Its English name, however, came from British sailors in the 19th century who mistook the calcite they found on nearby beaches for diamonds.
This iconic Hawaiian landmark is featured on postcards, t-shirts, and is one of the most widely recognizable coastal features. As a top tourist attraction, Diamond Head State Monument attracts thousands of visitors to its summit every year.
After living on Oahu for nearly six months, I had yet to take advantage of my proximity to such a distinguished landmark. I’ve ran the 4 miles or so around the perimeter, done yoga on the ocean side edge, and taken numerous photos from all different angles. But to actually set foot inside this mysterious crater was still on my list. Living nearby, I set out on a trek to peek inside this cone shaped phenomenon.
I’ve learned in my research that “cone” is a very appropriate way to describe it. The correct term however, is volcanic tuff cone. Diamond Head Crater was formed about 300,000 years ago after an explosive eruption that occurred from a vent where magma was interacting with the sea, producing steam and volcanic gases. This interaction resulted in flying ash particles so fine they had the consistency of flour. Once the ash had settled, it formed what is called an ash cone, which later becomes a tuff cone as it hardens.
Interestingly, this all begins to make sense to me. Other nearby destinations such as Haunama Bay and Koko Head Crater, are all part of the Honolulu Volcanic Series, which formed as a result of the Ko’olau Volcano that has been dormant and extinct now for thousands of years.
From the outside, it’s hard to tell that a whole other world exists beyond the rim. It’s an easy walk up the hill towards the entrance. If you drive, it will cost $5 per vehicle but only $1 per person if you walk. The trail to the notable lookout is approximately 0.8 miles and takes about 1.5 to 2 hours depending on your ability. Throughout the uneven trail, you will encounter a spiral staircase, a 225 ft. long tunnel, and again even more steep stairs. Although it’s not significantly difficult, it is advisable to wear good walking shoes, bring plenty of water, and be prepared.
When you reach the top, you will have gained 560 ft. in elevation and come up for a breathtaking view of the Waikiki coastline. You can also see the entire interior of the crater. At the lookout is an old bunker that was once a part of Fort Ruger, a military reservation established back in 1906. Other remnants of the old military digs can be found on the outside of Diamond Head that include an old stone gate entrance and guard house.
Now, having made the journey to the top, I have a greater appreciation for this local and national landmark. Finally taking in the sights and soaking up its history, I realize that while Le’ahi may not have diamonds, it is definitely a gem.