Ahu o Laka: The Kane’ohe Sandbar!
The famous Kane’ohe Sandbar, aka Ahu o Laka, aka the Sunken Island is an absolute must-see gem of windward Oahu! Just shy of a mile and a half directly offshore from our location at He’eia State Park, it is very accessible by kayak, but the difficulty level of paddling out to the sandbar varies from day to day based on wind and current. On most days it is a very reasonable destination for most people, although on windier days that distance may not be suitable for all experience and ability levels.
By far the most frequently asked question we get is “how long will it take us to paddle to the sandbar?” And the answer is we can never answer that question. We can tell you the distance, and we will give you a very clear briefing on the conditions before you launch. But every day is different in terms of wind, current, and weather conditions that will affect how long it will take, and everybody is different in terms of experience and ability level. It’s best to time yourself going out so you can know how long it is taking, and always make sure to stay within your ability and comfort level to be able to make it back to where you launched from in the right amount of time.
Most of the time the sandbar is just barely submerged beneath the surface, the shallowest areas anywhere from ankle-waist deep, depending on the tide. You can always kayak there and get out in a shallow, sandy area. Renting an anchor is recommended so you can anchor in the sand if there is not a dry beach. Then you can swim, snorkel, and just bask in the calm, protected waters and unforgettable views.
Only during very extreme low tides does the sandbar becomes a completely dry beach over a mile out in the ocean! These extreme tides coincide with full and new moons. They vary throughout the year, and the time of day they occur changes seasonally. We can help you determine the wind and tide forecast and pick the best time to get out there and experience the world-famous sandbar for yourself!
While the Kane’ohe Bay Sandbar is certainly the most popular and famous kayaking destination in the bay, it will not be the best place to snorkel. The sandbar is a massive area, over a mile long and almost half a mile across. It is mostly very shallow, and mostly sandy bottom. You can certainly snorkel at the sandbar. But if there is no coral reef present and you’re snorkeling in a shallow sandy area, you will most likely see less marine life than you would snorkeling at the edge of the other patch reefs where there is more living coral. There will also undoubtedly be more boats and people at the sandbar than anywhere else in the bay.
The sandbar’s Hawaiian name, “Ahu o Laka” translates as “Altar of Laka”, Laka being a voyager of Hawaiian mythology who was said to have come from Maui but eventually sailed to Oahu and settled in the modern day ahupua’a (land division) known as Waikane, which is just north of Kane’ohe, and still on the coastline of Kane’ohe Bay, facing the sandbar. Did you know: the Hawaiian name of Kane’ohe Bay is actually “Ka waha o ka mano”, which translates as “the mouth of the shark”! The trade winds of Kane’ohe are called “mololani”, and the rains of Kane’ohe are called “apuakea.”