Sitting about a mile off of the Lanika’i shore, on the southeast coast of the island of Oahu are two small islands; the larger of the two called Moku Nui, Big Moke or Two Humps and the smaller called Moku Iki, Baby Moke or One Hump. Moku Nui sits at around 13 acres of area to the north (left) with its highest peak at 225 feet high, while Moku Iki sits around 9 acres with its highest point around 150 feet south of Moku Nui (right if you’re looking from Oahu’s shores). These little islands are technically islets since they’re so tiny. From the coast of Oahu, your best view of the islands from land would be from Lanika’i Beach or Bellows Field Beach Park. You can also get an amazing view by taking a trek up to the Lanika’i Pillboxes, which are leftover bunkers from Hawaii’s defensive system built for WWII. (Click to enlarge photos!)
Both of these incredible islands are part of the Hawaii State Wildlife Sanctuary and have their own sets of restrictions as to what you can do and where on the little islands you can go; when we went (and I believe this is still in place) Moku Iki (the smaller of the two) was/is completely off limits — don’t even try as there are folks stationed at the islands who will catch you. Moku Nui is open to the public, but certain spots are off limits (mostly towards the middle of the island). You cannot bring any pets and, when we went, they may search you and your belongings for any glass containers. Don’t be an asshole — if you pack, don’t pack glass and if you’ve any trash, keep it to yourself! These islands are breath-taking and don’t deserve disrespect!
It’s assumed that these islands formed somewhere around 3 million years ago and are made of basaltic intrusive lava and are thought to be part of the Ko’olau shield volcano that slid into the ocean in a series of landslides. They are the nesting sites of the ‘Ua’u kani and ‘Ou.
The ‘Ua’u Kani, or Wedge-tailed Shearwater, is a brown bird with white feathers on its breast, a hooked bill and wedge tail and get their Hawaiian name from the wailing sound they make when they burrow at night; ‘Ua’u Kani stands for “calling or moaning petrel.” The ‘Ou, or Bulwer’s Petrel, has long wings and tail that come to a point, a black bill and short legs. The smaller, off-limits island (Moku Iki) requires special permits to enter while venturers are welcome at the Moku Nui beach. There are also cameras in undisclosed locations around both islands so they can monitor activity — they take the safety and preservation of these islets very seriously.
We left our house in Waianae early that morning; I don’t remember what day of the week it was, but it was beautiful and so sunny! We had borrowed a kayak from a neighbor, though there are rental shacks on the beach where you can get paddle boards, kayaks, you name it. We did a little pregaming and hung out in the sand for a while, first. A local family was gathered under the shade of some trees listening to music, laughing and having a good time — its always a good time when you’re near locals. After a bit, we dragged the kayak down to the waterline. We’d packed a book sack full of snacks, water and …water bottles of um soda? for the trek to the islets; they’re situated less than a mile from the shore, but of course we chose a day where the waves were kickin’, so the fight to get out there was rough.
I’d say it took us about an hour and a half to get out there between fighting the waves, trying not to smack others out there, talking and looking at all of the sea life in the clear water. What they don’t tell you about paddling out there is what some refer to as “The Gauntlet.” You see, the way the current works, the ocean flows around both islets before crashing into itself right in front of the only patch of sand available for landing. We watched as group after group overturned and crashed violently against the beach — we got lucky and slid in, sideways. The dude on the beach said his aloha and searched our book sack and kayak for glass and animals. Then, we tied her up and began our trek — we went left due to most of the islet being off limits.
If you don’t pay attention, and if you don’t climb high enough, the waves will grab you, pull you into the ocean and slam you back and forth onto Moku Nui. There are no grass patches or park benches — this island is made from lava and is jagged, rough, wet and the sea gets violent. PAY ATTENTION. We looked in every crack and crevice, stopped a few times to eat and my wife grabbed video snippets every few minutes; it was absolutely gorgeous out there!
After a while comes the back of the islet that is apparently a hot spot — I can only describe it as a huge, naturally-formed U. When you look at the photos (click to enlarge) you’ll see what I mean — to tell you this is the most beautiful place I have ever been would be a vast understatement. There wasn’t a single dark cloud in the sky, the water is crystal blue and completely transparent, the wind was blowing perfectly and the sound of the waves crashing against the rock makes you feel somewhat out-of-body. Hands down the most magical day of my life — and then, I did it.
There was an older gentleman out there, I don’t remember his name, who was telling us all sorts of travel stories of his own. I am not sure how he came to live on the island of Oahu — from the sounds of it, he came into some money being that Kailua is a VERY expensive area of Oahu (the entire state is ridiculously expensive, period). Anyway, he told us that he tries to paddle out to this islet at least once a week and jump off of this cliff just to remind himself that he is still alive and can still feel. From the video and photos, it doesn’t look like we were very high up, but I’m telling you we were at LEAST three stories in the air, if not more. He jumped and I got the itch — I don’t know if it was the pre-gaming amaretto talking or if I just temporarily lost my mind, but I knew we were moving off-island, soon, and if I didn’t jump then, I may never be back to jump again.
