For a week, everywhere we went in Waikiki, Diamond Head was there in the backdrop. Located at the far eastern shore of Waikiki, it’s the iconic geographical landmark. Whether on the beach, in a bar or restaurant along the ocean, on the lanai of countless Waikiki hotels and condos, the majestic mountain that is actually a volcano cone sits up proud for everyone to see.
We knew we wanted to climb it, but we had to wait for the right day. If you are going to make the trek up the mountain, you know it is all about the views. The weather had been a little cloudy in Waikiki earlier in the week, so we wanted to make sure we had the best weather possible. As much as we could predict anyway.
It was Saturday, and we were waiting to catch the #23 bus with a couple of other people that looked as though they were off to the same place. We’d been there about 10 minutes when a cab pulled up and offered to take us to the crater. When you travel a lot you get used to all types of entrepreneurial actions, some quite useful, others deliberately trying to rip you off. In the instance, it was the former. For a premium of $US0.50 each over the cost of TheBus, the driver’s offer was to give us a quicker journey, plus save us waiting for a bus for another 30 minutes or so.
Shortly after we found ourselves, two honeymooning Canadians, and two Koreans all aboard what the driver called the “Love Machine”. He entertained us for the next 15 minutes with his left of centre tourist tips. What we didn’t realise at the time was that the bus actually stops out on the main road. To get to the entrance of Diamond Head you must then walk uphill and through a road tunnel for about 15 minutes.
Our “Love Machine” driver actually got us into the carpark/entrance so saved us the walk. He wasn’t shy either. Telling us all we needed to give him a tip because he provided such great service, and when the Korean girls handed over $US10, he said to them “thanks I will give you $2 change so that I can take my tip”. Funny guy!
Paying the entrance fee for Diamond Head
We paid our $US1 entrance fee at the ticket office. You don’t get too much for $1 these days. Then, we were off, making our ascent to the lookout at the top that would reward us with stunning views. The trail was not as difficult as I thought it might be, but again, it depends on your fitness levels.
The trail can be a bit tricky as it is full of rocks and uneven cambers. Then there are the stairs. The first has 76 steps, the second 99 and then there is a smaller spiral staircase. The steps have no stops so it’s a great workout for your legs.
I was being chased up the larger set by a three year old so that put me under some pressure to move it ! It’s a great walk, made a little exciting by having to also navigate through a dimly lit tunnel.
As is the case with any ascent to a high point, the reward of the views once you reach the top makes any of the pain in getting there so worthwhile. Offering broad views over Waikiki beach to the west and over the East Shore up towards Hanauma Bay. It was also fantastic to be able to see World War II bunkers around the lookout.
The upward journey took us about 40 minutes. We sat at the top for a while to ensure we savoured those awesome views, and then spent about 30 minutes on the downward trail.
Once back down we couldn’t rely on our “Love Machine” this time, so we walked back out to Monsarrat Avenue, through the vehicle tunnel. Whilst there is a marginal area on the side for pedestrian access, I was happy to be out of it.
Despite there being a 5 mile speed limit in the tunnel it clearly doesn’t stop some people viewing it as a bit of a challenge, with one car coming so close to us that it hit the safety bollard right beside us.
Tips before you climb Diamond Head
With the climb now behind me, I thought I would also take the time to note a couple of tips that I think are really important to consider prior to starting off on your climb.
- Like a lot of adventures involving the natural wonders of O’ahu, it’s best to go early. This time it’s all about the sun. The sun obviously gets hotter and hotter as the day progresses. Remember you are climbing a volcanic crater, so it’s desert like along the trails. Dusty, brown, dry grass line the tracks, and the sun beats down on you relentlessly with limited opportunity to find shelter.
- It’s written in every guide or blog article you will find on Diamond Head but it’s amazing how many people really don’t exercise common sense. Leave wearing high heels or thongs/flipflops for another time when you aren’t climbing a mountain. I lost track of the number of people I saw struggling up and down the hills and steps with heels. It’s a walking track that is uneven, rocky and sloping so your best bet is to wear running shoes or hiking shoes.
- Don’t over-exaggerate your fitness. It is a reasonable track in terms of the slope and the number of steps.
- Take plenty of water and wear a hat and sunscreen. There is a shop at the entrance that sells water if you forget to take some.
- Don’t risk your life and those of others by climbing over fences at the top of the lookout. The signs saying not to go out there haven’t been put there for fun.
- And my personal bugbear – don’t walk all over the track like ‘Brown’s cows’. Whilst some people are there for a slow walk up, some are there to go at a faster pace. With the tracks used for both up and down traffic, it can get congested and makes overtaking difficult.
- And….please don’t litter. This is a natural environment and one that is being opened up for our use. If you have any rubbish, please take it back down the mountain with you.
Going on a Saturday as we did also provided another reward. As people who love anything associated with food, we were delighted to realise that the Kapiolani Community College Farmers Market were open. These are fabulous farmers market, with stallholders showcasing their farm grown food, jams, curds, cakes, nuts, and all manner of ready-to-eat foods.
We sampled our way through the ever present macadamia nuts (sea salt, coffee, lilikoi, pineapple); pineapple and macadamia cake; lilikoi and pineapple juice;vegetable spring rolls, kettle corn and the fabulous Kalua pork burrito. All around us, families were sitting on the grass under the shade of a tree with a picnic comprised of a variety of market goodies.
Similarly, people wandered through the market, stopping to chat to a stallholder or admire their produce, as they ate shrimps on sticks, fried mushrooms, or loco loco (a local form of hamburger speciality)
Leonard’s Bakery – worth a visit
And just when you think we couldn’t fit another thing into our morning, we had a visit still to complete to the famous Leonard’s Bakery to pick ourselves up an equally famous local delicacy, a cream filled Malasada.
We caught the bus up from Monsarrat Avenue up Kapahulu Ave until we saw the slightly faded red and blue colours of the Leonard’s Bakery. It’s also easy to spot with the enormous queue coming out the front door and into the carpark.
The line moves quickly though, and once again, the wait is more than worthwhile once we have that deliciously soft portuguese doughnut filled with either custard, chocolate, coconut or ‘flavour of the month’ pineapple.
With the soft sweetness of the malasada consumed rather quickly, all that was left was to walk it off, heading back down Kapahulu Avenue towards the ocean, until we made it back to our condo for a well earned break.