Diamond Head State Monument is located on the island of Oahu, Hawaii. Known to locals as Le’ahi, it is visible from famous Waikiki beach and is located not far from the beach’s south-east shore. Covering almost 500 acres, it is impossible to miss, but to appreciate its magnificence and magnitude one should get up close and personal.
The remnants of a volcano, Diamond Head is such a recognizable landmark that it received historical designation in 1968 as a representative example of a geological feature called a “tuff cone.” Scientists tell us that the top of the mountain was blown off in an explosive eruption over 300,000 years ago. The soil and rock was reduced to ash and fine particulates that settled back into the cone over the millennia. Finally, around the time the Europeans arrived in the 19th century, plants and animals began making the crater their home.
One local story is that the place was named after its profile which resembles the forehead (le) of a fish (ahi). Another is that the name translates to “fire headland” and reminds people of the time it was used as a native lighthouse with fires showing the way to those who traveled by canoe. The English name comes from European visitors who saw the glimmer of calcite crystals and believed they had found the largest diamond mine on Earth.
One can take a taxi or bus service and pay a one-dollar pedestrian fee or park a car for $5. Commercial vehicles and large vans cost more. No pets except service animals are allowed in the park, so leave them at the hotel. Be sure to visit the comfort station and restrooms before beginning the trip up to the summit. This is the place to have a picnic lunch, purchase snacks from vending machines or lunch wagons and be sure every member of the party has a bottle of water to take along. There are no other facilities along the way and it takes comfortably two hours to ascend and descend the entire trail. It is usually warmer than the area around the park, probably because of sunlight reflecting off the crater sides or concrete. Wear hats, sunglasses and sunscreen to avoid becoming uncomfortable. The Diamond Head State Monument information center has brochures and maps to allow visitors the greatest opportunity to catch all of the sites. Also available near the information center is accessibility to the site for those with mobility issues. Do ask for assistance.
The trail to the summit was built as part of the Oahu defense system and is over 100 years old. At the floor of the crater it is made of concrete, but then reverts to the natural tuff also known as compressed ash. The trail has hand railings in several locations because of its steep and uneven nature. It is recommended that all visitors wear sturdy shoes that provide good traction. Stairways and tunnels are part of the trip. The tunnels are well lit and there are several vistas and landings along the way with benches so visitors can catch their breath. Other areas provide the opportunity to read up on historical facts about the site. For example, the United States government purchased Diamond Head before Hawaii was admitted to the Union. They placed bunkers, pillboxes and a navigational lighthouse on the summit. Some of these are still visible. The 360 degree view of Oahu is stunning and during winter might even afford one the sight of hunchback whales.
Park rangers request that visitors stick to the established trail. The switchbacks were originally designed for mules to haul materials, supplies and equipment up and down the sides of the crater, but now they protect the surrounding flora and fauna from disease and damage. The site has been magnificent for over 300,000 years, it would be nice to keep it the same way for the next few generations to enjoy.
Diamond Head State Monument is a breathtaking example of the power of nature and mankind. From the natural formation of the crater to its American historical significance and from the wide range of plants and animals to its engineering marvels, there is something worth seeing for everyone.