Kayaking to Flat Island and Mokulua Islands in Kailua, Oahu

On Saturday, George and I took his sister Ann and her husband Doug kayaking in Kailua. Despite a forecasted chance of rain, it was a beautiful day in Kailua! Paddling on tropical aqua blue waters is my ideal way to spend a Saturday!

Getting to Kailua from Waikiki

If you have a rental car, you can drive from Waikiki to Kailua on Pali Hwy 61, which takes about 30 minutes.

Another great way to get to Kailua is on The Bus. If you are staying in Waikiki, the fastest way to get to Kailua by bus is to walk over to Ala Moana Shopping center and catch bus 56, 57, or 57a towards Kailua. You could also catch a bus in Waikiki to downtown Honolulu and then transfer to bus 56, 57, or 57a, but that would end up being a longer bus ride, especially because of the transfer. You can check the current bus schedule on Google Maps by selecting directions to Kailua and clicking on the bus icon. The bus costs $2.50 per adult per trip (and you can also ask for a transfer, which can be used for another bus ride within 2 hours).

We took the 9:34am bus from the Ala Moana Shopping Center bus stop on Kona road (the mountain side of the shopping center). The ride takes about 45 minutes to Kailua. We got off the bus on Kailua road and walked to Kailua Sailboards and Kayaks.

Kayak Rentals in Kailua

Kailua Sailboards and Kayaks, located at 130 Kailua Road, is the place to go for kayak rentals in Kailua. They also offer other types of rentals and kayak tours. We rented two tandem sit-on-top kayaks for the day. It costs $55 to rent a double kayak for a half day (4 hours) and $65 to rent a double kayak for a full day (9am to 5pm). Single kayaks are $39 for a half day and $49 for a full day. There are also large dry bags for rent at $3/piece, and backrests for $3/piece. Since it was a windy day the lady helping us strongly advised getting the backrests, so we went for them. If it is a calm day they might not be necessary, but can make your paddle a bit more comfortable.

A dry bag is necessary if you brought anything that you don’t want to leave in a rented locker or get wet. You will get wet!

Life jackets (pfds) are provided with the rental and you are required to wear one, even if you know how to swim.

After renting equipment, proceed into the lounge area, where you will watch a short safety video. It might be a good idea to watch the video twice, so you know what route to take to the islands and where to land on the islands. The tips about getting into and out of the kayak in the ocean are good, too.

What to Bring Kayaking

If you are new to kayaking and not sure what to bring, here is a checklist:

  • Sun hat that fastens under your chin,
  • Sun glasses,
  • Croakies to hold on your sun glasses (available for purchase at the kayak rental place),
  • Sun screen,
  • Plenty of water,
  • Reef shoes or water sandals that strap onto your feet (flip-flops could float away in the ocean),
  • Wear: swim suit, board shorts, surf shirt for sun protection,
  • Waterproof camera, if you have one,
  • Snacks or a picnic lunch in a small cooler,
  • A towel for lounging on the beach or drying off with, especially if it is a cool day, and
  • Sweater and/or change of clothes for after kayaking.

Either bring or rent a dry bag for your cell phone, keys, non-water proof camera, and anything else that is not securely attached to you or the boat. Make sure to put everything into the dry bag, squeeze out the air, roll up the top, and clip it on to one of the ropes on the boat. That way, if you tip, your belongings will still be attached to the boat.

Kayaking to Flat Island (Popoia Island)

Once you have filled out the paperwork and watched the video, it’s time to take your kayak to the water! They will provide you with a cart with two wheels, to transport your kayak to the canal. Before leaving the rental place, make sure you have everything you rented- dry bag, back rests, life vests, and ropes that attach your paddles to the kayak so they will not float away. I did not notice until later that I was missing the rope to attach my paddle to the kayak until later, and it would have been helpful. Cross Kailua road and take the road turning to the right a short ways until you reach the canal. You can leave the cart near the canal and practice paddling in the canal before heading out to the ocean. We put our kayaks in around 10:20am. The canal does not go all the way to the ocean, though, so you will have to carry the kayak for a short ways over the beach. That was the hardest part for me, since the kayaks are pretty heavy.

Kayaking down the canal toward the ocean, Kailua, Oahu, Hawaii


Canal leading to Kailua Beach Park
Beautiful Kailua Beach with Flat Island in the Distance, Oahu

The white sand beaches and aqua blue waters of Kailua Beach make for stunning scenery! Kailua is on the windward side of Oahu and usually cooler and windier than Waikiki, but it is breathtakingly beautiful! So far we have only been there in the winter time, so maybe the weather and water will be even warmer in the summer. Yesterday was an ideal day for kayaking, with sun and bright blue skies, but not too hot.

