Where to dip your kayak in Hawaii

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Kayaking in Hawaii is a great solo or small-group activity that affords the opportunity to see marine life, waterfalls, sea caves and more.
Kayaking in Hawaii is a great solo or small-group activity that affords the opportunity to see marine life, waterfalls, sea caves and more. Photo Credit: HTA/Heather Goodman

Hawaii's "Closed" sign is up in the window as the state is turning to numerous measures to restrict and discourage nonessential travel to the Islands. Current orders are in place through at least June 30, and the pace of reopening depends on the number of coronavirus cases and deaths in the Aloha State in the coming weeks. 

Eventually, Hawaii will welcome visitors again, and travel industry surveys have already revealed activities that are likely to gain in popularity in a post-pandemic travel landscape. Covid-19 spreads more easily indoors than out, health officials have confirmed. Accordingly, outdoor activities, national and state parks, and tours that allow for plenty of personal space are likely to see a boost in popularity. 

One way to have a safe, socially distanced adventure and still get close to much of Hawaii's wonder is by kayak. In addition to the personal nature of a kayak, usually limited to one or two passengers, there are plenty of pre-Covid-19 reasons to grab a paddle and hit the water: exercise, wildlife spotting, and access to locations that cannot be reached by other modes of transport. A kayak excursion in Hawaii is likely to yield turtle, dolphin and sea bird sightings, along with stops at secluded beaches and hidden sea caves.

The summer months, when the water is generally calmer, is the best time to hit the water, especially for less experienced paddlers who might tire out battling the rockier winter waters. When Hawaii's tourism industry reopens, here are two top spots on each of the four most populated islands to test your paddling prowess: 

From Lanikai on Oahu, paddlers can reach the Mokulua Islands, a state seabird sanctuary, in roughly an hour. Once you have arrived, give your arms a rest with a break on the beach for a picnic lunch and snorkeling around the uninhabited islands. Lanikai beach access is through a residential neighborhood. Nearby Kailua has several kayak rental shops and also has beach access, but with a slightly less direct route to the islands.

Also on Oahu's windward side, Kaneohe Bay's sheltered, calm waters make for a relaxing outing on the water, and were also the filming location for several scenes from "Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides." The bay, covering more than 17 square miles, was formed when a volcano collapsed into the sea and is the site for one of the state's two barrier reefs. There are also two small islands, Mokolii and Moku o Loe (Coconut Island). 

Thanks to the archipelago's relatively young age geologically speaking, there are few rivers in Hawaii that are large enough for any significant kayaking. They are all on Kauai, and the 20-mile-long Wailua River, which weaves through lush jungle, is by far the most noteworthy. After a 2-mile paddle on the river, tour companies lead participants on a hike to 120-foot Secret Falls. Be sure to paddle through the verdant Fern Grotto, where tropical plants hang from a rock cavern.

Kauai's Napali Coast can be accessed only by hiking or by boat, and summer time tours along Kauai's northwest coast are popular for adventure seekers. Fit and ambitious paddlers with a full day to spare can make the 20-mile trek from Haena Beach Park to Polihale State Park, along the way taking in 4,000-foot-tall sea cliffs, monk seals and other sea life, waterfalls, sea caves, secret beaches and hidden valleys. Numerous tour companies offer kayak excursions of varying degrees of difficulty along the Napali Coast, and it is also possible to book kayak camping excursions for up to eight days.

Few places combine as much historical significance with startling natural beauty as Kealakekua Bay on the Island of Hawaii, which accordingly is designated as both a state historical park and marine life conservation district. The bay south of Kailua-Kona on the island's leeward coast developed into a major harbor and trading post for the Hawaiian kingdom and later was the site of Captain James Cook's demise. The bay is also a top snorkeling spot on the island with a bounty of sea life including dolphins, rays and turtles.

Just north of Kealakekua is Keauhou Bay, another great place to put into the water that is known as the birthplace of Hawaii's King Kamehameha III. There is a public parking area with showers and restrooms at the end of the bay access road, and the sheltered area boasts gentle waters that welcome the most novice of kayakers. From the bay, paddlers can proceed south along the coast to check out sea caves and rocky cliffs. Some outfitters also operate nighttime kayak excursions in Keauhou Bay where participants also get to snorkel with manta rays.  

Maui's Maluaka Beach south of Wailea is such a well-known place for spotting Hawaiian green sea turtles that it is often referred to as Turtle Beach. The area, which has a public parking lot, is an ideal spot for snorkeling and kayaking. On Maluaka Beach the best place to look for turtles is at the southern end, where the coral reef begins.   

Part of the Mokuleia Marine Life Conservation District, Honolua Bay on Maui's northern coast is a popular snorkeling and surfing spot with a large coral reef housing a bounty of colorful marine creatures. As a protected area the pristine waters make spotting sea life from the kayak a breeze. This tends to be a seasonal spot, with surfers flocking to the bay in the winter, and kayakers preferring the calmer summer months.

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