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The View From Diamond Head
Distance from crater floor: 1.5 miles
Permit requirements: none
Rating: strenuous family
Diamond Head is probably the most famous view in the entire Pacific. It comes as a surprise to many visitors, however, to discover they can also hike up through the extinct volcano to the lookout at its crowning glory.
Along the way, you can see some of the most beautiful vistas in Hawaii and at its peak you will discover an unsurpassed panorama stretching all the way from Koko Head and Koko Crater to the romantic Leeward Coast, the scene for much of Julie Andrews' movie Hawaii.
Diamond Head is, in fact, the dominant feature of Waikiki, where most visitors spend at least part of their vacation. The volcanic crater, which has been extinct for 150,000 years, is only 800 feet tall and enthusiasts looking for a hearty walk or hike can climb to the top without much trouble.
If you start at the base, head for Kapiolani Park, named for the wife of David Kalakaua, the last king of the Islands. On weekends, the park is a circus of community activity. Within its 140 acres are many attractions, including the Waikiki Aquarium. For many, the favorite is the paved biking, jogging and walking trail around the park perimeter, under the romantic hills of the volcano.
Kapiolani Park, large, flat and shady, is also the site of the Honolulu Zoo, which has been considerably improved in recent years. It is a major gathering place for Honolulu's vast army of runners; Honolulu is known to have one of the largest running populations of any city in the United States. On the first Sunday of each December, the park is thefinish line for the Honolulu Marathon. This run has been attracting thousands since 1981 for its 26.2-mile run from the Aloha Tower downtown to Hawaii Kai and back to the park. Kalakaua Avenue and a shoreline string of new highrise apartment buildings and hotels border the park. The ironwood-lined avenue runs between the park and the buildings along the coast and becomes Diamond Head Road at the southern base of the volcano. From the parks along the road, there are splendid views of the sea.
To begin the climb, you can drive up Diamond Head Road into the crater floor, or head up the sidewalk out of Waikiki. You will be struck by the opulence of the homes built as retreats by businessmen in Honolulu.
The first sight along the way is the Diamond Head Lighthouse at the top of the rise. A steel-framed stone tower of glistening white, it was once Hawaii's grandest, making it safe to journey by sea across the Pacific.
Probably the most famous view before heading up into the crater comes at the Diamond Head Lookouts. Visitors can peer down at the sparkling water far below and the windsurfers jumping from wave to wave like tiny toy people. The view to the east embraces the lavish community on Black Point, which is where the likes of Claire Booth Luce and Doris Duke once lived. Above it all rise the mighty cliffs of Diamond Head, giving a clear impression of the enormity of the volcano.
Stay on Diamond Head Road, bearing left just past the lookouts, until you come to Fort Ruger. From there a sign will indicate your route up the narrow road. There is another lookout just before going into the carved tunnel leading to the crater floor. From here you can see Kahala, Honolulu's richest suburb, and the Kahala Hilton, birthplace of the Hawaiian Open and one of the best golf courses in the Pacific.
A hike from the floor of the crater to the peak is dry and hot, but the panorama offered from the summit is awesome. This climb is an absolute must for the entire family. Although a large part of the crater and the surrounding area are a military district, the hiking trail is under the jurisdiction of the Division of State Parks and is open to the public.
Extensive fortifications and tunnels for the fire control areas of the fort were built into the limestone and ash walls of this late Pleistocene volcanic cone. They are hard to see from the ground or air, but can be easily reached from the short trail beginning in the parking lot.
The volcano got its name in the early 1800s when British sailors found calcite crystals on the slopes of the crater and thought they had found diamonds. The "tuff" crater was then called Kaimana-Hila (Diamond Hills). Geologists speculate that the crater was formed by a violent steam explosion 100,000 years ago.
The trialhead on the southwest end of the parking lot is well marked and the trail is easy to follow to the summit. Kiawe trees, locally used to make charcoal, abound across the lower reaches of the crater, lending it a lush green color, except in the dry season.
There are railings along much of the trail as it climbs up the crater wall. There is also a beautiful view of the inside of the crater just past the first concrete lookout. Then the trail climbs up steep steps leading to a dark, angled tunnel. A flashlight is helpful, especially with children who may be frightened, but it is not necessary as light can soon be seen at the other end.
A steeper staircase with 99 steps leads hikers into a short tunnel, at the end of which an observation room offers the first view of Waikiki and greater Honolulu. To its right is an unlit, iron spiral staircase leading to the top bunker high over Waikiki. For the best views, come out through the bunker and continue the short climb to the very top of the fortifications atop the ancient volcano. There you will be struck by one of the finest views in all of Hawaii--one not many visitors get a chance to see and something you will never forget.
The magical beach at Waikiki and its modern steel and glass hotels are the first thing you will notice. Between them and the familiar tourist streets is the lush green of Kapiolani Park and the Waikiki Shell, a favorite spot for outdoor concerts all year round. The pink palace at the center of the beach is the Royal Hawaiian, the second oldest standing hotel in Waikiki. It was built in 1927 in a stucco, Mediterranean style, and is reminiscent of the days when the well-to-do came to Hawaii by ship and moved in with their steamer trunks to stay for weeks.
