Visiting historic Pearl Harbor was the centerpiece of my 2009 trip to O’ahu; hiking up the 1.1 km to the summit of Diamond Head to see the tuff cone crater, a natural landmark, was it on my 2013 return trip. Le’ahi, the Hawaiian word for the “brow of the ahi fish”, also “wreath of fire” to refer to the “navigational fires” lit to serve as seafarers’ guides, is a geological marvel that can only be fully appreciated from the top. Needless to say, you must first sweat and pant your way up. Another reward awaits the strong and the strong-willed: scenic Waikiki unfolds at your feet, a terrific backdrop for a “selfie”!
According to the US Department of Land and Natural Resources, the name “Diamond Head” came from Western explorers who mistook the calcite crystals they found in the crater as diamonds. Before opening this natural landmark to tourism in 1976, Diamond Head was the first United States military reservation in Hawaii. Although some military facilities remain in the interior areas and are closed to traffic, Diamond Head nevertheless attracts millions of hiking enthusiasts annually, no doubt ticking it off a bucket list more important than the threat of a sunstroke. A dollar gains you entry to this state park.
The best time to visit Diamond Head is very early in the morning, or in the afternoon–for catching some glorious sunsets too!–but mind that admissions close at 6pm. The best gear to bring is just your camera, which should be slung around your neck, or wrapped around your wrist. Don’t bring bags, and other paraphernalia that would require your hands, which you should expect to be busy with your water bottle, and for propelling yourself up. Sensible for stowing all your stuff in, a backpack when full could become deadweight and slow your ascent.
Expect grueling hiking trails of rocks, lumpy earth, concrete and metal steps, with the sun blazing hotly down your neck and back. Lather sunscreen copiously beforehand. A hat, preferably wide-brimmed, is going to be a godsend in these parts, as are oversized shades, just don’t let a wayward wind surprise you, and blow them away. Do not expect any shady part on the trail up—there isn’t any, unless you consider clouds passing overhead shade enough, or rest stations. If you think long sleeves won’t contribute to further raising your body temp, also save you from racking up a huge dermatology bill, by all means wear them; else, sleeveless tops are your best bet. Come in your most comfortable sneakers, and lightweight pants, pedal pushers or tokong.
Pace yourself, paying no mind to people coming down, but be courteous of other hikers behind you as the trails were so designed as to accommodate only a two-way traffic. An octogenarian (maybe), commendable for braving Diamond Head, held a lot of people up with her slow and mincing steps. (She had been halfway up the summit by the time I was coming back down. Way to go, lola!) Passing a short stretch of tunnel that amplifies one’s breathing gives you a one-off realization who are in tip-top shape, or not. A good part of the morning spent up on the mountain is not a bad way of using up vacation time.
On the way down and out of the state park, make like a lost tourist and bum a ride from a private shuttle filled with kindly Japanese tourists on the way back to their Waikiki hotels, saving yourself the bother of coming down on foot. Don’t forget to apologize for the “mistake”, in your most convincing expression! ^_^
Still want a certain altitude from where to view the beauty of Honolulu, but not prepared to toast in the sun? Then, go to Aloha Tower. Tourists are serviced by an elevator which take you up and out to the roof deck of the tower, for an amazing 360-degree view of downtown Honolulu and harbor, minus the panting and wheezing!