Trade in your flip-flops for hiking books to explore Oahu off the beaten path, from an isolated bird sanctuary to a botanical splendor.
The watery trek to tiny Mokuauia was adventure enough, even without knowing the bloody mythology behind the island’s beginnings.
Had we been wise to the heroic antics of the Hawaiian demigod Kana, we might have made an offering for safe crossing across the surf.
Instead, we strapped on our backpacks and stepped fearlessly into the Pacific for a low-tide excursion toward the rocky outcrop 400 yards offshore, in Laie Bay on the Windward Coast of Oahu.
I had come to Hawaii with my friend, Chris, on an eight-day trip to explore the many wonders of Oahu — the island known as a surfing mecca, the home of Honolulu and Pearl Harbor, and celebrated more recently as the birthplace of President Obama.
After spending two days frolicking in the cosmopolitan glow of Waikiki, we packed up our flip-flops and started hiking, hoping to dig deep into the wilds of Oahu without the tourist crowds.
That’s how we found ourselves pushing against gentle waves and teetering along the rocky bottom on the passage to Mokuauia.
It was a different sort of hike, which is what caught our fancy. At its deepest, the channel was about thigh-high, and it took about 15 minutes to cross.
In a show of melodrama, Chris dropped to his knees and kissed the sandy beach after we sloshed ashore. A couple we passed on the way out had wisely brought a bamboo pole for balance during the tricky walk.
Mokuauia’s more common name is Goat Island, an apparent reference to the animals that once grazed there. But others say it comes from the island’s shape. These days, burrowing seabirds are the main inhabitants of the low-slung 13-acre islet, which is now a sanctuary.
Ropes keep foot traffic off nesting spots in the center of the island, where the population of Wedge-tailed shearwaters has swelled to more than 6,500 from just a few hundred in the 1960s. The rutted and pockmarked appearance of the island is said to have come from their work digging nests in the ground.
A footpath on the perimeter of the island leads to many wonders. Waves crashed across a rocky lava field on one side. Giant limbs of driftwood on a sandy shore provided convenient seats to view the expansive harbor on another. Ringed by a shoreline reef with beaches on two sides, the place draws surfers, snorkelers and picnickers like us to its shores.
According to Hawaiian mythology, Mokuauia and four nearby islets sprang from pieces of the severed head of a bloodthirsty giant lizard. A plaque at Laie Point spells out the legend of the evil mo’o, which had lorded over the peninsula until it was destroyed by the brave Kana, who could turn himself into a rope and stretch.
In the modern world, our biggest challenge was to avoid the riptides and strong currents at high tide, so Chris and I made sure not to dally too long even though we had the island to ourselves.
It was one of the trip’s more memorable adventures, proving that the rugged beauty of Oahu is as spellbinding when wearing a pair of hiking shoes as it is when dipping a toe into the jeweled waters from a beach chair.
We didn’t scratch the surface of Oahu’s more than 80 hiking trails. We aimed for variety — hedonic tours of botanical gardens lush with tropical flowers; the paved, treeless path at Makapuu Lighthouse; the well-worn path up Diamond Head crater; a sandy footpath at Malaekahana state park, across from Goat Island.
For tourists wishing to see Oahu from a different angle, here are a few more trails — from easy to challenging — worth exploring.
Rather than hit the well-traveled Manoa Falls Trail, our friend and longtime Oahu resident Carolynn Bell-Tuttle suggested we explore the tropical rain forest at the adjacent Lyon Arboretum.