Diamond Head Crater

[Photo of Diamond Head]

by Dessi Ann Lau and Kenneth Luckey

Diamond Head, the most identifiable landmark in Hawaii, is much more than just a centerpiece for the south shore of Oahu. Since its creation, it has undergone an interesting and diverse past. The crater was formed some one hundred thousand years ago by violent steam explosions that contributed to the construction of the island (Smith 174). The combined eruptions of Diamond Head, Punchbowl, Red Hill and Tantalus precipitated ash and foundation material to fill the area between these craters where Honolulu stands today (Porteus 164). In fact this is how the area got its name: hono, a joining together, and lulu, shelter from the wind. Thus the composite word Honolulu is the flat place joining the hills that is sheltered from the wind (Porteus 166).

The crater has been known by many names; the earliest recorded was Lae-ahi. The mountain was compared by Hiiaka, the younger sister of Pele, to lae the brow of the ahi fish (Pukui 126). As time passed it was condensed to Leahi. In the early 1800s British sailors found calcite crystals in the rocks on the slopes and thought they were diamonds. Following the discovery, the crater was called Kaimana-Hila, literally Diamond Hill (Smith 174). Today it is commonly known as Diamond Head. But by whatever name, its dominance reigns over Waikiki. The crown towers 760 feet above the sea. Each morning the sun peaks over its summit to bear greetings and at days end, its moonlit silhouette stirs couples to romance.

Over the years Leahi has been rendered to many uses. The kings of Oahu had their main residences nearby and a favorite pastime was holua sledding down the slopes of Diamond Head (Porteus 167). The rider was able to slide downhill with speed and merriment, usually in the company of friends on their ti leaf sleds (Mitchell 39). A marine signal telegraph was also maintained, stationed on the ridge in the rear of Diamond Head, which signaled all vessels approaching or passing the port of Honolulu (Whitney 133). During World War I and II, the crater was transformed into an elaborate fortress (Chisholm 94). The fortified emplacements have become a popular tourist attraction and are well worth the short hike. Today, portions of the crater are utilized as the Civil Defense Emergency Operating Center, by the FAA and the State Department of Defense.

Walking enthusiasts can enjoy a day of adventure, hiking and exploring the crater. A steady flow of pedestrians heading up Diamond Head Road makes easy work of finding the entrance on the craters northeast face. A sign just opposite 18th Avenue clearly marks the access road. Passage through the thirteen foot high tunnel yields a feeling of transference. Emerging from the ground, the crater walls momentarily close in to block out the city and the sun blasts the hollow of a late Pleistocene tuff cone (Chisholm 94). The air is still and the heat rises from the ground. The peddlers scattered about hawking a variety of items from folding tables. The only item of value for a casual walker is a reminder to take along refreshments prior to beginning the ascent.

A four foot wide meandering trail begins just past the parking lot and the restrooms. Along the way are scenic lookouts where many stop to rest and have a drink. Those coming down can be overheard recounting, the dark tunnels and the ninty-nine stairs. The tunnels are dark enough that without a flashlight many bump into one another. Nearing the end of the tunnel, portentous stairs loom in the dim light. They go straight up and finish with an ominous spiral staircase. Narrow stairs and opposing traffic call for some impromptu etiquette. However, those climbing to the obervation post will be rewarded with a complimentary certificate of accomplishment and a commanding view of Oahu from Koko Head to the Waianae Mountain Range.

Upon stepping out of the bunker, take heed that the loose ash and limestone gravel can be very slippery. However, a grain of caution is worth the unrestricted view. Bright sunshine causes the ground to sparkle like diamonds, and the heat is carried away by a crisp refreshing breeze that rushes over the summit. A myriad of small crafts punctuates the greens and blues and purples of the Pacific Ocean. At this elevation looking toward the mountains Koolau Mountains, they are no longer as imposing as when at their feet in Waikiki. But the chill comes from looking almost straight down onto the lawns of Kapiolani Park. But sit down, relax a while and take in the grand views for future remembrance.

Partake the last of the refreshments and the regress to the crater floor is made easily. The leisure walk is a time to recount the impressions just departed. During the des cent, it is evident that some have taken the chance of injury and jumped the railings to cut across the coiled trail in a rush to the rest rooms. The heat and fatigue are revisited at the parking lot, but it has been a good stretch of the legs. What now? Hmm! perhaps a rainbow shave ice to share the day over might be a nice way to rest up for tomorrows adventure.

Works Cited

Chisholm, Craig McRae.  Hawaiian Hiking Trails.  Rev. & updated ed..  Oregon.
Gerould, Katharine Fullerton.  Hawaii Scenes and Impressions.  Charles 
Scribners Sons.
     New York.  1916.
Goodson, Gar.  The Many-Splendored Fishes of Hawaii.  Standford 
University Press.
     Stanford, Ca..  1985.
Mitchell, Donald D. Kilolani.  Hawaiian Games for Today.  Kamehameha Schools.
     Honolulu.  1975.
Porteus, Stanley D..  Calabashes and Kings.  Pacific Books; Palo Alto, Ca..
Pukui, Mary Kawena, Samuel H. Elbert and Ester T. Mookini.  Place Names of
     Hawaii.  The University Press of Hawaii.  1974.
Smith, Robert.  Hawaiis Best Hiking Trails.  Berkeley:  Wilderness 
Press.  1982.
Whitney, Henry M..  The Hawaiian Guide Book.  Charles E. Tuttle Co.; 
Vermont.  1875.

Go back one | Return to Dayle's Home Page | Email Dayle