He told me there was a sweet spot — a time to jump where it was safer — otherwise, you’re looking at crashing into the reef, below. One of my ultimate fears is being close to big things when I am in a body of water. For example, I can’t swim next to pier pillars if I am in a lake or ocean… something about the thought of being near something massive that jets down into the water freaks me out. So, the idea of being in the middle of two huge chunks of lava rocks, in water that was rising about 10 feet one second and then slamming back down another 15 the next second kinda made me nervous. But, I just HAD to.
By the time I got the nerve to remove my biking shoes and have the kind man signal when it was safe for me to plunge to my death, about 10 other people had circled the final corner of the tiny lava island. Everyone was staring and comments of, “I’d never do that,” “OMG I WANNA DO THAT!” and, “Is she gonna do it…?” could be heard. Finally, I heard, “OKAY, NOW!” and I jumped — I knew if I waited even a second longer, the tide would go back down and I’d be kissing reef.
Have you ever fallen off of something and the time it took for the fall to end was juuuuust long enough for your stomach to leap, then hold and tell your mind, “What the hell are you doing?” Yeah, that’s what happened. The water was freezing, I had lost my breath and increase in speed from the time in the air shot me down so far into the water with nothing to push back up on, that I started to panic. All of this happened within 10 seconds, as the video (below) shows, but it felt like FOREVER to paranoid Me.
Would I do it again? YES!
This little tiny lava island in the middle of the ocean is, so far, my all-time favorite spot on the globe. Looking back on these photos and videos fills me with a sadness for something I only experienced for a few hours in my life — the greatest few hours I’ve ever had.
The trek back was another story — after the long hike around the islet, the jump and then coming back, the hours had passed, the tide had changed and the waves had grown. It took about twice as long to come back just because we had to wait for proper timing so as to not be swept out to sea. Once we were back to the kayak, we had to coordinate to get it into the water without flipping over from the round-about current, figure out how to get each other back in and fight the water to get away from the island. Paddling back to the beach almost pissed me off — we paddled and paddled, my arms were falling off, my wife was sunburned and the sand was getting no closer. At one point, we just quit fighting and drifted for a while to sip water, eat and watch the honu swim under our kayak. Finally, we fought our way back to shore and laid in the warm Kailua sand until the feeling came back into our limbs. Have you ever experienced an adventure with someone that was so wonderful, it made you fall in love all over again? Yeah…
Tips & Tricks & Advice
[As usual, I’ll give my little speech on cultural awareness. The island locals have experienced a cultural cleansing most of us can never understand. Should you choose to vacation to the islands, please do proper research and understand that the locals aren’t exactly thrilled with their homelands becoming international vacation destinations. Their lands have been stolen, churned up and built upon. Their islands have become too expensive for most of them to happily live in and folks from the outside don’t bother to properly learn their culture outside of a fake luau or resort excursion. Do yourself a favor — talk to the locals, learn from them and go to Hawai’i with an open heart.]
- As I always sack, pack PLENTY of healthy snacks and WATER!!! Unless you kayak for a living, it’s quite possible you will not be prepared for the physical work it takes to paddle out, explore and paddle back. BE PREPARED!
- SUNSCREEN! Just do it.
- NO GLASS and pick up after yourself!
- If you bring a camera or sunglasses or what have you, make sure you can attach it to your person or you will lose them. We watched a family lose their GoPro to a huge wave on the side of Moku Nui and one guy jumped off the cliff and lost his glasses on the way down.
- The beach before you head out gets PACKED on the weekends. Get there early or wait to do this on a week day.
- DON’T EVEN TRY to go to Moku Iki. Just don’t. Local officals take the preservation of wildlife VERY seriously — just go where you’re allowed to go and leave it alone!
- On the note of parking at the beach, be aware that most of it is very soft sand. Two rental vehicles got stuck in the sand on the busy day we went. Stay aware.
- Wear shoes that have grip — tennis shoes, as my wife wore, caused her to slip and slide often. The entire island stays really wet and the areas you’ll be climbing on stay drenched, slick and they’re sharp. You don’t want to fall on this. It’d also probably be a good idea to have clean, dry clothes waiting for you in your car. Most beaches on Oahu have bath facilities, so you’ll be able to clean up afterwards. Also, bear in mind that YES locals will shower at the public beach showers — if you see ’em with their soap, they just don’t want the sand all in their vehicles. 😉
Places to eat near Lanikai Beach
- Buzz’s Original Steak House (.7 miles from Lanikai Beach)
- Island Snow (1 mile from Lanikai beach) for some shave ice! (No… not ‘shaved’.)
- Kalapawai Cafe & Deli (1.9 miles from Lanikai beach)
- Uahi Island Grill (1.7 miles from Lanikai beach)
- Crepes No Ka ‘Oi (1.6 miles from Lanikai beach)
- Lanikai Juice (1.6 miles from Lanikai beach) for an aca’i bowl!
- Agnes Portuguese Bake Shop (1.9 miles from Lanikai beach) if you want SLAMMIN malasadas!
Other Links to Check Out
As always, Unreal Hawaii has a slammin’ photo series of the islets — as I’ve said before, we checked their site most often for travel ideas and I can’t deny their talent for story-telling.
Don’t forget to check out my 7-day photo-series following each of my blog posts on Instagram — I try to switch up the photos a bit since I have so many. I’m still getting into the swing of travel blogging, so hang in there with me!
If you read this entire thing, many thanks and I hope you come back, next week!