Monday, November 1, 2010

Kayaking in Lanikai

As I mentioned in my "Lanikai and Laird Hamilton" post, there are two Mokulua Islands about a mile off the shore of Lanikai and Kailua.  It cannot be overstated enough how Lanikai is a picturesque beach that seems like it was plucked right from a postcard.  Crystal clear water, white sand beach, two islands offshore, gorgeous houses along the beach, and a mountain range in the background.  While I recognize that I have not been to too many beaches here, Lanikai is so far my favorite.  It definitely beats the crowds (and dirtiness) of tourists in Waikiki.  There is a reason Oahu's Kailua Beach and Lanikai Beach have been voted best in the U.S. for swimming, walking, kayaking, windsurfing, boogie boarding, paddling, snorkeling and a number of other water sports.

The Mokulua Islands are two bird sanctuaries now, but the one of the left also has a beach that is littered with kayakers and beach-goers who pack lunches and just hang out.  This weekend I decided to try kayaking out to the islands to see what they were all about.  To get to Kailua Beach Park is fairly simple.  If you're leaving from Waikiki, you simply take the H-1 (Interstate) Highway to the Pali Highway.  Stay straight on the Pali for 9 miles until you get into the town of Kailua.  The road eventually forks, but stay straight (left) on Kailua Road.  You'll pass Kailua Square (Aikahi Park) Shopping Center and Macy's.  Keep going all the way to the end of the road until you can only turn left or right. Turn right onto Kalaheo Rd. You'll pass some kayak stands on the right and the Kailua Beach Park parking lot will be on your left.  Keep going straight and you'll run right into Lanikai in about 2 minutes.  There is no parking lot in Lanikai, but you can park your car anywhere you find a spot.  Everyone just parks along the side of the road and you'll know you're in Lanikai when you start seeing all the cars parked along the road.
This weekend I decided to kayak out to the Mokulua Islands.  I did not have any recommendations for my first time, so as I get more experience, I'm sure I will update my thoughts.  A protective barrier reef allows for easier paddling and a chance to kayak from Kailua Beach to the Mokulua Islands, Flat Island and Lanikai Beach. When you kayak in this area, you go through sea turtle feeding grounds, sea bird sanctuaries and living coral reef, all with the majestic backdrop of the Kololau Mountains. Be prepared to see the native Hawaiian Green sea turtle, or Honu, tropical fish and other marine life in their natural habitat.  We actually saw a sea turtle and it was pretty awesome. 

I have been to Lanikai a couple times prior to this weekend and there is nowhere to actually rent kayaks in Lanikai.  So if you think you might want to kayak, plan ahead.  You have to rent kayaks, windsurf boards, etc. from Kailua, which is the beach park right before you get to Lanikai.  Along the side of Kalaheo Rd you'll see a bunch of trucks with dozens of kayaks.  That's the only spot you can rent them near the beach.  These trucks are actually the satellite operation for several shops in downtown Kailua.  Renting a tandem kayak for half a day (4 hours) will cost $50-55 (total for 2 people).  Renting for a full day is $65-70. ALWAYS ask for the Kama'aina Discount, though!  It reduces the price by about $10.  Also, they are not sticklers about time, so always get the half-day.  They DO NOT care if you come back in 5 or 6 hours.  This goes for all rentals - surfboards, kayaks, etc.  

One thing you should know is that these truck vendors CANNOT accept cash.  It is a violation of park ordinances to accept cash in the beach park.  If you want to pay cash, you'll have to go back into town to the actual shops, which is annoying.  For people wary of giving your credit card number to guys on the side of the road, though, this may be worth the security.  Know this, though: some people operate illegally.  There are guys who accept cash.  If someone is willing to accept cash, then they are not affiliated with any of the shops in town and are actually despised by the legitimate businesses. However, their kayaks still float.  Further, knowing that they operate illegally is to your advantage.  They will still try to charge you the same rate as the legitimate businesses, but you have all the leverage if you know the rules.  You can easily talk them down to $30 or $40 depending on how confident you are.  No matter who you rent from, they'll help you tie it to your car.  

A picture from the island...this is how far you'll kayak

If you don't want to do this on your own, you can always get ripped off  try a guided tour.  For $95 (each; $190 for 2 people), you a get a 4-hour "eco-tour."  This means you follow someone through the turtle feeding grounds and have them explain what you're looking at.  The tours usually include some kind of snack and 2 hours on the beach.  If my stellar recommendation has you interested, I've heard that Kailua Sailboards and Kayaks are a good bet.  You can also try Hawaiian Water Sports.
Now that you've tied the kayak to your car, drive to Lanikai.  Don't try to Kayak from Kailua Beach to the Mokulua Islands.  It's far and not worth the added hassle.  Drive all the way through Lanikai.  Lanikai is a giant loop.  As you get into the town, it goes off the right.  Drive until it comes back around and park right there.  You'll see the beach access point.  This is the shortest distance to the Islands.  Now, the two islands don't seem too far offshore.  Originally, I thought even an average swimmer could easily swim the distance.  I was wrong.  When you're in the middle of the water and have been paddling for a half an hour, you realize that those islands feel like their the disappearing Island in Lost.  It just keeps moving further away.

When you finally make it, the islands create a weird tidal shift.  Waves some in from both sides of the beach and converge to make for a tricky landing.  If you're not careful, you could tip over.  This isn't disastrous as the water is knee-deep.  It's just embarrassing because the beach is filled with people who kayaked over and they're undoubtedly judging you as both an amateur and a tourist.  The trick is to know that the waves are there and just be prepared to paddle through them.  Pack a lunch.  It is pretty cool to see everyone on the island just hanging out.  Some guys were playing horseshoes and drinking beer when we showed up.  Other people had lunches and were lounging on towels.  Still others were snorkeling.  People brought their kids (no dogs are allowed on the island).

While the island is definitely an adventure and off the beaten path a little, it's not that relaxing.  The beach is not that big and it feels crowded because of its size.  There were maybe 50 people on the entire island, but with everyone so close together, it felt like more.  If you don't really care about kayaking and you're really just in the mood for a quiet, relaxing lunch on the beach, skip the hassle of getting to the island and just sit and enjoy Lanikai.  There is nothing to see on the island so the real appeal is just saying you did it (which, admittedly, is cool).

Here’s what to know before you go:

  • You don’t need to be super fit to kayak Kailua Bay, but you do need to be in relatively good shape and have the ability to swim without a personal flotation device. Note that PFDs were provided.  We didn't wear them.
  • You must 13 or older.
  • If you take one of the guided tours, the company will provide transportation to and from Waikiki hotels. You should drive your own rental car, though.
  • Snorkel equipment is provided if you ask.  It's free.
  • Wear sunscreen!
  • Wear sunglasses.
  • Wear a hat or visor.
  • Bring a waterproof camera.
  • Wear your bathing suit
  • Don't bother taking a guided tour.  Rent your own kayak and relax and have fun.


  1. It’s a nice trip report about the visit of Lanikai Beach which is located at Mokulua Drive, Kailua, Oahu, HI 96734, where I visited before grand canyon tour from los angeles. This tiny 0.5 mile seashore has been constantly ranked among the best beaches in the world because of its best view. The soft sand, warm water and beautiful views makes this place something very special for tourists.

  2. Hi
    Really interested in doing this excursion. But I don't drive. Any ideas how best to rent kayaks to paddle to Mokula from Lanikai - but using uber or taxi? Is it possible?
    Thanks for any advice!