One of the most iconic sights to see when driving around O’ahu is the nearby offshore islet, Mokoli’i Island. Mokoli’i Island is more commonly referred to as “Chinaman’s Hat,” due to its shape resemblance to a traditional Chinese hat.
The islet sits directly offshore from Kualoa Regional Beach Park and can be easily accessed via kayak, standup paddleboard, swimming, or even walking if timed at low tide.
Exploring Chinaman’s Hat is a two-fold adventure. Getting to the islet is only half the adventure while hiking to the top is another.
In this guide, I cover what to expect kayaking and hiking Chinaman’s Hat, things to know before you go, rental and tour options, directions, and more.
Table of Contents
Complete Guide to Kayaking and Hiking Chinaman’s Hat on O’ahu
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Mokoli’i Island (Chinaman’s Hat) Trail Stats
Distance: .3 miles
Elevation Gain: 206 feet
Time: 4.5 – 6 hours
Things to Know
Chinaman’s Hat Directions From Waikiki
Chinaman’s Hat is located one hour from downtown Waikiki.
From Waikiki, head West on the I-H-1 until you see the veer off for the HI-63 W and HI-83 W. Continue driving on this road until you see Kualoa Ranch on your left, and Kualoa Regional Beach Park on your right.
The stunning islet of Chinaman’s Hat sitting just offshore and in clear view is a dead giveaway that you’re in the right place.
Optional Road Trip
If you aren’t short on time, consider making a whole island detour of the trip. One of my favorite drives on O’ahu involves leaving from Waikiki and driving around the whole southern tip of the island and up the east side along the coast.
Taking this roundabout route adds a little over 45 minutes to the trip but it’s absolutely worth it and a must-do adventure while visiting O’ahu.
Getting to Chinaman’s Hat
Chinaman’s Hat is located so close to the nearby beach park that is easily accessed in a variety of ways. Adventurers have the choice of kayaking or standup paddleboarding, swimming, or even walking.
I’ve broken down the options to help you choose which route is best for you to reach the islet.
Kayaking / Standup Paddleboarding
My preferred way to reach Chinaman’s Hat is via kayak. Kayaking to the islet allows you to pack along things for the adventure: dry bag, snorkel gear, water and snacks, cooler, etc.
Kayaking to Chinaman’s Hat is also the quickest way to reach the island. If you have access to a SUP or prefer this over kayaking, it is also a great option.
Swimming to Chinaman’s Hat is also a great option but there are several factors to consider.
Make sure to pay close attention to the tide, current, and swell reports, as well as your own confidence and skill level swimming. If choosing to swim, make sure to bring along a flotation device for safety purposes. Do not skip this precaution.
Wildly enough you can actually walk to Chinaman’s Hat on certain days at low tide. While I’ve never walked myself, I do know others that have.
If you’re opting to walk, be aware of where you are stepping to avoid harming the coral or stepping on sea urchins. Before heading out, have a good understanding of tide times and monitor it closely while adventuring on the island.
To be safe, make sure you bring along a flotation device in case you miscalculate and need to swim back.
How Long Is the Hike up Chinaman’s Hat?
Hiking to the top of Chinaman’s Hat is extremely quick. The hike can be completed in as little as 10-15 minutes.
While most of the hike is pretty straightforward and mellow, the last stretch requires some scrambling, mild rock climbing, and rope maneuvering. Even if you choose not to make the final stretch to the summit, the views along the way are worth exploring.
Best Time to Go
Exploring Chinaman’s Hat is a very popular destination for locals and visitors alike.
The area can get extremely crowded on the weekend, making finding a parking spot or docking spot for your kayak, more difficult. You also can expect several people at the top on the weekends.
If you can swing it, I recommend visiting Chinaman’s Hat during the week for the most memorable and enjoyable experience. If the weekend isn’t an option, get a head start early in the morning to beat the crowds.
Most tour operators and rentals start at 9:00 a.m.
What to Expect Kayaking to Chinaman’s Hat
Kayaking to Chinaman’s Hat is a bucket list-worthy adventure when visiting O’ahu. On a good weather day, the trip is suitable for kayakers of all experience levels.
Where to Launch
There are two popular launching points for kayaking to Chinaman’s Hat: Kualoa Regional (Beach) Park, and Kualoa Rock Beach.
Launching from Kualoa Regional Park is the most direct route and closest paddling route to the islet. However, from the parking lot to the water can be a bit of a haul, especially when dealing with a heavy kayak.
I recommend parking at Kualoa Rock Beach, instead. Parking for this beach is available right along Kamehameha Highway, just across the stress from the entry to Kualoa Ranch.
