Kayaking in Hawaii: Which Island is Right for You?

Kayaking in Hawaii

Known for its volcanic terrain, tropical climate, and unique wildlife, Hawaii is a popular destination for travelers. With its 750 miles of coastline surrounded by crystal clear waters, it’s no surprise that the group of islands making up the state contains extraordinary kayaking opportunities.


Often referred to as “The Big Island,” Hawaii is the largest in the chain. For visitors to the island, kayaking tours are the way to go. The tour operators typically do all the hard work for you, taking care of all of the permits and park fees you’ll need, in addition to providing snacks and all necessary equipment.

Kayaks provided will generally be open-deck, and depending on the operation, may either be single or tandem. Many of the kayaking tours also include snorkeling.

While the entire island contains remarkable attractions, guided kayaking is primarily done along the western coast. At Kealakekua Bay you can see the historic Captain Cook Monument, commemorating the Englishman who discovered the islands. A bit further south is Keauhou Bay, the birthplace of King Kamehameha III, a notable monarch of the 1800s.

In the evenings, kayaking tour companies offer a unique opportunity to observe one of nature’s gentle giants, the manta ray. After paddling out, your guide will instruct you on snorkeling and using a flashlight to attract plankton, on which the manta will come to feed!


From December through May, humpback whales migrate down from their Alaskan summer home to spend their winters residing in the warm Hawaiian waters. While whale watching excursions are popular on all islands, Maui’s sheltered waters are a preferred location for the humpbacks, making Maui the leading destination for observing these majestic creatures.

Local kayaking companies have experience in the whales’ patterns and offer tours that safely guide kayakers to see the whales.

Makena, Wailea, Olowalu, Lahaina, and Wailuku are just a few of the great spots for kayaking. Excursions on Maui generally vary in difficulty, so depending on your party and experience level, you will either want to look for a beginner or more advanced trip.


Home to Honolulu, Waikiki, and the archipelago’s primary airport, Oahu is known as “The Gathering Place,” and is the most populous of the Hawaiian Islands. In between watching hula and noshing on spam, you can take to the waters on one of the island’s many kayaking activities.

The options here are more varied than on some of the other islands. While many guided tours are still available, Oahu also features a variety of kayak rentals as well as kayak fishing trips!


As the oldest, wettest, and northernmost of Hawaii’s main islands, the island of Kauai also boasts extraordinary kayaking! Kauai’s heavy rainfall is not only responsible for sculpting canyons but also for creating large rivers.

Both the Hanalei River in the north and the Waimea River in the west contain waters that are ideal for paddling. As you meander along you’ll see stunning views of cliffs, waterfalls, and jungle.

Posted by
Arthur G. Moore

Arthur G. Moore is a veteran paddler. He has over 10 years of whitewater kayaking experience in his kitty. When he was young, he used to love kayaking in rapid III and rapid IV but as time went on, he decided to concentrate mainly on covering long distances on a standard touring kayak. He is currently working as a senior editor for Kayak Manual.

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