Guide to Kayaking on the Hawaiian Islands

Hawaii – home of beautiful volcano islands, incredible wildlife, and tropical beaches. Is there a better way to see all of these things and more than through a kayaking adventure around the islands? Kayaking is the easiest way to see the beautiful Pacific Ocean, especially if you aren’t keen on surfing or diving. Hawaii has an incredible number of kayaking spots which will blow your mind. Read on for a comprehensive guide of kayaking Hawaii.


When just beginning to plan your Hawaiian kayaking adventure, you’ll begin with exploring where you can go. Lucky for you, all of the islands you’ll visit have fantastic kayaking available. 

If you want to see where these places are located on a map, check out our collection of maps of the Hawaiian Islands.

Kaneohe Bay – Oahu

Kaneohe Bay is a fantastic way to start your Hawaiian kayaking fun. It’s a calm area which makes it perfect for beginners. It’s a sheltered bay so you can paddle along gently enjoying the views. Many people bring along snorkeling gear to get a closer look at marine life. The most common fish you may see are parrotfish and mahi mahi, as well as hammerhead sharks which are known to breed there. You can see the landmark Mokoli’i which is a 200 ft high island in the middle of the bay, as well as the famous sandbar, which appears during low tide. If you’re planning to visit the sandbar (which you should), then be sure to bring some sun protection and prepare to get wet. The water is between waist to ankle deep depending on the tides, and there’s no shade.

The Napali Coast – Kauai

This is one of the most beautiful places you’ll ever see on a kayak. The famous cliffs of the Napali Coast are a must see, but this is a serious paddle. You definitely need experience in ocean kayaking before attempting this route. The conditions can be a little rough and you’ll need to carry your kayak to the beach. Most people choose to either start from Haena Beach Park or Polihale State Park, and then continue for a 10 to 20 mile trip around Napali which usually takes up the day. This is an intimate and unspoiled paddle, with there being no way to see this part of Hawaii except by boat or by plane. The coastline is truly one of the most beautiful things you can see on the Earth, with cliffs soaring over 4000 feet high. Bottlenose dolphins, pilot whales, and striped dolphins frequent the area, but if you’re lucky you can see killer whales, sperm whales, or blue whales. 

Wailua River – Kauai

A perfect beginner kayaking trip, the Wailua River is a calm stream winding its way through Kauai, with no rapids and many scenic waterfalls on the way. This is a very relaxing experience, where you kayak through gentle river water in tropical paradise. The river     is the home to many native Hawaiian temples, which you can visit on your trip. Not only that, but you can get out of your kayak, and take small hikes to get good views of the waterfalls fed by the Wailua river. It’s a great trip if you want to see more of the inland, with good views of trees, birds, and the landscapes of Kauai’s interior.

Honolua Bay – Maui

Honolua Bay is well known for being a great spot for snorkelling and watching marine wildlife, so if you decide to paddle here, don’t forget your snorkelling gear. The video above shows the marine life that you’ll be able to see if you snorkel. There’s great coral reefs filled with fish and sea turtles. Expect to see butterfly fish, boxfish, surgeonfish, barracuda. Fishing is prohibited so you’re guaranteed to get a good show from the animals. In the winter months, the north swell can make this bay quite choppy. Other than that, since it’s a bay, the water is usually calm and visibility good. 

Kealakekua Bay – Hawaii 

This is a fantastic bay known for great snorkelling and kayaking, as well as being the historic site where Captain Cook was killed by native Hawaiians. Surprisingly, all of the land around the bay is British soil and the British Navy maintains a white obelisk commemorating the event there. Unfortunately, to kayak here you’ll need a permit, which means it’s far easier to take a kayaking tour group trip instead of going alone. The snorkelling is some of the best on the Hawaiian islands with fantastic visibility of a healthy coral reef and tons of animals.

Kaumalapau Harbor – Lanai

Forest and Kim Starr, CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons

Starting from the working Kaumalapau Harbor and paddling around 2 and a half miles north, you can go on a fantastic kayaking trip to Nanahoa, which are sea stacks. The snorkelling around this area is quite good. 

Mokulua Islands – Oahu

The Mokulua Islands are two small islands off of Oahu’s windward side near Kailua beach. They are both seabird sanctuaries which makes them great for bird lovers. You can even visit the beach of the larger island, Moko Nui, although the interior of the island, as well as the smaller island Moko Iki are off limits to protect the wildlife. Be aware though, that if the conditions aren’t perfect, this trip may be difficult. There can be some heavy currents, as well as strong winds. This isn’t a great paddle for a beginner, but if you do decide on this location, you’ll be rewarded with a perfect view of Kailua beach. Sea turtles and crabs are a common sight, as well as whales in the colder months. There are interesting lava formations, as well as coral near the islands which are nice to see. 

What to bring

Assuming that you’re going to be renting a kayak, you don’t need to worry about bringing specific gear like a paddle or life jacket. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t come prepared though! Definitely bring a GPS, as well as a map and compass if you know how to read them. If you bring a phone, make sure to put it into a dry bag, or some waterproof case. Don’t rely on your phone for wayfinding, especially since it’s susceptible to moisture. Sunscreen, sunglasses, and a hat are essential, since there’ll be no shade on the open ocean. Plan for getting wet. It’s almost impossible to kayak and stay dry, so wear clothes that are comfortable and functional when wet.

Make sure you bring water and snacks. Bringing enough water shouldn’t be a concern for a day trip, since you won’t need to carry it unlike hiking. 2 Liters of water is a good amount for a day on the open ocean. Snacks are important too, so you don’t have an energy crash. Bring whatever snacks you usually enjoy.

What to expect when ocean kayaking

If you’re new to ocean kayaking but have been kayaking on rivers before, the transition is easy. Just make sure you’re starting off by kayaking in a bay, where the waves and currents are calmer.

On the other hand, if you’re new to kayaking in general, start with the Wailua River trip. It’s a great way to learn how to kayak and get more comfortable. 

Before you go ocean kayaking, make sure you’re comfortable with maneuvering your kayak, as well as getting in and out of the kayak from the water. This is especially useful for when you want to go snorkelling from the kayak.

Be sure to check the weather and make sure that you dress appropriately. Plan for being in the water! If it’s cold, bring a wetsuit. Choose a different activity if a storm is forecast.

Kayak types

You can usually rent either a tandem or a single. Tandem kayaks have room for two, and rarely three people. If you decide to take a tandem out on the water, be aware that they have different characteristics than a single. On a tandem kayak, you’ll need to be aware of your partner’s paddling tempo, as well as making sure you stay balanced. On the other hand, a tandem kayak offers greater speeds, as well as a chance to pair up with someone else for a great social activity. 

Kayak rental & tour companies


Kailua Beach Adventures


Adventure Lanai Island Club


Napali Kayak

Wailua Kayak Adventure


Maui Kayaks


Ehu And Kai


For a single kayak all day rental you can expect to pay between $45 and $70.

For a tandem kayak all day rental you can expect to pay between $65 and $85.

Tours can range from $80 to $250, depending on the length of the tour and the popularity of the location you’ll be going to.

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