Checking out the ocean at Kailua Beach Park, Oahu

George and I would consider ourselves intermediate kayakers, but we did not fare as well as Ann and Doug, who were kayaking for their first time. George and I have been ocean kayaking a few times in the past and George and his brother Chris had kayaked to flat island about a month ago, but the wind and waves make kayaking in the ocean an adventure.

Ann and Doug launched first and were on their way. As soon as George and I got our kayak into the water I hopped in, but we were already too late and got slammed with a wave, flipping me out of the kayak. Good thing all of our stuff was in the dry bag attached to the boat. Our second time we watched the ocean more, waiting for a calm spot and jumped into the boat and started paddling as quickly as possible. Once you are out on the ocean it’s fine, but taking off and landing can be tricky.

Ann and Doug Kayaking to Flat Island, Kailua, Oahu
Ann and Doug headed to Flat Island, Kailua, Oahu

Flat island is a good destination for beginners and takes around 15-30 minutes to reach by kayak. It’s a straight shot out from Kailua Beach Park. Pay attention to the video when it tells you where to land on Flat Island. Do not stop at the first visible sand bar. Instead, continue around the right side of the island to the little cove, just past the sand bar, where the bird sanctuary sign is.

George after landing in the cove on Flat Island, Kailua, Oahu

You can walk around the outer edge of flat island, but stay out of the roped area, where protected birds are nesting.

Looking toward the Mokulua Islands from Flat Island

After a short walk around Flat Island, we decided to continue paddling towards Lanikai Beach. Ann and Doug were doing well, so instead of landing on Lanikai Beach we headed out to Mokulua Island.

Kayaking to Mokulua Island

There are two Mokulua Islands, but you can only land on the one on the left, as viewed from the beach. From either Flat Island or Kailua Beach, head toward Lanikai Beach, but stay out past the swimming area. There are rocks and coral reefs that you will have to make your way through. Continue paddling parallel to the beach until you reach the sand bags past Lanikai Beach, and then head out into the ocean toward Mokulua Island. It can take up to an hour and a half to paddle to Mokulua Island. It was windy that day and the lady who rented the kayaks to us said that only advanced kayakers should go to Mokulua Island. We were all feeling good and Ann and Doug are both athletic, so we decided to paddle out to Mokulua Island.

Kayaking to Mokulua Island, Kailua, Oahu

As we got farther out into the ocean the waves got larger and it was like being on a ride, as the kayak went up and over the waves. As we neared the island I got a bit worried since we could see waves approaching the beach from both the left hand side and right hand side of the island. As a general rule, when kayaking in big ocean waves, you want to keep your kayak perpendicular to the waves, so that it will slice through the waves. If your kayaking is parallel to the waves, you are more likely to get flipped right over. But what you are supposed to do when the waves are coming from different angles, I am not quite sure.

Approaching Mokulua Island, Kailua, Oahu

George and I landed first. We waited for a calm spot between the waves and started to paddle to shore. Then we saw a wave coming at us from the left hand side, hesitated trying to decide what to do, and flipped. At least we were close to shore and just walked the rest of the way dragging the kayak. We were able to help guide Ann and Doug in, who came at the beach from an angle and rode in a wave coming from the left hand side of the island.

It was about 2pm by the time we got to Mokulua Island. We took some photos and a snack break, but did not stay too long, since the wind seemed to be picking up and the waves getting larger.

George Looking at the Tide Pools on Mokulua Island


Heidi and George on Mokulua Island- We made it!

We sat on the beach for a while observing the waves and watching other kayakers and their guides take off from the island back toward Lanikai Beach. Waves would come from the left and right sides of the island and smash together in the center. We figured out that the best time to head out is right after two waves meet and crash together.

Waves crashing infront of Mokulua Island

I guess the reason we had been warned that only advanced kayakers should go to the island that day was due to the difficulty of landing and taking off from the island. Paddling there was not so bad. We watched as a couple ladies, not even wearing their life vests, were toppled by a wave while trying to take off.

Then it was Ann and Doug’s turn. They carried their kayak right to the edge of the water. We watched that waves, and right as they smacked together, we yelled, “Now.” They ran into the water with the kayak, and paddled off, while there was still a nice calm break.

Then George and I watched and waited. After two waves crashed together we carried the kayaking into the water, but there were already waves coming back in again, and the kayak flipped before either of us could get in. Back to the beach where we waited a bit longer and then finally made our successful departure.

It was easier paddling back to Kailua Beach, with the wind at our backs. Sometimes we would even catch a wave, that would give us a ride in toward the beach. When we got back to Kailua Beach, someone from the rental place was helping people pull their kayaks in and hop out quickly, making it a smooth and un-eventful landing.

Then back across the beach, a little ways up the canal, and kayaks back on the carts to Kailua Sailboards and Kayaks. It was about 2:50pm by the time we got back. After rinsing the sand and salt off we walked into Kailua for a bite to eat, before catching the bus back to Ala Moana Shopping Center.

It was a full day of adventure!

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