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Hiking Diamond Head

Author: Jill Weinlein
Date of Trip: February 2017

When vacationing on Oahu, part of the Hawaiian Island chain, one of the most photogenic spots in Waikiki Beach is Diamond Head. The sun drums up the energy to rise above the dormant volcano and illuminate Waikiki Beach in the morning.

The Hawaiian name of this volcano is Le’ahi, because the summit resembles the forehead of an ahi fish.

On our last visit, we stayed at the Outrigger Waikiki Beach Hotel and took the hotel’s complimentary Waikiki Connection Trolley to the base of the mountain to hike to the top. It’s a good morning activity for individuals, couples and families, before the sun heats up the two mile hike inside the volcanic crater.

In the late 1700s, Western explorers and traders believed the calcite crystals on the slope of the craters were diamonds. Soon the name Diamond Head became the common name of this area.
There is a paved and dirt trail, built in 1908 as part of the U.S. Army Coastal Artillery defense system. Historically, this coastal defense area was built to defend the island of Oahu from attack, however no artillery was ever fired during a war.

For a $1 admission fee, visitors and locals (wear tennis or hiking shoes to maneuver the many rocks, steep inclines, stairs and switchbacks) walk from an elevation of 200 feet to 761 feet.

Diamond Head is a semi-arid climate. Most of the plants and animals today were introduced in the 1800s. The Kiawe (in the mesquite family) grows in the shallow soil. Near the trees are birds that include cardinals, morning doves and sparrows.

Starting up the switchback trail, the army left a concrete landing with a rusted winch and cable that was used to lift materials from the crater floor. This is a good water break area offering incredible East views of the area. Continuing along is a steep stairway, with about 74 steps leading to a narrow tunnel. This tunnel is lit dimly and about 225 feet long. After the tunnel is another stairway with 99 steps. At the top is the lowest level of a Fire Control Observation Station.

Almost at the top is a spiral three level stairway, about 52 steps. This replaced a ladder and was installed in the 1970s. Once at the top, be sure to duck, because the ceiling is quite low.

The end result is worth all the exercise with sweeping coastal views of the seven beaches along Waikiki and the Diamond Head lighthouse, built in 1917 as a visual aid for navigation. The views of beautiful reefs along the southeastern shore towards Koko Head are awe inspiring.

Along the crater rim is a Bunker built in 1915.This area is now closed, however a few visitors ignore the sign and climb over the metal fence for photo opportunities.

Walking back down can be slippery at times, so take your time. Be sure to wear a hat, sunscreen and bring at least one bottle of water. The area opens at 6 a.m. for sunrise hikes and the last time to start a hike is at 4:30 p.m.

At the bottom is a concession truck with water, juice, shaved ice and smoothies. If you hike in on a Saturday morning, catch the trolley or walk to the KCC Farmers Market at the Community College. It’s open from 7:30 to 11 a.m., serving local farm-fresh fruit, vegetables, flowers and street food.

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