Daytripper: Climbing Diamond Head in Honolulu

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I stood at the top of the crater ridge, looking over the Pacific Ocean, a stretch of Waikiki Beach and the Honolulu skyline on one side; and down into the lush, green bowl of the extinct volcanic crater on the other. After 45 minutes of uphill climbing to reach the summit of Diamond Head on Hawaii’s island of Oahu, the views were well worth the effort and the heat.

Trading Places in Hawaii

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I’ve been Trading Places in Oahu for a couple of weeks, farm sitting for a couple in the small, laid-back, and beautiful town of Waimanalo on the island’s eastern shore. In exchange for taking care of their small one-acre farm — complete with dogs, geese, chickens, and a turtle — I got to stay there for free while I explored the island. But just as good as the free accommodations were the chance to travel the way I most love to: trading places for a glimpse into someone else’s daily life; stepping into their life to discover what their world is like for a while. There’s no better way to truly experience the life of a place like a local.

Having been to the Big Island of Hawaii and Maui before, I was anxious to explore what Oahu had to offer. Like most people, when I think of Oahu and Honolulu two things come to mind after the ocean and beaches that Hawaii in general conjure: I thought of Pearl Harbor and of Diamond Head.

The Lure of Diamond Head

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I spent the day at the historic Pearl Harbor during my first week on the island. But at the end of my second week, I took the opportunity to actually go into the Diamond Head State Monument park and hike up to the summit. I had glimpsed and passed the distinctive extinct volcano several times on my stay, and I wanted to see those views from the top myself!

While the trail and walk itself wasn’t overly strenuous — I would rate it as moderate — it was, of course, a constant uphill climb to the summit. And most of all, the heat is a factor. This is the aridest and hot area of Oahu, and I really felt the heat that day, sweating my way to the top. All in all though, if you come prepared, the climb is invigorating physical exercise and the views….well, let’s just say they are WELL worth it!

Diamond Head History, More Info, and a Photo Tour

Diamond Head State Monument offers breathtaking views overlooking the Pacific Ocean and Honolulu. In fact, the view is so good, it was used by the US military as a post for preventing attacks against Honolulu. Originally built in 1908 by the Army, the Diamond Head hiking trails take you to an elevation of 762 feet with impressive views of Waikiki from the Diamond Head Summit. From the bottom of Diamond Head to the top you’ll walk a total of 0.75-mile one-way. You may also see Diamond Head referred to as “Leahi” — that’s the Hawaiian name.

The trail takes you to the edge of a 300,000-year-old crater. While the hike isn’t that long in terms of distance, it can be somewhat challenging due to its ascent. Parts of the trail are over uneven rock, and the 99 steps near the end of the hike are steep. Also, the only water fountains are at the beginning of the trail, so you’ll want to bring a water bottle or bottled water to stay hydrated. And make sure you have plenty of sunscreen and cover, cool comfortable clothing, and decent walking/hiking shoes.

If you plan to hike at Diamond Head State Monument, make sure you arrive early enough. While the gates to the park close at 6:00 PM, no one is permitted to hike after 4:30 PM, as the hike takes about 1.5-2 hours (round trip). Parking is limited and the park can get busy, so it’s recommended that you arrive well before the 4:30 PM cutoff. Earlier morning is better to avoid some of the heat!

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