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Kayak Routes on Oahu: The Kahana Stream

Basic Information

  • Name: Kahana River
  • Where: Ahupua’a O Kahana State Park
  • Distance: 2.2 miles
  • Time: 2 hours
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • More Information: Paddling Hawaii

Picture from Kahana Bay, Oahu

Overview

Oahu does not have many rivers that are navigable by kayak.  Of the rivers it does have the Kahana Stream is the best one to kayak up.  It provides a unique experience of paddling up a lush jungle valley  with mountain views while being able to also enjoy the ocean waves when paddling across Kahana Bay all in one kayak trip.  This variety makes this one of my favorite paddling locations on Oahu.

Kahana River Map 2

Directions

Getting to Ahupua’a O Kahana State Park is extremely easy.  From Honolulu take the H-3 over to Kaneohe and then exit at the Likelike Highway exit.  Shortly after exiting onto the Likelike Highway look for the exit on to the Kahekili Highway.  Just follow this highway until it turns into Highway 83, the Kamehameha Highway.  Stay on the Kamehameha Highway for about 30 minutes until it reaches the State Park where Kahana Bay is located.

Parking

On holiday weekends Ahupua’a O Kahana State Park can get very busy due to the amount of people camping at the beach.  This means parking can be difficult to find at the beach.  However, by driving into the State Park there is usually plenty of parking that can be found in the vicinity of the visitor center.  For kayaking on the Kahana River I recommend parking at the beach in order to have close proximity to the river to put your kayak in at.

Narrative

My latest kayaking adventure with my two young kids brought me to one of my favorite locations on the Hawaiian island of Oahu, the Kahana Valley.  The valley is part of the Ahupua’a O Kahana State Park which is located 26 miles from Honolulu in a beautiful mountain valley.  Here is a brief description of the park from its website:

An ahupuaʻa includes lands from the mountains to the sea (mauka-makai), encompassing all of the resource zones needed for subsistence. The ahupuaʻa of Kahana encompasses almost 5,300 acres, ranging from sea level at Kahana Bay to 2,670 feet at Puʻu Pauao on the crest of the Koʻolau mountains. Kahana is one of the wettest valleys on Oʻahu. Overcast skies and showers are frequent, with an average annual rainfall of 75″ along the coast to 300″ at the back of the valley. Temperatures can range from the mid-60s to the mid-80s.  [Division of State Parks]

I have previously hiked the two trails that traverse around the park, the Kapa’ele’ele Trail and the Nakoa Trail.  Both trails make for nice half day hikes.  I also stopped by before to explore the ancient Hawaiian Huilua Fishpond.  This time I was coming to the valley to paddle up the Kahana Stream.  After parking adjacent to the beach the first thing I needed to do was put together my Advanced Elements Convertible Inflatable Kayak.  It usually takes me about 15 minutes to inflate the kayak and another 5 minutes to get my gear and kids situated before being ready to go:

Picture from Kahana Bay, Oahu

From the beach I put in my kayak into the Kahana Stream by dragging it under the below highway bridge:

Picture from Kahana Bay, Oahu

On the other side of the bridge there was an inlet to safely put the kayak into the river.  From the inlet my kids and I began to paddle up the initially very wide river:

Picture from Kahana Bay, Oahu

We were lucky the day we paddled up the Kahana Stream because of how nice the weather was.  Very often this valley is cloudy and rainy.  However, we had mountains views the entire day from the river:

Picture from Kahana Bay, Oahu

After maybe a quarter mile of paddling up the river it became very narrow and overgrown with foliage.  The foliage made it difficult to paddle at times:

Picture from Kahana Bay, Oahu

While paddling through the foliage my 4-year old son spotted a very large black-crowed Night Heron:

Picture from Kahana Bay, Oahu

The bird which is an introduced species to Hawaii was about the size of a large rooster and did not seem disturbed by us paddling by at all:

Picture from Kahana Bay, Oahu

After working our way through the area covered in foliage we next came to an open grassland area where we once again had views of the surrounding mountains:

