Top Places to Kayak in Hawaii

Kayaking Adventures in Hawaii

Best Spots to Kayak in Hawaii

Ahh, Hawaii– home of volcanic islands, sandy beaches, and surfing. Or at least that's what you come to expect when traveling Hawaii. However, there is another watersport besides surfing that you should consider when exploring Hawaii... kayaking.

Kayaking is easily the best way to explore the water and– luckily for you– Hawaii can be quite the treat to paddle. Below you'll find some of the most popular kayaking spots in Hawaii, as well as some of the more underrated ones.

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Kaneohe Bay- Oahu

Kaneohe Bay- Oahu 

The island of Oahu is known for its fantastic beaches and Kaneohe Bay is no exception. One of the Hawaii's calmer areas to paddle a kayak, Kaneohe Bay is a great place for beginners. Its sheltered bay allows you to casually paddle in calm conditions while admiring the beautiful scenery. Kaneohe Bay is approximately 8 miles long with a maximum depth of around 40 feet, which is great if you are using a sit-on-top kayak and want to snorkel the waters.

One of the highlights of Kaneohe Bay is the two barrier reefs located in the archipelago and another barrier reef located close to Molokai island. Some of the most common fish include parrotfish, hammerhead sharks, as well as large schools of aku and mahimahi. If this area looks familiar to you, you are probably a fan of Gilligan’s Island or Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides. The opening sequence of Gilligan's Island was filmed off of Coconut Island while the latter was filmed in the bay in 2010.  

Honolua Bay- Maui

Honolua Bay- Maui

Honolua Bay is known as a popular surfing and snorkeling spot but it is also the perfect place to kayak in Hawaii. Honolua Bay is part of the Mokuleia Marine Life Conservation District; meaning that its waters are protected. This gives you the best chance to enjoy some of the area sea life, including some rather large coral reefs.

As with Kaneohe Bay, it is best to rent or bring a sit-on-top kayak so that you can snorkel and explore some of the sea life. A note of caution, however; kayak rentals only take place in the summer months because in the winter the waves get rather gnarly. The bay is cleaned regularly so you can see a diverse coral ecosystem. Expect to spot sea turtles, butterfly fish, boxfish, surgeonfish, as well as barracuda from time to time. 

And while paddling on your own is certainly fun, take your adventure to the next level by exploring with expert guides with an intimate knowledge of Maui's waters. Check out Maui Kayak Adventures and kayak with their Certified Marine Naturalist guides. Or, if you'd rather have the option of kayaking OR surfing, canoe surfing, outrigger canoeing, or even SUPing, book a tour with Hawaiian Paddle Sports. You'll surely have the best Maui kayaking or paddling experience possible! 

Our Recommended Maui Kayak & Paddling Tours 

Looking for the best places to kayak, canoe surf, or even paddle an outrigger canoe? Wondering where to spot Hawaiian green sea turtles? How about the best time to enjoy a humpback whale watching kayak adventure? Let an expert guide lead the way for an unforgettable Hawaiian paddling adventure. 

Wailua River- Kauai

Wailua River- Kauai 

Many people associate Hawaii with ocean kayaking only; but if you're up for some river kayaking we've got the ideal spot: Kauai's Wailua River. The Wailua River is 20 miles long and can flow very gently, making it a lovely spot for kayaking in Kauai.

Expect to see a variety of different water vessels come through, including boats, paddle boards, and canoes. While paddling, you will notice that the Wailua River flows by two waterfalls: Wailua Falls and Opaekaa Falls. Wailua Falls is one of the top romantic destinations in Hawaii and is also a popular wedding venue. You will also notice the Nounou Mountain (Sleeping Giant) which looks like a person lying on its back. Other points of interest include a bird refuge, the Kamokila Hawaiian Village, Secret Falls (Uluwehi Falls), and a pool with a rope swing included for those wanting to go for a dip.

NaPali Coast- Kauai

NaPali Coast- Kauai 

The cliffs along famed NaPali Coast are a Kauai must-see for any true adventurer. For paddlers that have a bit more experience in rougher sea conditions, the NaPali Coast has everything that you could hope for with an intimate paddle in nature. What makes this location even more special is that it is not accessible by road so you are forced to ditch the automobile and travel like nature intended; which is either by foot or paddling.

A common paddling route among kayakers is to go from Haena Beach Park and Polihale State Park. The duration is 20 miles and usually requires full a day, depending on ocean conditions. Some of the things you will see include the NaPali coastline cliffs which are over 4,000 feet tall and feature stunning lush green valleys, sea caves, and waterfalls. The NaPali Coast is also home to wildlife including bottlenose dolphins, striped dolphins, and pilot whales. If you are particularly lucky, you may spot a pod of killer whales, sperm whales, or even the largest animal to ever live, the blue whale. Many of these whales are usually found further away offshore, though.

Mokulua Islands- Oahu

Mokulua Islands- Oahu

Another destination best suited for more experienced paddlers is the Mokulua Islands, the twin islands located offshore of Lanikai Beach. Commonly referred to as The Mokes or the Twin Islands, the Mokulua Islands look like two smaller mountains that just stick out of the ocean. The best way to get to them is – you guessed it – by kayak!

You can rent kayaks for the day at Kailua beach and paddle for over an hour before you get to the islands. It can feel like quite the treacherous journey to get there but once you arrive you'll be rewarded with nice small sandy beach and unique tidal pools with cliffs. If you are a seabird enthusiast you will particularly want to make the journey, as this area is a Hawaii state seabird sanctuary. Going onto the islands is illegal, however; so it is best to just paddle and enjoy the wildlife from a safe distance so that you do not disturb the seabirds.

Hawaii is a superb destination for kayakers of all skill levels and these destinations represent just a small sample of amazing kayak destinations in the Aloha State. Before jumping into any kayak adventure, make sure to familiarize yourself with local conditions, laws, and wildlife to ensure that you have a safe and fun kayaking excursion.

Derek Lenze
About the Author

Derek Lenze

Derek is an avid kayaker and paddle boarder who likes to explore the waterways of Vancouver, British Columbia as well as other exotic locations like the Hawaiian Islands. When he is not on the water, he is contributing to his website Some of his other interests include business, ice hockey, and motorsports.

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