We’ve all hiked mountains, beaches, canyons… but have you hiked through the ocean? O’ahu offers unique experiences where you can paddle to a few small islands nearby. But, if you time the low tide well enough, you can actually (almost) hike to one of them: Mokoli’i, also known as China Man’s Hat.
From Mokoli’i, you get amazing views of the Ko’olau mountain range and Kaneohe Bay.
If going at low tide, the hike to Mokoli’i only takes less than an hour. During low tide, you can pretty much walk to the island, but be careful not to walk on any reef. You could cut your feet or damage the wildlife. You may need shoes or reef walkers to protect your feet from the sharp reef/lava rock (just in case). You’ll also need them on the island itself as you traverse to the top.
If you’re going at any other time, you may need a surfboard or floaty to get you across comfortably. High tide increases the risk of shark encounters in this area, but it’s still relatively safe.
To check the tide chart, click here. This is the most reliable site to use when checking the time of the tides. If you’re planning to walk at low tide without boards, make sure you begin hiking about 30 minutes before so that the tide is lowering as you go and stays low upon your return.
Looking for sea creatures, but from a distance?
Check out the hikes to Ka’ena Point for seals, albatross, and whales!
About the Trail
- Location: In Kaneohe Bay on windward side of O’ahu
- Length: < 1 mile
- Fear Factor: Moderate – depends on your fear of the ocean and heights. The hike to the top of Mokoli’i does get a bit gnarly when you have to climb a vertical rock wall before the peak.
Starting the Hike
Parking is easy – just head to the Kualoa Regional Park and find a spot.
Then, take your board (or just yourself) over to the water and start heading toward Mokoli’i!
Doing the Hike
The hike/swim is a short one. The deepest the water has been for me is up to my neck, and it’s only for a brief couple yards. I’m 5’3, so if you’re taller than me, you’re probably in the clear (during low tide).
Watch out for the reef because it’s easy to misstep and knee a rock (like I did – scar to prove it). Other than that, the journey is not treacherous at all despite the shark breeding ground on the backside of the island.
You heard me, shark breeding ground. No worries though, because they don’t really cross your path unless it’s high tide.
You made it to China Man’s Hat! Take a second to appreciate how quick the hike/swim actually was compared to how long you were expecting it to take. What a breeze.
You’ll immediately notice that there isn’t much of a beach, as it’s pretty rocky and the brush begins right by the water after the rocks. The island begs to be climbed. So, the best way to the best views is… up.
Hiking up the Mokoli’i trail is fine until you hit the shear vertical rock wall that you must climb up (and also climb down). There are plenty of hand and foot holds, and there’s a rope attached to a metal spike at the top.
I relied on the rope pretty heavily… so I had to trust the rope a lot.
I know what you’re thinking… no, I have no idea who replaces it and how often. You just have to use best judgement. You’ll find that most good hikes in Hawaii have ropes installed on risky climbs for your safety.
It’s not that bad.
I actually did freak out a small amount, but after I climbed up/down, I realized how do-able it actually was. Like anything, the more you think about it, the scarier it becomes. It is nice to have someone with you to point out the good holds, though.
Also, if you stop before climbing the wall, you’d be missing out on some really beautiful views.
If you’re on the island at low tide, you wouldn’t want to spend more than an hour hanging out on top of China Man’s Hat. If you’re uncomfortable swimming on the way back, you’ve got to return while the tide is still low.
But, you still get to enjoy the awesome views on the way back! These views never disappoint. The Ko’olaus are insanely gorgeous.
Want to do this hike? Is it on your bucket list?
Trying to stay dry? Do the nearby Crouching Lion hike instead.
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