As you head up to the North Shore of Oahu on the Windward Side of the island, you will come to one of Hawaii’s most iconic landmarks. The little ‘sorting hat’ shaped island offshore from Kualoa Ranch has one of the least politically correct names in the U.S.A – Chinaman’s Hat. Okay, it’s not that bad and truth be told, there is a valid reason for the name.
The Windward Side of Oahu was heavily settled by Chinese immigrants who came to work in the sugar cane industry but then chose to stay and start their own farms. When the Chinese arrived, the island had a different name, but the locals who were already in place, noticed right away that their little island looked an awful lot like the wide conical sun hats the Chinese brought with them.
Rather than starting to call the hats ‘Mokoli’i hats’ – which may have happened at some point – the locals instead started referring to Mokoli’i as Chinaman’s Hat. There are some lovely stories and plenty of artwork that show a giant Chinese farmer living under the hat – with big catfish like Fu Manchu whiskers.
The Hawaiian name for the island, Mokoli’i, means little lizard. There are some great folktales about it as well. My favorite of them has the sister of Madam Pele, being harassed by the lizard, who fell in love with her and wouldn’t leave her alone. Unable to get her suitor to leave her alone, she killed him and then picked him up and threw him up to Kualoa where he landed. His head and back are formed by the Kualoa Mountain and the tail falls into the water where just the tip of it pokes out.
Chinaman’s Hat is a popular destination for pictures. The water is nice but there is a lot of reef and coral and not much sand. Visiting the island is best done by kayak but it can be swam or snorkeled to. One word of caution if you plan to do that – this is a tiger shark breeding area – so pay attention to the signs and conditions.
Once you reach the island, there is a short 20 minute hike that will take you to the tip of the hat.