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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 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.

Chinaman's Hat Cactus

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 island

Backside of Chinaman's Hat

A View From Chinaman's Hat

The View FROM Chinaman's Hat

View Chinaman's Hat

That's right - made it to the peak!

Read more on Chinamans Hat Oahu

Products NOT Made In China - Buy Real Hawaiian PART II!

In response to our popular original Products Not Made in China - Buy Real Hawaiian Souvenirs list, we are now introducing PART II in our neverending journey to provide visitors to Oahu with information on where to find authentic Hawaiian goods handcrafted by local artisans.


Maile Niu Hawaiian Wood Carvings
49-302 Kamehameha Hwy, Kaneohe, HI

Maile Niu Hawaiian Wood Carvings is about as authentic as you can get. His (Maile Niu) “store” is based out of the garage of his home along Kamehameha Highway as you make your way north from Waikiki along the Windward side of Oahu through Kaneohe approaching Kualoa Beach Park. Keep your eyes peeled on the left side of the road (if heading north) even though Maile Niu's is hard to miss with the large TIKI statue out front, surrounded by a congregation of other wooden works that range from mahogany knick knacks to koa masterpieces, all of it expertly handmade.

Don't let the rough exterior (complete with scurrying field mice and clouds of sawdust) of the workshop fool you, the works created by Maile Niu are worthy of placement in any fine arts gallery in Hawaii and even though there are some very affordable pieces available for those looking for a basic roadside souvenir (tikis, jewelry, accessories, etc...), you can drop a few thousand dollars in a beat if you have your heart set on acquiring some of Maile Niu's most prized creations on display. Popular items include the replica Hawaiian weaponry found about the shop with price tags into the hundreds, justified immediately upon inspection as one witnesses the painstaking detail exquisitely carved into the handles. Customized works are also on display, awaiting shipment to their respective owners to be, which incites visions of personalized creations that one can acquire from Maile Niu if a reasonable price can be agreed upon. One must remember the hours that go into creating the carvings so try not to haggle too much, the years – if not generations – spent admiring the items on display within your own home will pay for itself ten fold.

At the very least, stop by Maile Niu Hawaiian Wood Carvings when en route to and from the windward side of Oahu to browse his inspiring wood work. But for both new and old aficionados of authentic island art seeking to acquire pieces for their beginning, burgeoning or long standing collection, Maile Niu will either have what you are looking for or can create it for you.


Under The Koa Tree
226 Lewers Street, L-230, Waikiki, HI

Under The Koa Tree is located in the heart of Waikiki's shopping and entertainment district across from the Royal Hawaiian Center and Sheraton Waikiki on Lewers Street on the second floor before Ruth Chris steakhouse if you are walking towards the beach.

This store is vibrant, friendly, reap with variety, and extremely informative if you inquire about anything within, especially Hawaii's favorite "building block" Koa. What you will soon learn is that although many shops on the island claim the inclusion of authentic Koa wood when securing Hawaiian made creations for their store, much of this comes from Phillipine Koa or others not specifically indigenous to Hawaii. The difference can be seen within the texture and richness of the dark caramel and reddish toned wood, with superiority lending towards the South Pacific island trees. Staff at Under The Koa Tree will point you in the right direction (inside of their walls) if you are looking for works that are not only handcrafted by local Hawaiian artisans, but have been made from pure regional materials as well.


PuaPua Ukulele
2365 Kalakaua Avenue, Waikiki, HI @ Moana Surfrider Hotel

PuaPua is exactly how a ukulele shop should be - friendly, fun, and employs a staff that is willing to bear with visitors in town to pick up their first real ukulele (not counting the cheap models you nab in souvenir shops) who don't bother to read the ”ask staff for assistance before handling the instruments” sign before plucking a $3000 locally handcrafted masterpiece from it's wall hanger. You are greeted with an authentic Hawaiian smile and “Howzit!” when entering PuaPua with no care if you have a trail of sand following your well worn flip flops fresh from Waikiki Beach. Other unnamed ukulele shops in the area can feel a bit more pretentious if such a thing can be said about a place that sells the funnest sounding instrument on the planet next to the kazoo (but without the irritation). If you are there to simply browse then feel free to say so, if you are a newbie looking for a beginner model feel free to say so, If you are looking to upgrade to the next level...you get the idea. Either way, the staff at PuaPua shines with Aloha and will steer you in the right direction without pushing a rich Koa model on first time strummers. The variety ranges from affordable entry level pieces that both look great and serve their purpose to highly collectible items with price tags into the thousands, in addition to ukulele books and accessories.

