Na Mokulua (the Mokes), two small islands drifting off the beaches of Kailua and Lanikai, have become a symbol for the Windward side of the island. You see them in the art, in photos, on t-shirts. I’ve taken more than a few pictures myself. Smoldering sunsets, vibrant sunrises or just before a rain with dark clouds building their way from the distance. You name it and I’ve captured these islets’ reaction to every situation. It’s more than just beauty. It’s a fondness for their enduring presence in what I’ve come to view as home over the last 18 months. They stand sentry marking the end of the reef and the beginning of the open ocean. While I love admiring them from the shore, we do occasionally get out for a visit.
As a bird sanctuary the larger of the two (Moku Nui) is only accessible at the base, with a rope running the perimeter, protecting the habitat of sea birds, specifically the Wedge-tailed Shearwater, and the smaller (Moku Iki) is off limits entirely. Not to be forgotten, Popoia Island (or flat island) is the third member of the reserve and has its own unique charm. All three are protected from visitors every Sunday to let the poor birds rest. And I understand why! With easy access to kayak and paddleboard rentals and the popularity of Kailua and Lanikai Beach, the tiny islands are filled with crowds just about every day of the week. At 3/4 of a mile out (and flat island only 1/4!), they’re easy to get to. We’ve kayaked out even on choppier days and made it fine. Although I would say everyone should know and respect their limits.
During a recent kayak trip to The Mokes the water was particularly calm and clear. I watched the reef ripple by as we cut through the water. A turtle poked his head up to grab a breath of air. We watched his mosaic shell float for a few seconds just below the water’s surface and then he was gone. I love the water’s dark contrast of the coral with the bright aqua of the sandy bottom. We took our time as we were early enough to beat most of the crowd. Less than half and hour’s trip we slid up on the beach and hopped out. Because the islands are close enough together the shore can be tricky to navigate. Cross waves send some kayakers spinning to one side and toss the boat. It’s easy to get hurt. Add to that the possibility of 15 or 20 other kayaks on shore it’s like parallel parking an SUV by drifting into the spot. On one occasion we were excited as from a distance it looked like all the kayaks had been shoved to one side of the shore, leaving a wide open space. As we got closer we realized it was roped off because a monk seal had decided to take her nap on the landing beach!
Once we scrambled out of our boat and dragged it inland we were ready to explore. We brought a lunch and some towels in a dry bag ready for a picnic on the other side. The hike around the perimeter was easy, but the sharp lava rocks made me pay attention to my balance. The tide pools are enchanting with the “Queens Bath” being the largest. Though we’ve never made the full circle around, it’s enough to find a quiet spot at the back and gaze out at the cerulean horizon. We’ve watched whales breach during the winter and have stepped lightly around monk seals in the summer. I could go on, but I’ll just let photos tell the rest of the story:
- Go during the week and early. Kailua Beach Adventures, located just a few blocks from Kailua Beach opens at 8am. Be there as soon as they open and be one of the first on the water.
- Rent your kayak for 24 hours around noon. You’ll have the luxury of staying after everyone else leaves as daily rentals are due back by 4pm. Have the rental place load the kayak on your vehicle for you so you know how and can take it with you and return it the next day. You could even get back on the water the next morning before it’s due back!
- Hike to the back of the island as far as you feel comfortable. The further you go the fewer the people.