Beyond Waikiki, it is easy to make out another extinct volcano, Punchbowl, the National Cemetery of the Pacific, a favorite lookout for hikers. Behind it stand the incredibly lush Koolau Mountains with their Tantalus-Ualakaa Park. It takes strong hikers to reach them.
Children like to watch the giant aircraft land and take off from Honolulu International Airport. The outermost Reef Runway is a unique engineering wonder. Beyond it you can see the romantic Leeward Coast, the scene for Hawaii's most popular luau at Paradise Cove and some of the best hiking opportunities in the Islands.
Behind the coast stand the mighty Waianae Mountains, home of Schofield Barracks. Together with Pearl Harbor, which can be seen beyond the airport, they were the targets of the 1941 Japanese attack that began American involvement in World War II. Between the Waianae Mountains and Pearl Harbor under Schofield Barracks are the rich plains of central Oahu. It comes as a surprise to many, but these are still highly productive agricultural lands. At their feet lies the Diamond Head Lighthouse. The bizarre angle of this building also sometimes comes as a surprise. Instead of a stark white monument standing against the azure blue sky, hikers making it to the very summit of the volcano see the lush green of its well-manicured lawns.
Back to the east is another sweeping view of Kahala, that ultra-class suburb where the elite of Honolulu and the entertainment world make their homes. Even from a distance, the palm trees can be seen swaying gently in the soft Pacific breezes. The beaches of Kahala are not particularly good for strolling, but the waters are favorites for wind boarding and surfing. This elevated lookout gives the best view of the reef that almost entirely rings Oahu. This natural barrier is responsible for the gentle surfs that help make this island so popular. The two hills in the distance are Koko Head and Koko Crater. The crater is the youngest volcano on the island, though it is quiet.
Koko Head is the backside of the semi-submerged volcano known as Hanauma Bay. That is where Elvis filmed Blue Hawaii and it hosts another great lookout, as well as three trails for hiking.
Just to the Honolulu side of the two volcanoes is Hawaii Kai. Another world-class suburb, this was the brain child of Henry J. Kaiser, an important developer in the Islands during the 1950s.
It is possible to hike completely around the rim of the crater and return to the parking lot by cutting through the brush, but the trail is steep and dangerous because of the loose volcanic rock and ash. Only the most experienced hikers should try it. Local residents familiar with the frequent stories about emergency helicopters having to pluck adventuresome visitors from the cliffs advise sticking strictly to the well-marked trail.
The trip back down to the floor of the crater along this main route bears no real surprises. For hikers heading back to town, it is possible to take a left at Diamond Head Road for a different route into Waikiki. This offers more views of many of the same sights, worth seeing for enthusiasts with the energy. It also takes you through Kaimuki, where you will see a more local side of island life than in the tourist meccas.
Distance: 5-7 miles
Permit requirements: none
Waikiki beckons with gorgeous sand, dependable sunshine, first-class dining, international shopping, and splendid nightlife. Over a century ago, Robert Louis Stevenson wrote:
"If anyone desires such old fashioned things as scenery, quiet, pure air, clear sea water, heavenly sunsets hung out before his eyes over the Pacific and the distant hills of Waianae, recommend him to Sans Souci Beach."
It is still magic today. Sans Souci is the beach at Waikiki right under the cliffs of Diamond Head. Waikiki Beach itself is not one continuous crescent of sand, but a series of beaches, some natural and others manmade, each with its own ambience and habitués. The entire stretch is public and accessible by right of ways. You can walk on the sand and connecting sea walls all the way from Sans Souci to Kuhio Beach Park and Ft. DeRussy Beach.
In the early morning or the later afternoon and evening, you get the real sense of being on an island in the middle of the largest body of water in the world. At other times of the day, the beach is devoted largely to water-oriented activities of all kinds, though the tropical trade breezes make sure it is always comfortable. Several beaches "belong" to beachboys who take visitors on boat rides or give surfing lessons; others are home to outrigger canoes, catamarans, surfers, wind boarders, or boogie boarders. Most of the action on the beach takes place at Waikiki, but the entire strand offers rich and varied opportunities for hiking and walking.
Officially, Waikiki is a peninsula about one half-mile wide and two miles long, bounded by Diamond Head and the Ala Wai Canal. But, for those in search of a good hike, it stretches all the way from the Diamond Head Lighthouse to the Ala Wai boat harbor.
Most visitors spend at least part of their vacation at Waikiki. It is fashionable for many to compare it with Coney Island but, if that was ever valid, it no longer is today. Since 1986, Waikiki has undergone nearly $1 billion in private and public renovations and additions. With the increase in competition among visitor destinations worldwide, hotel operators and government officials have committed themselves to maintaining Waikiki as a leader.