PuaPua's Sheraton Waikiki Hotel location holds free ukulele classes at 4pm daily so you can learn how to tune before torturing anyone with your next bonfire acoustic. We've witnessed (read: guilty of) passengers returning from Hawaii attempting to serenade fellow fliers with their newly purchased carry-ons on the way back to the mainland who clearly have had no formal training much less a free lesson, which almost caused undercover Air Marshals to read the riot act 30,000 feet in the sky.

Pua Pua is the most visitor friendly ukulele shop in Waikiki and one of many places to stop by for a taste of pure Hawaiian fun.


Native Books/Na Mea Hawaii
Ward Warehouse (Ewa end, under the Old Spaghetti Factory)
1050 Ala Moana Blvd, Suite #1000 Honolulu, HI

This spacious store located across the street (Ala Moana BLVD) from Ward Center is a great shop to learn all there is to know about Hawaiian culture while browsing a large eclectic collection of goods native to the islands, including an impressive selection of books and periodicals relevant to the topic at hand.


Tiki Carvers - International Village

Kalakaua Avenue, Waikiki, HI

While we have pretty much sworn off entering the International Village in an effort to remain unmolested by every street vendor in Oahu packed uncomfortably into one zone where you are forced to endure an endless gauntlet of "Made in China/Taiwan" junk souvenirs and i-Phone cases, there is one exception found on the the left side backlot near the middle of the village (assuming you are entering from Kalakaua Ave). There you will find one or two local craftsmen tooling away and creating a variety of Tikis "freshly" made for passerbyers. While you are not likely to find long lasting koa quality renditions of the islands favorite mascot/symbol, this is a great place to nab an affordable one-of-a-kind alternative for yourself, friend or family member, all the while supporting local artisans.


Martin & MacArthur
2005 Kalia Road, Honolulu @ Hilton Hawaiian Village

We already added Martin & MacArthur to our Products Not Made in China list but two very exciting (to lovers of everything KOA) additions to M & M's product line demanded an update here on Part II.

               Koa Wood Sunglasses

Our editor has an almost unhealthy collector's obsession with the rich and indigenous wood of Hawaii (He has a koa wood golf hat/visor for goodness sake) and has been wandering the streets of Kalakaua (Ave), Ala Moana (Blvd), and Kamahameha (Hwy) poking his head into shops, requesting koa wood framed sunglasses only to receive shrugged shoulder responses indicating no knowledge of the existence of such a thing. Thus, when we saw Martin & MacArthur's Facebook post regarding the introduction of this new product at their Oahu stores we immediately made a mental note for our editor's next birthday (surprise ruined).

Currently they have 5 different frame styles available made from their very own koa reserve. As of the date of this article mainlanders can purchase the coolest shades on the market by calling 808-941-0074 or even better, hop on a plane to Oahu and visit one of Martin & MacArthur's convenient locations. Prices start at $299 - a bargain for master craftsperson work with the islands most prized "ingredient".

Martin and MacArthur Honolulu also introduced koa iPhone and iPad covers in 2012.

Martin and MacArthur Honolulu

Products NOT Made In China - Buy Real Hawaiian Souvenirs

Products NOT Made in China - Where to Buy Real Hawaiian Souvenirs

Thousands of visitors flock to the International Marketplace in Waikiki, or the "one per corner" ABC Stores, to pick up what they innocently assume are authentic "Made in Hawaii" souvenirs and collectibles, only to skip the most important part of the inspection - reading the label on the bottom.  Nine times out of ten these products will have a stamp or tiny white sticker exclaiming the all too typical "Made in China" moniker. Some even go as far as to read "inspired by authentic Hawaiian design", which can mean nothing more than the fact that manufacturers may have performed a Google image search on the product, drew up some blueprints, and went to work on the assembly line - somewhere in China.

