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Hawaii Diamond Head: walking the iconic Diamond Head

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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.

diamond head - climbing diamond head- hawaii diamond head

How to get to Diamond Head Hawaii

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.

>>Check the up to date timetable for TheBus

Shortly after we found ourselves cruising along with 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.  

Tip: If you think the Diamond Head walk will take up all of your energy, consider taking a cab as they get you right to the start of the walk.

How much does it cost to climb 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 Diamond Head 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.

Honolulu From Diamond Head
Honolulu From Diamond Head

Climbing Diamond Head

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.

Walking up the stairs at Diamond head
The 76 steps

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.  At the Diamond Head Lookout, there are 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.

Steps At Diamond Head

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 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.

Diamond Head hike time

The time it takes to hike Diamond Head depends on your fitness and your purpose.  We saw many people here that were clearly using the Diamond head trail for training purposes, running up and down the mountain.  If like most, you are here as a visitor then it can be done at a more leisurely pace.  We have good fitness and conducted the entire round trip (excluding time at the top to take it all in) in just over an hour.  If you are walking at a more slower pace, allow two hours and longer if you have lower fitness or some mobility restrictions.

Note: the Diamond Head hiking trail is not wheelchair accessible.

Tips for the Diamond Head walk

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.
  • 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.

For up to date prices, opening times and other information visit the Diamond Head State Park website.

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