Picture from Kahana Bay, Oahu

After passing the grassy area the river once again widened and enter into an area of lush tropical vegetation:

Picture from Kahana Bay, Oahu

Some of the Hawaiian residents of the valley apparently use this area as a swimming pole based on the rope swing we saw along the river:

Picture from Kahana Bay, Oahu

As we paddled further up the river we began to run into more obstacles such as fallen trees that we had to work our way under:

Picture from Kahana Bay, Oahu

We then came to a fork in the river where the right fork was impassible due to the vegetation:

Picture from Kahana Bay, Oahu

So we took the left fork which was quite narrow but still possible for us to kayak up.  At this point in the distance we could see one of the most scenic mountains on Oahu, the pyramid shaped Pu’u Ohulehule:

Picture from Kahana Bay, Oahu

Something else we noticed on this portion of the river was that the current was much stronger and pushing us in the opposite direction if I did not keep paddling:

Picture from Kahana Bay, Oahu

We soon came to area where the Kahana River was no longer navigable by kayak due to the vegetation and a small waterfall we could see through the trees:

Picture from Kahana Bay, Oahu

This point is a little less than a mile up the Kahana River.  From here we turned the kayak around and my kids and I headed back down stream:

Picture from Kahana Bay, Oahu

With the current pushing us along we made good time getting back down the river:

Picture from Kahana Bay, Oahu

The views of the mountains continued to be outstanding:

Picture from Kahana Bay, Oahu

We soon were back near the inlet area where we began our trip:

Picture from Kahana Bay, Oahu

Instead of paddling over to the inlet we decided to follow the Kahana River to its mouth where it empties into the Pacific Ocean:

Picture from Kahana Bay, Oahu

As we paddled down the Kahana River was passed under another Kamehameha Highway bridge:

Picture from Kahana Bay, Oahu

As we paddled down this wide section of the river we could see the Pu’u Manamana mountain ridge across from us which is one of the deadliest hikes on Oahu:

Picture from Kahana Bay, Oahu

We next reached the mouth of the Kahana Stream where it empties into Kahana Bay:

Picture from Kahana Bay, Oahu

As we entered Kahana Bay we began to paddle through some small waves towards the beach where we were parked.  Behind us I could see the rock formation known locally as the Crouching Lion:

Picture from Kahana Bay, Oahu

Below is a picture that provides a closer look at the Crouching Lion where a few hikers could be seen on top of it.  I have never been able to make out a lion from that rock formation, but regardless it remains a popular hiking location:

Picture from Kahana Bay, Oahu

I soon could see the beach ahead of us near where we had parked:

Picture from Kahana Bay, Oahu

We then caught a wave and surfed it into the beach:

Picture from Kahana Bay, Oahu

While I was busy deflating and packing the kayak my kids got out their bodyboards and had fun playing in the waves:

Picture from Kahana Bay, Oahu

After packing the kayak I hung out on the beach and took pictures of the surrounding scenery.  Here is the view looking towards the north:

Picture from Kahana Bay, Oahu

Here is the view looking towards the south where the Pu’u Manamana mountain ridge could be seen:

Picture from Kahana Bay, Oahu

Here is one final panorama picture of Kahana Beach:

Picture from Kahana Bay, Oahu

Conclusion

I found the Kahana River to be a great family friendly kayak route to try out.  In total we spent two hours covering 2.2 miles on this trip.  We saw plenty of other people on the river as well, all on guided tours.  We were the only ones we saw kayaking who was not on a guided tour.  Something we noticed though was that the guided tour operators did not bring their clients as far up the river as we went.  This meant the upper river we had all to ourselves.  We had to work our way through some thick foliage and obstacles at times, but my kids enjoyed it.  The fact that Kahana Bay is a safe place for young kids to bodyboard in the waves afterwards is another nice bonus with this trip.  This all combines to make Kahana Stream one of my favorite kayak trips on Oahu.

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