Out of sheer civic duty to the artisan communities within Hawaii and towards you, our valued readers, we have compiled a list of shops and destinations in Oahu to find authentic Hawaiian products made by authentic Hawaiians. You may have to pay more (sometimes substantially) than at "cookie cutter" knock-off shops, but when you display the naturally stained koa wood outrigger canoe paddle - a replica of the exact ones used by ancient Hawaiians - which has been shaped and carved by a storied craftsman in his North Shore workshop and transported to your wall when back on the Mainland, its meaningful value will far exceed any concern you may feel over your credit card bill.


Hawaiian Accessories

Outrigger Waikiki on the Beach, 2335 Kalakaua Ave, Waikiki

Although Hawaiian Accessories locations are found within many tourist hubs and not in some off the beaten path corridor, there is no negative correlation in regards to the authenticity of their products. It's just the evolution of good business on their part. Hawaiian Accessories was founded by native Hawaiians, Curtis and Leslie Wilmington. All products are handpicked and crafted from within the Hawaiian islands chain.

One walk inside the store of the Outrigger Waikiki hotel location and you will be captivated by the dark koa decor and accessories that complement the interior. You immediately see and feel the difference between their products and the "wannabes" that haunt the surrounding vicinity. In speaking to the store representative, we can recommend a few popular purchaces at Hawaiian Accessories. Women tend to be attracted to the classier items such as hand crafted koa jewelry and sealife decorated decor. Men are typically drawn to the shark tooth embedded weaponry replicas that hang enticingly on the walls of Hawaiian Accessories. Please ask for assistance before handling the valuables fellas...  Mahalo!


Global Creations & Interiors

66-079 Kamehameha Highway, Haleiwa, HI (North Shore)

Global Creations Haleiwa

You can't get much more authentic than the town of Haleiwa on the North Shore of Oahu. Global Creations is the perfect place to pick up something for your home and/or office, that will catapult your senses back to Hawaii when you experience those fleeting moments of being "stuck" back on the mainland, overseas or simply in your cubicle somewhere, anywhere but here. The store is a perfect stopping point along Kam. Hwy, made for browsing regardless your purchase intentions (you will find it impossible not to pick up something) with a more than welcoming staff that is happy to provide you a quick lesson on the arts of the area.

The interior is lined with beach themed art, photography, home decor, music, literature, bath & body, clothing & accessories and of course hand crafted ukuleles by master Mr. Emil Bader. All items are curated with true Hawaiian authenticity in mind. Global Creations & Interiors is the ultimate beach decor store.


Bob's Ukulele

2552 Kalakaua Avenue, Marriott Hotel Waikiki

You're allowed to visit Hawaii only once without bringing home a ukulele, just once. After that, you are required by law (not really, but it should be) to bring home a souvenir ukulele. It is acceptable, but not at all recommended, to purchase this specific item from any one of the ABC stores or International Village "dime a dozen" shops along Kalakaua Avenue on this first acquisition. Any subsequent ukulele purchase decision MUST throw away the ambition of being a "souvenir", but instead transform its purpose to that of "collectible". Any ukukele worth collecting must then come from an authentic (the key theme of this here list in case you haven't noticed) ukulele dealer that carries product crafted only from within the Hawaiian Islands.

Bob's Ukulele is such a retailer and is conveniently located in the heart of Waikiki at the base of the Marriott Waikiki. With an unassuming name like "Bob's Ukulele", you know you can expect friendly and informative service. Staff may even give you an impromptu lesson on playing the ukulele, especially if you put on your best "completely baffled" expression when staring at your potential selection.


Martin & MacArthur

Locations: 1450 Ala Moana BLVD (Ala Moana Shopping Center), 2005 Kalia Road (Hilton Hawaiian Village),  1200 Ala Moana BLVD (Ward Center Flagship Store - coordinates provided on above map for this location)

Martin & MacArthur is a high-end retailer/manufacturer of fine Hawaiian home decor. Their work with native Hawaiian wood, KOA makes for some of the most beautiful, not to mention sturdy, home furnishings in all of Honolulu. You may rethink any post modern contemporary interior design ambitions you may have when you walk into Martin & MacArthur, as your imagination runs wild with visions of accenting your abode in the vain of ancient Hawaiian Royalty.