayaks, Inc and Kailua Beach Adventures, in Kailua offer different length rentals with the ability to strap a kayak onto the roof of most cars.
Notes on Cleaning the Beach: A lot of marine debris - nets, ropes, commerical fishing equipment, and ocean borne plastics - wash up at Kualoa Regional Park. As a way to show gratitude for the experience and as a great way to set an example for others, consider bringing along some reusable buckets or bags and spending 10-15 minutes cleaning the beach before you leave. There are a lot of trash bins on site already, so if you choose to help out and 'malama aina' you don't have to worry about taking any of the opala home with you.
Mahalo and have a fun, safe, and memorable adventure!
General Info & Disclaimer: Always hike and swim at your own risk. Bring plenty of water as the weather on Oahu can change rapidly from cool and overcast to a virtual sauna. Hats, sunglasses, and environmentally safe sunscreen are always wise decisions, as is appropriate rain gear. Never hike or swim alone and let others know of your plans. If you have any doubt about your ability to safely complete any hikes or swims mentioned on this blog, DON'T DO THEM. Hiking and ocean swimming are inherently risky activities and Roots & Branches, LLC assumes no liability of any kind. Mahalo!