Diamond Head State Monument

Oahu's Shining Background

Hawaii, Oahu, Aerial of Diamond Head crater and beach, rugged cliffs, ocean
••• Allan Seiden / Getty Images

Standing on the sand of Waikiki Beach, Diamond Head looms large. Some call it Diamond Head Crater. We call it a must-see.

Origins of Diamond Head

Diamond Head is known in Hawaiian as Le'ahi meaning "brow (lea) of the yellowfin tuna (ahi)." It got its English name in the late 1700s when British seamen saw calcite crystals sparkling in the sunshine and thought they had found diamonds.

Geologically it is a cinder cone formed by a series of explosive eruptions over 150,000 years ago.

Getting There

You can get there by bus, car, or taxi. We took a bus near our hotel to the bottom of the road that leads to the gate that gets you into this monument. You read that right. You will do some walking to see Diamond Head.

Diamond Head State Monument is located off Diamond Head Rd. between Makapu'u and 18th Ave. on the south shore of Oahu. It is right on the coast southeast of Waikiki. There is ample parking.

Facilities

The only restroom is at the bottom and we would recommend using it. There is no visitor center, only a stand where you will pay and get a brochure.

The Hike

Diamond Head is well maintained by the State. We found Diamond Head a refreshing change from our more difficult hikes on other islands, despite some lava to climb over. The trail up, for the most part, is not too difficult. There are handrails along the entire 1.4-mile round-trip journey. There are also benches to sit on if you want a break.

Some people actually run the trail "for fun." Some may not find the hike fun, depending on their physical condition.

On your hike, you may see cute little mice, as well as gorgeous Brazilian red-topped cardinals.

There are two tunnels you will walk through to get to the top. It is recommended that you bring a flashlight.

There are lights in the tunnels which work most of the time.

You start your ascent from the bottom of this 761-foot crater. The path is steep, so wear sneakers or hiking boots. After a considerable hike, you will pass through a tunnel. You will then climb exactly 99 stairs. The stairs are real stairs as opposed to dirt or lava. You will then pass through a second tunnel. After a few more steps, you are at the lower level of the top of Diamond Head.

Views of Oahu

There are a few levels to climb to the very top. Once you reach the first level, a few more stairs won't matter. You will see a spectacular 360-degree view of Oahu. This is a great place to have binoculars and, of course, a camera.

Since we trekked very fast going up, we took our time going down and read the posted material about Diamond Head. There is a very safe lookout where you will see World War I and II pillboxes and gun emplacements.

What to Wear

It was very hot at Diamond Head. It was hotter than we had expected, but once we hit the top we found a nice cool breeze. Wear a hat, suntan lotion, and make sure you have a bottle of water per person. There is no water available on this trail. Most folks prefer to make the hike in the morning when the sun is not shining into the crater and there are fewer hikers on the trail.

You may read that it will take you two hours for the hike. It may, but if you are pressed for time and only have an hour and can hike, go for it. If you can squeeze in two hours or more, you will enjoy it more, and maybe even have a picnic on the top.

A Must Activity on Oahu

Unless you are not mobile, climbing Diamond Head is a must. The views from the top are some of the most impressive we have seen.

There will be taxis waiting for you at the bus stop. They will offer to charge you a flat fee. We learned that it is against the law for the taxi cab driver to do this, but you may find the taxi more convenient.

Diamond Head State Monument is a true gem and one of the top things to do on Oahu.

Jo Levy is a freelance writer based in Boston, Massachusetts who has written extensively about her travels through the U.S.A.