The first glimpse most visitors get of Hawaii's most famous sand comes at Prince Kuhio Beach between the turn-of-the-century Moana Hotel and Kapahulu Avenue. It used to be marked by an enormous gateway arch, but that has disappeared in the name of progress.
You can rent surf boards at the Waikiki Beach Center across from the Hyatt Regency, or use it as an ideal starting point for a hike to see all this cosmopolitan resort has to offer. The principal street along the beach and its parks is Kalakaua Avenue, named for David Kalakaua, the last king of Hawaii.
Heading toward Diamond Head, visitors come to the Honolulu Zoo. Especially with the addition of an African safari landscape, it has been much improved in recent years--although it is still a long way from being an equal to the world-class zoos of Europe or the U.S. mainland.
There is a weekend art mart on the Diamond Head side of the zoo. You may get the impression it is little more than a casual sale of folk art, but it takes place every week and, if you compare local artwork sold elsewhere, you will find all prices here are at a premium.
Kapiolani Park sprawls over 170 acres between Kapahulu and the extinct crater. In addition to the zoo, it hosts an aquarium, tennis courts, a golf driving range, and an archery range. Most concerts in the park take place at the Waikiki Shell or the Kapiolani Bandstand. The bandstand is also the site of a weekly 7:30 a.m. Sunday marathon clinic, where doctors and health professionals offer sound advice for fitness enthusiasts. Back on Kalakaua Avenue, the most visible landmark is the new first class tennis complex.
The antique gold and green jewelry box nearby is the last trolley stand left from the turn of the century, when rails were the way to get around in Hawaii. Queens Surf and Sans Souci Beach across the street were popular with the haoli (white) businessmen and their families at that time and are still local favorites today.
Opened in 1904, the Waikiki Aquarium shares the beaches, and it is a wonderful state-owned collection of sealife with a reasonable entry fee. It has more than 300 species of Pacific marine life including giant clams, sharks, deep-water crustaceans, harbor seals, sea turtles, and saltwater crocodiles.
From the aquarium you should walk toward Diamond Head. Along the way, you will pass the Mrs. Walter F. Dillingham Memorial Fountain, named after one of the original grande dames of Hawaii.
At the intersection of Kapahulu, you have the option of continuing up to the Diamond Head Lighthouse or all the way up into the old volcano (Chapter 1). Alernatively, you can turn left to complete a loop around all or part of Waikiki. Heading toward the Ala Wai Canal, the path leads through the shade of some great banyan trees, which make it an ideal spot for picnicking.
On Paki Street behind the zoo and on the way to the Ala Wai Canal, you will discover one of Waikiki's most closely guarded secrets, the Kapiolani Rose Garden. Its blooms are fed with such exotic fertilizers as giraffe dung. There is no fee and its flowers are always in bloom, which makes it a picnicking hot spot.
The Ala Wai Canal and its broad promenade stretch along the backside of Waikiki from Kapahulu to the marina. It was dredged in the 1920s to drain the surrounding swamps and duck ponds and to carry runoff from the streams that often flooded Waikiki. But the ultimate result was to create today's solid land mass out of what had been a swamp. Early in the morning or late in the afternoon, a lot of residents jog or walk around the canal's promenade and in the afternoon there are usually kayakers skimming along the water to stay in shape. At sunset, the sky turns glorious shades of red, with Diamond Head to your back and Punchbowl and the Koolau Mountains on the side away from the sea.
The canal and its promenade deadhead at the Ala Wai Yacht Harbor, haven for more than 1,000 private boats--with no commercial vessels allowed. There are long waiting lists here.
The most pleasant walk back is by the sea. The beach edges past the Hilton Lagoon at its Hawaiian Village and on past Ft. DeRussy toward Diamond Head. The military post is maintained much like a park, but the real treat here is the swimming. The Army Corps of Engineers has excavated an enormous in-the-ocean pool by removing blocks of coral, and two giant rafts create a unique place for swimming where the waters are always warm and calm.
The park is also the site of the Army Museum, headquartered in the old coastal artillery battery building. It looks like a war ruin because the military tried to demolish the structure with everything in it, but the bunker proved too solid to crush. Blowing it up would have blown all the windows out of the nearby high rises, so it was left.
The ultra-class Halekulani Hotel preserves the oldest shred of old Hawaii in its 1917 "House Without a Key," site of the original Charlie Chan detective novel. It is still a great place for a stroll or a snack, with a smashing view of Diamond Head.
Back on Kalakaua, you can keep on walking through the Royal Hawaiian Shopping Center. Its four floors of shops are a magnet for Japanese tourists. The Sheraton Waikiki, Royal Hawaiian, and Moana Hotels all sit in its lap and they are landmarks of different vintages.
Sheltered under enormous banyans, the International Marketplace is another shopping favorite. And back at the center of the beach, King's Alley completes the collection of Waikiki shopping arcades for strolling.
Mainland visitors to Hawaii tend to wake up early, and they all revel in the sunsets. Whatever time you do it, strolling about Waikiki will give you a good idea why millions have found it a very special place.