The Mokulua Islands, or "the Mokes" as they are affectionately called by locals, are a pair of islets just off the coast of eastern O'ahu. Located off the shore from the town of Kailua, the Mokes are what makes Lanikai Beach such a phenomenal and unique destination. The left islet, Moku Nui, has a large white sandy beach that tourists and locals paddle or boat out to looking for their own tropical paradise. Lanikai Beach has been rated "best in the world" by Conde Nast magazine on multiple occasions over the past few decades. It is the iconic twin islands just off the coast that really set Lanikai apart from the competition. There is no need to simply admire them from a distance though; with all the kayak rentals in town, it's not as hard as you think to get out and enjoy them first hand.
Sitting only three-quarters of a mile from shore, it is a common sight to see flotillas of kayaks heading out to the island on any day with decent weather. Longboarders, stand-up paddleboarders and a ton of various sized outrigger canoes make up the remaining pieces of the water traffic. Depending on the tides and your launch location you will need to look out for some coral heads, but overall the navigation isn't too difficult. The water usually has pretty good visibility, and you might see papio, weke, o'io, or everyone's favorite honu on your journey out. Once you reach the shore of the left islet you'll need to be careful when making your final approach; opposing waves that wrap around the islet meet at this spot and can create some pretty funny or painful landings for anyone not used to it. The beach itself doesn't have rocks, but there is a very rocky area just offshore, so watch your step. Time your approach and paddle all the way up onto the beach so you don't have to exit the kayak early or deal with the shorebreak.
Once on the island it is time to take a look around at the tropical paradise you just stumbled upon. Looking back to Lanikai you are greeted by the natural wonders of the Ko'olau Range. It stands like a curtain made of vertical stone, and every square inch is covered in jungle. To the southeast sits the other islet just a few hundred yards away getting pounded by surf on its rugged shoreline. It is about this time that you realize that you started out on an island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean and then paddled out to a smaller island further out into the Pacific. The islets are covered with nesting seabirds and seagrass, while Rabbit Island, Moku Iki and O'ahu sit in the distance, a serene and otherworldly location indeed.
There is a ton to do once you get settled and drag your craft high onto shore. Wraparound's (Wrap's) is a surf break that hugs up alongside the left shore of the left islet, and there are breaks between the two islets as well at Dogbowls and Catbowls. The way the waves collide in front of the beach on Moku Nui make for some fun kayak/canoe surfing. There is a beautiful and often intimidating cove around the backside where you can jump off rocks into the surging sea. If you didn't grow up barefoot walking around on old lava rock, you'll want to bring some footwear. You can fish, snorkel, pick opihi or even paddle around the islets to get a taste of the deep blue sea that drops off just beyond the Mokes. If it's humpback whale season (winter), you could actually see some whales breaching not all that far away. Keep in mind that spotting a tiger shark, while rare, is a slight possibility in these waters, but that's more of a concern for surfers and stand-up paddleboarders than kayakers. .
The Mokes are one of the coolest places to check out on all of Hawaii. It is rare to be able to have an experience like this without having to leave the U.S. There are not many other places that you can step foot on an offshore islets, and even less with nice beaches, surf breaks, and cliff diving and a relatively short paddle. With that being said, rescue missions by Coast Guard helicopters and boats are not as rare as you would hope. Drownings, concussions, cuts and gashes, heat stroke, dehydration, serious sunburns, and every possible form of water-related accident has occurred here. People get swept off rocks by waves, they get whacked by them while trying to land on shore in their kayaks, or they cut their foot open on a piece of coral. The ocean doesn't care where you're from, and she'll get you if you turn your back to her. Bring lots of water, sunscreen, sunglasses, a snack, a hat, and even a long sleeve shirt or rash guard. The days go longer than expected out here because of the all the fun you are having, and when you are finally ready to leave, you still need to paddle back. There are no trees for shelter, so too much sun exposure is the most common mistake made here.
Local tip for launching: Use the beach access at Lanipo Street and park on Lanipo, not on Mokulua Drive. This is the closest and most direct route, and it will keep you from getting towed if you are doing things on your own. If you are renting a kayak, you will be launching further north into town and will have a much longer paddle. Check the weather before you go, as well. A little rain is common and welcome, but watch out for large storms and high surf days. Both islets are bird sanctuaries, but the islet on the right, Moku Iki, is kapu (forbidden), so don't even bother heading over there. While nobody is allowed to hike inland even on Moku Nui, the shoreline and beach is open to all. There are many different places to rent kayaks very close to Kailua Beach Park and Kalapawai Market, so finding a vessel should not be a problem. Just like with any ocean based adventure, there is some extra planning and effort involved to be safe, but the journey is well worth it.