Diamond Head State Monument, located in Oahu, is one of Hawaii’s biggest tourist attractions. It isn’t hard to see why. To the geologists, it might just be a ‘pyroclastic cinder cone generally comprised of a friable tuff-type soil structure’, whatever that means. To tourists, Diamond Head is the summit of volcanic excitement.
Named by English sailors in the 19th century who found calcite crystals they mistook for diamonds, it is Hawaii’s most recognizable landmark. Its diameter covers over 3,500 ft/1067 m. At its pinnacle, it is 760 feet/232 m high at Le’ahi Peak.
But those numbers, large as they are, hardly convey the sheer breathtaking sight that greets visitors whether at the base or the top. The volcano saw its last explosive eruption over 500,000 years ago. But the amazement on the faces of those who hike to the top is ever new.
Drive into the crater itself, then prepare yourself for a pleasant hike.
The hike is just under three-quarters of a mile (about a kilometer). No more than a moderate climb, it takes about an hour to reach the top. But during and afterward one has the feeling that this is the experience of a lifetime. For along the switchback trail, which offers a handrail for assistance, the sights are unparalleled.
Climbing up the final 99-step stairs near the top, the feeling grows that you are about to see things you never have before, and never will again. Make your way through the dark tunnel then enter into the light. At the top, your effort is rewarded by a panoramic view of Oahu that is unavailable from any other vantage point.
Take a few moments to enjoy the small things, too. A military bunker that once housed WWII lookouts is still a major attraction. It is at the end of the 225 ft/68 m tunnel. Explore pieces of the old fort built at the turn of the 20th century.
The gentle trade winds brush your hair while you listen to the crashing of the waves down at the shoreline. Look down and see the beautiful Kapiolani Park at the south end of Waikiki. Look across the landscape and gaze on some of Hawaii’s most luxurious private estates. In the center of the island are the Koolau Mountains.
Bring a flashlight to assist you through the tunnel and a bottle of water to assist on the hike. And, oh, don’t forget the camera.
Temperatures at the summit can be cool, but the sun is very hot at times, especially given the dark stone all around. Dress accordingly. Diamond Head attracts over 600,000 visitors per year, so come early and be prepared for the crowd.
And, by the way, ‘pyroclastic’ just means rock fragmented by fire produced by a volcanic eruption, while tuff turf is rock made of compressed volcanic ash. Come climb this big cinder cone, a hill made of volcanic ash, and see what the geologists – and the tourists – get so excited about.