Chinamans Hat Oahu - How to Get to the Top
Chinamans Hat Oahu, or Mokoli'i Island (for the more politically correct), is one of the most often photographed but rarely experienced natural icons of the windward side of Oahu. This article details how to get to, and how to climb to, the peak of Chinamans Hat. It's a lot of work but the view is worth it.
Story & Photos by Marcus Maraih - Editor. Follow Marcus on Google
Chinaman's Hat (Mokoli'i Island)
Kualoa Regional Park, Kaneohe, Oahu
Chinaman's Hat (Mokoli'i Island) taunts tourists pulling up in tour buses and rental cars in the Kualoa Regional Park parking lot. The relatively uncrowded beach is kept this way, even though many people pass through, due to the lack of amenities on site. A day spent at Kualoa Beach witnesses droves of visitors stopping by for pockets of time, stepping out to take photos of the coral and coconut ridden shoreline and of course its most popular subject Chinaman's Hat. Many wonder why there are no kayaks, SUPs, flotation devices, or snorkeling gear available for rental so that one could make an attempt to cross the reef to this alluring island so close to shore. I can't answer that for you however am more than happy that such offerings do not exist so as to spoil the seclusion of Mokoli'i. Question answered I suppose.
With a solid pair of reef booties (or a light pair of expendable tennis shoes) you can almost walk across the shallow reef over to Mokoli'i Island when the tide is low. When the tide is in, it can be somewhat more challenging, but worth the effort nonetheless. I have heard word of small clusters of hammerhead sharks within close proximity over in Kaneohe Bay but the relatively harmless bunch rarely make their way over to this section of reef and if they do, you are not on the main course. Your only real cautions come from the potential of stinging jellyfish between the months of June to September and when the currents are feeling feisty. If you are not a confident swimmer, enjoy Mokoli'i from the shore. Otherwise, do not hesitate to protect your toes from the rigid reef bottom and make your way across to the island and prepare for some serious exploration. Your landlocked friends will grow turquoise with envy. Be sure to bring a waterproof camera or Go-Pro. Your ability to describe the land and seascape of Mokoli'i will never translate - digital imagery is the closest you can come so don't leave home or hotel without a camera.
After approximately 20 minutes or more in the water, you will reach the front of the island. You can safely come ashore without much concern for stumbling. On any given day there may be one or two other parties already on site, evidenced by abandoned personal water-crafts or fresh footprints, but from time to time you can find yourself in perfect seclusion. Head left along the volcanic rock, when facing the island peak, and after some careful scrambling you will come across a rock protrusion on the far side of Mokoli'i. This is one truly awe-inspiring nook of the island. The sharp black ledge is repeatedly splashed by the contrasting colored waters rushing in with each incoming wave, having formed itself over thousands of years into the ultimate visual treat you see before you. The standing volcanic hallway appears to be manmade but rest assured that this is entirely mother nature working her magic. A patch of sand lies within, as if created by resort architects to allow guests a few relaxing minutes to lay down and soak up the scene. Don't fall asleep here - you may awake to find yourself carried away by the outgoing tide.
Make a full circle around the remainder of the island while staying wary of the sharp edges and drop-off points that can result in a broken ankle or worse if one is not diligent in their safety. But now for the best part.
To recount my own first expedition to the island, I arrived with the knowledge that one could climb to the peak of Mokoli'i but after 3 initial attempts the trail went dead. There was no reasonable “path” in sight and the three other parties on the island that I questioned validated that all attempts would be in vain. But in the true spirit of adventure (stubbornness) I refused to give up. I had noticed that underneath the shaded lightly thorn laden trees that umbrellad the island that there was a crawl space of sorts that opened up a direction that was previously untapped. Ducking under the growth of the island, I held strong onto branches and pulled myself up over each vertical section until I reached a lone patch of cactus growth. Note the cacti, if you see it, you are on the right track. Going further, I became convinced again that there would be no fruits to this labor until I saw a crooked blue arrow spray painted there on the rocks - a work laid a decade ago, judging by its faded appearance. Note of the blue arrow, if you see it, you are on the right track. Reinvigorated I proceeded quickly as if the trail would magically dissappear without prompt attention to the clues bestowed upon me. The next marker came in the form of a well-weathered yellow rope dangling from above origins unknown. I tugged to see if it was secure. It seemed strong and elastic but the frayed strings laying on the sharp rock didn't instill confidence. Instead, I went into rock climbing mode and carefully inserted my fingers onto every possible crevice until the peak was in sight. In some moments I found myself at a 90 degree angle. One more big pull-up and I was there, staring at the magnificent Kualoa Mountains - a view that I was promised from countless guidebooks that probably only saw this scene from a tour helicopter. I smirked to myself that in no way did Frommer or Fodor make this trek. Their descriptions of the process didn't come close to the actual experience.
Look for the cacti on the way up - you're on the right path
To readers, I suggest that you remember to take your time and enjoy the view and reflect on the journey before rushing back down to the beat the memory loss of the path back to the base of Mokoli'i. The satisfaction is beyond the worth of the effort. Any trepidation that you may have felt about crossing the ocean without flotation to get to the island in the first place will be washed away once you descend sweatily down from the peak and jump into the now cool waters back to Kualoa Beach. The complete Chinaman's Hat experience well exceeds any description provided by anyone, including this one here. It's just one of those journeys you need to make on your own, and not from the paved comforts of your tour bus parking space.
Backside of Chinaman's Hat
The View FROM Chinaman's Hat
That's right - made it to the peak!