Islands in Honolulu County
The Hawaiian Islands are often known by their eight main islands – O‘ahu, Kaua‘i, Hawai‘i (Big Island), Maui, Moloka‘i, Lana‘i, Ni‘ihau, and Kaho‘olawe – but the state of Hawaii officially recognizes 137 islands, most of which are uninhabited.
The City and County of Honolulu includes Hawaii’s third largest and most populated island, Oahu, as well as 63 other islands. As you adventure around the island of Oahu, you will site various islands offshore, many which have a historical significance.
Mokuoloe (Coconut Island)
Also known as Coconut Island, this 28-acre island in Kaneohe Bay houses a marine research facility of the University of Hawaii’s Institute of Marine Biology. The island may look familiar, as it was used for the opening of the popular TV show Gilligan’s Island.
In the 1930s, Chris Holmes II, an heir to the Fleischmann yeast fortune, doubled the size of the island with coral, sand, and landfill. He then built a mansion and homes for his many dogs, birds, and fish. During World War II, the island was converted to a rest and relaxation station for Navy pilots. And in 1946, a group of Los Angeles businessmen, including Edwin W. Pauley, bought the island from Holmes, building the exclusive Coconut Island Hotel which could accommodate up to 32 special guests. In 1995, Pauley’s Foundation granted money to the University of Hawaii Foundation to purchase the entire island and build laboratories.
Poka ‘Ailana (Ford Island)
More commonly known as Ford Island, this islet is in the center of Pearl Harbor and consists of 441 acres, more than 100 of which are manmade. This island has been featured in the films Tora! Tora! Tora! and Pearl Harbor and also houses the famous historical tourist destinations, the USS Arizona memorial and the USS Missouri museum.
Ancient Hawaiians once came to Ford Island to find fertility, but this practice was stopped by the Christian missionaries in the 1830s. During this time, Ford Island was given to Kamehameha I and then Kamehameha I’s confidant Francisco de Paula Marin and later returned to the monarchy. The island was then auctioned and sold, eventually becoming the property of Dr. Seth Porter Ford, after whom the island is named. After Ford’s death, the island was transformed into a sugarcane plantation, and by 1939, the island was taken over by the U.S. Navy as a station for battleship and submarine maintenance, which remains to this day.
Photo Credit: Marshman, under Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported license
Located off Kailua Bay, this islet is a State Bird Sanctuary containing many types of birds. Comprised of barren, jagged rocks without any vegetation, the highest of the three connected peaks is about twenty-five feet above sea level. Access to this island requires a permit, and local residents often call this island “Birdshit” because of its heavy black coating of bird droppings.
Manana Island (Rabbit Island)
Commonly referred to as Rabbit Island because of its resemblance to a rabbit, this island also once housed Waimanalo plantation owner, John Adams Cummins’ rabbit colony. Once the rabbits were eradicated in the 1980s, it again returned to an important seabird breeding area. Today, Manana Island is a State Seabird Sanctuary with thousands of wedge-tailed shearwaters, sooty terns, and even some Hawaiian monk seals.
Photo Credit: Forest & Kim Starr, under Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported license
Moku Manu (Bird Island)
Neighboring Manana, “Bird Island” is located about a mile offshore of the Mokapu Peninsula in Waimanalo. Its highest point is 202 feet and has near-vertical cliffs on nearly every side. This island is designated a Hawaii State Seabird Sanctuary and nearly a dozen seabirds nest on Moku Manu.
Mokoli‘i (Chinaman's Hat)
Chinaman’s Hat is an iconic island in Kaneohe Bay near Kualoa Ranch. This 12.5-acre islet resembles the Asia conical hat. But Mokoli‘i actually translates to “little lizard” in Hawaiian, alluding to the myth that the ocean goddess Hi‘iaka chopped up a dragon’s tail with the remains being the island.
Mokoli‘i was privately owned until 1970. Today it is owned by the City and County of Honolulu and even has a 20-minute hike to the top. It can be accessed by kayak, boat, surfboard, or by wading during low tide. We recommend visiting during sunrise - there's nothing like.
Mokuauia (Goat Island)
Goat Island is located off Laie Bay near the Malaekahana State Recreation Area. Its 13 acres have three beaches, which are publicly accessed by walking 720 feet offshore on the shallow limestone reef. The island is also designated as a State Seabird Sanctuary, and it is a breeding ground for thousands of wedge-tailed shearwaters. Among other species that live on the island are black rats, fire ants, and big-headed ants, and despite numerous attempts at eradication, black rats still remain.
Na Mokulua (The Mokes)
Na Mokulua means “the two islands” in Hawaiian, which describe the two islets about one mile offshore from the Lanikai neighborhood in Kailua. Commonly known as “The Mokes” or the “Twin Islands,” these famously photographed islands are also home to tiger sharks and kayak tours. The larger island is called Moku Nui, and the smaller one is called Moku Iki. Both of them are part of the Hawaii State Seabird Sanctuary, like many of the smaller uninhabited Hawaii islands.
Popoia Island (Flat Island)
Gaze out to the sea from Kailua Beach Park, and you will witness many windsurfers and kite surfers enjoying the ideal conditions off the coast of Popoia Island or Flat Island. This four-acre island is only a quarter mile from the beach park, and it offers a small strip of sand as a nice resting spot.
Popoia Island was once a Hawaiian fishing shrine, where ancient Hawaiians would offer fish in hopes of catching the big one. The shrine is no longer on the island, but it is now a State Seabird Sanctuary, providing a home in its sink holes for thousands of wedge-tailed shearwater seabirds.
Photo Credit: Bob Linsdell, under Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported license
Sand Island (formerly known as Quarantine Island)
Formerly known as Quarantine Island, this 500-acre island at the entrance to Honolulu Harbor has a storied history. It was once used to carry contagious passengers from ships and was later used during World War II as an Army internment camp for Japanese Americans as well as Germans and Italians. During the 1970s, hundreds of homeless native Hawaiians cleaned the island, later building homes and living there. In the early 1980s, the state reclaimed the island, evicting the inhabitants.
Today, Sand Island is home to the Honouliuli National Monument, a memorial site where the internment camp for the Japanese Americans was once housed. There are picnic, camping, fishing, and walking areas in the Sand Island State Park as well as a few athletic fields.