Kayaking to Oahu’s Sunken Island

Because I’m a glutton for punishment even when on vacation (or maybe especially when on vacation?), we followed up our morning of surfing with an afternoon of kayaking. I may rarely do any sort of upper body workout, but when I do decide to give my biceps a work out, I go whole hog. Luckily, the kayaking we had planned was in an easygoing bay on Oahu’s eastern shore (and not, say, in the whitecaps of Lake Malawi).

After joining the ranks of surfing fans all over the world, we met up with my parents back at our hotel and headed to Go Bananas to pick up two tandem kayaks. The excellent staff at Go Bananas got us all set up, gave us some useful pointers and tips, and sent us off to Kane’ohe Bay for our trip to Oahu’s sunken island.

Though I’d been to Hawaii before, I’d never heard of the sunken island, and Jeff, who grew up on Oahu, was not familiar with it either, so I wasn’t sure exactly what to expect. And of course, considering our destination was sunken, we couldn’t actually see it from the beach just north of He’eia State Park where we launched our kayaks. But what we could see were a whole lot of boats seemingly anchored in the middle of nowhere and what appeared to be a crowd of people walking on water.

We pointed our kayaks in their direction and paddled out on what turned out to a be a very relaxing one-mile trip. The water was clear, calm, and a brilliant blue color. The lush green mountains and dramatic cliffs of Oahu’s east shore framed the view to our right. Chinaman’s Hat rose in front of us. And to our left, a few rocky islands dotted the ocean. Because the sunken island is essentially a sandy fringe reef over 1,000 acres in size (that was, over 12,000 years ago, part of Oahu), the waves break out at reef’s edge, and the water in the bay is smooth as glass.

As we approached the sunken island, the deep water suddenly became shallow, so much so that our kayak quickly became stuck in the sand and we were forced to abandon ship. The water was, at its deepest, up to my knees, though in some spots it was only a few inches deep and in other spots, dry patches of sand emerged.

Motor boats ringed the reef, anchoring in the last bits of deep water before the reef presented itself, and, seeing that it was a Saturday, large groups of locals were hanging out. They had brought with them gazebos, lawn chairs, yard games, and even grills and were essentially hosting barbecues out on a sandy sunken reef one mile from shore. It was surreal but definitely the coolest (both literally and figuratively) way to host a cookout on Oahu.

After anchoring our kayaks by sticking our paddles down into the sand, we wandered around and explored this unusual piece of Oahu. Though primarily sandy, the reef does have some coral outcroppings that are home to small fish and anemones, so we were able to do a bit of snorkeling before just sinking down and relaxing in the water. Next time, I think I’ll bring my barbecue.

*Thanks to the calm waters and the easy paddling, Kane’ohe Bay and the sunken island is a great paddling destination for families and novice kayakers. For their equipment, prices, and friendly staff, I highly recommend Go Bananas for kayak rentals and gear.

3 thoughts on “Kayaking to Oahu’s Sunken Island”

  1. Theresa, What great and fun pictures. I really enjoyed your last post about surfing, too. I’ve missed running in to you all, but know after a lot of travels, there’s lots of stuff to catch up with at home. When things get settled down, let us know when we can get together. I think the last we discussed, we talked about dinner together. Not a rush, though. I have a kitchen towel to return to you all – so if nothing else, I can stop over soon and just say hello. Until then, I’ll look forward to more great pictures and Hawaii updates. You all are so much fun!! –amanda

  2. That does look a bit weird seeing these boats and people standing in the middle of the ocean. Never heard of the Sunken Island before, sounds like a nice trip to make.

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