The water is only a matter of steps away from your car and makes getting the kayak in the water less of an ordeal. Keep in mind that, the water is notoriously shallow and rocky here. I recommend wearing water sandals, such as Chacos, to better navigate getting in and out of the kayak.
On a calm and sunny day, the paddle to Chinaman’s Hat is quick and easy. The views of the surrounding mountains are surreal and the color of the water is a remarkable blue.
Make sure to be alert for rocks and coral sitting just beneath the surface, and navigate around them as needed. The tide can get extremely low at times, causing you to have to take a roundabout way to the islet, rather than a direct link.
Keep an eye out for sea turtles, as well, as they like to hang around this area.
Docking Your Kayak
To climb on shore, pull directly up to the side of the island facing Kualoa Regional Park. If the tide is low, a small sliver of the beach will be exposed, indicating where to pull your kayak on shore.
As I mentioned previously, the tide changes quickly. Make sure your kayak or SUP is pulled completely out of reach of the water, so you don’t risk it being pulled out to sea.
If the beach is completely underwater, hoist your craft up onto the rocks. Make sure to secure it before heading out to hike.
Kayak Rentals and Tours
Things to consider when choosing a rental company are the type of kayaks they offer (single vs. tandem), if delivery is an option/included, if lifevests are provided, and costs.
Another option to renting is joining a tour. If you are not comfortable with your navigation or kayaking skills, consider joining a guided trip.
Guided trips are a great way to support locals, learn about the history of the area, and get insider knowledge on the best places to explore.
What to Expect Hiking Mokoli’i Island Trail (Chinaman’s Hat)
After you climb on shore, look for a small social trail leading off to the right. Mokoli’i Island Trail wraps on the right side of the island before turning in to head to the top.
The trail begins relatively flat and mellow, though the trail is narrow. Once you hook a left and start heading into the center of the island the trail starts to climb a bit.
Again, most of the trail is easygoing until the final stretch. The last couple of feet to the top of Chinaman’s Hat involve a verticle scramble consisting of hand and foot holds, as well as some sus ropes.
This portion of the trail is completely manageable but can give some pause at first. Take your time and plan your route.
Even though you have views of the shoreline for the majority of the trail, nothing prepares you for the magnitude of views from the top.
Views of Kualoa Nature Preserve from the ground are remarkable, but seeing the mountains from above is absolutely spellbinding. Standing atop Chinaman’s Hat offers hands down, one of the best views on the entire island.
Kayaking on O’ahu
Kayaking on O’ahus is one of the best ways to adventure and explore the island. Exploring via kayak is a great way to escape the crowds and witness some of the island’s off-the-beaten-path hidden treasures.
Here are some of my recommendations for the best places to kayak on O’ahu.
Mokulua Islands (“The Mokes”)
It’s a toss-up between Chinaman’s Hat and The Mokulua Islands for our favorite kayaking adventure on O’ahu.
The Mokes are located straight offshore from the popular Lanikai Beach and are an absolute dream to visit. The island situated on the right is the one visitors can climb on shore to explore. While kayaking to the island would be enough to make it a bucket list-worthy trip, this island steps it up a notch thanks to the cliff jumping spot and secluded swimming hole located around the backside.
Day trips to the Kaneohe Sandbar are a bit of a rite of passage for locals and gaining more popularity among visitors.
While most people choose to boat to the sandbar, those up for the challenge can opt to kayak or even SUP. Not going to lie, it’s quite the slog but absolutely stunning. The sandbar is always a party on the weekends and sure to be a weekend you never forget.
It doesn’t get any better than the North Shore of O’ahu. Kayaking the Anahulu River is peaceful and beautiful, and oozing with the same relaxed vibes we know and love about the North Shore.
Plop your boat in the water at the calm Hale’iwa Beach Park and make your way up the river for a calm and laid-back afternoon in the sun. If you’re feeling adventurous, look for the rope swing.
Last but not least on the list is Kahana Bay, home to the popular Crouching Lion Trail. Kahana Bay is not only a great place to kayak but it’s also one of our favorite spots to camp on O’ahu.
While kayaking in the bay is fun in itself, the real treat is heading up the nearby Kawa Stream. Launch your boat from Kahana Bay, but once you’re out of the bay hook a right and start heading up the narrow stream. A secluded jungle haven awaits.
If you have any questions about getting to Chinaman’s Hat or hiking to the top, drop me a message in the comment section below.
Looking to take the ultimate O’ahu trip? Make sure to check out my other O’ahu guides highlighting my favorite island hikes, adventures, and more.
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