The Challenges and Rewards of Hiking Diamond Head

by Gray Cargill on March 20, 2012

Diamond Head

Diamond Head as seen from Waikiki Beach

For the best panoramic views of Waikiki Beach, the place to be is the summit of Diamond Head Crater, Le’ahi. Diamond Head is an easy bus or car ride from Waikiki. To get to the top, though, you have to hike it. Luckily, I do enjoy a good hike once in awhile.

I went on a beautiful, sunny Monday. It was around 80 degrees, but not unreasonably hot. I had plenty of cold water on me, so I was all set. As hikes go, Diamond Head is not that bad, as long as you pace yourself—though it does have a punishing final stretch. That’s not to say it was easy for me, though. Have you ever gotten claustrophobia while hiking a mountain before? Neither had I, until I hiked Diamond Head.

Diamond Head

View of the summit from the base

The hike starts out with a gently sloping, paved trail that begins at the trail head. Gradually, it changes to a rocky trail, but it’s still not that steep. The trail weaves back and forth up the mountain, and there are sturdy handrails all the way. But no doubt about it, by the time you get halfway up, unless you’ve stopped several times along the way to rest, you’ll start feeling the burn of this workout.

Inside Diamond Head Crater

Inside Diamond Head Crater

Eventually, I wound up behind a long line of people I couldn’t pass because there were people coming down the mountain, too, and the trail was narrow. This was actually a good thing, because it forced me to slow down. I hadn’t taken advantage of any of the resting points along the way where I could have stepped off to the side and out of the way, and now it was too late. I was sweating and my heart was pounding.

Besides, I thought, if these elderly people in front of me can keep hiking without stopping, by God I can. But then I saw it, looming up ahead: A black hole, marking the entrance to a tunnel. A tunnel? I thought. Oh you have got to be kidding me. Well, maybe it’s a short tunnel.

The closer we got, the darker the mouth of the tunnel seemed. I couldn’t see any light on the other side.

As people passed me coming back down the mountain, I breathlessly asked “How long is this tunnel?”

“Long enough,” they grumbled.

Oh hell no. See, not only am I night blind—meaning I can’t see a thing in dark places—but I’m also kind of claustrophobic.

I didn’t want to go on. I wanted to stop and think about it, to prepare myself, to catch my breath, but I was in the middle of a long line of people. If I stopped, I’d hold up the line. I couldn’t step off to the left, because there was a steady stream of hikers coming down that side of the trail.

Besides, how could I come all this way, only to turn around before reaching the summit? How would I be able to face anyone if I chickened out?

The Trail

Lines of hikers headed up and down the trail.

I forced myself to follow the line into the tunnel. There are lights set low in the wall along the trail, but they weren’t bright enough for me. At around ten feet in front of me, people were swallowed up in the blackness. As my hand reached out for the handrail, I could feel it shaking. The line in front of me slowed to a crawl. There were people standing too close on all sides of me. The air in the tunnel didn’t seem to be moving. I couldn’t breathe. My heart was racing, and not in a good way.

I felt like I was on the verge of a panic attack. I can’t do this, I thought. I need to stop now.

There was only one thing I could think of to buy myself some time: I squatted down and tucked myself into a niche in the cave wall, beneath the hand rail, where I was out of the way. I gestured for everyone to pass me.

Picture that for a minute. Embarrassing, right?

A couple of women asked me if I was all right, and I assured them I just needed a minute. I’m not sure how long I stayed in that position, but eventually, the line of people in front of me had disappeared and so had the line coming up from behind. No one was coming down the tunnel, either. I was alone. I stood up. Without all the people crowding me on each side, it felt like the air was circulating in the tunnel, and I could breathe again.

I looked at the lights again. They didn’t shed enough light for me to see the tunnel floor, but I could see them. If I could just feel my way with the handrail and keep my eyes on those lights, I could walk really fast and get through the tunnel quickly–as long as there wasn’t a traffic jam somewhere up ahead. The quicker I get this over with, the quicker I get out into the fresh air again, I reasoned. It was worth a try.

Taking a deep breath, I started walking as fast as I could. I was so relieved not to run into any other people until I made it out the other side. (On the return trip, I was a bit smarter; I dug my flashlight out of the bottom of my backpack and lit my way through the tunnel. Also, it was less crowded on the way down.)

Steep stairs

When I made it out of the tunnel, I still had to climb this

I swear a sadist must have created this trail. After I made it through the tunnel, I still had to climb a long, steep staircase with 99 steps, a narrow circular staircase, and then duck down and squeeze through a short opening to get out onto the top of the mountain. Finally—finally!–I made it to the top. The cool ocean breeze felt good on my overheated skin, and the open space was a godsend. And the views? Stunning.

Waikiki Beach from Diamond Head

View of Waikiki Beach and beyond

Diamond Head Lighthouse

Diamond Head Lighthouse

In the long run, I’m glad I didn’t turn back at the tunnel. I’m glad I forced myself to go on, despite my anxiety. For those views, I’d even do it again. If you’re in reasonably good health, I’d recommend this hike to anyone visiting Honolulu.

View toward Koko Head

View toward Koko Head

How to Get to Diamond Head by Bus

Take the 22, 23 or 24 bus from Waikiki. Get off at the Diamond Head entrance at Makapu’u Avenue and 18th Avenue. The bus stop looks like this:

Diamond Head bus stop

Diamond Head bus stop

Walk along the paved road that heads uphill and through a car tunnel to the parking lot at the trail head. People entering on foot pay $1 admission.

Shave Ice

Reward yourself with a shave ice after your hike

At the trail head, you’ll find restrooms (I strongly encourage you to use them before the hike, since there is nowhere to go on the mountain). You’ll also see vending machines and a yellow food truck selling cold water, hamburgers, hot dogs, and shave ice. Definitely bring a bottle or two of cold water with you on the mountain—you will need it. Save the shave ice as a reward to yourself following the hike. It’ll help you cool off.

For more of my Diamond Head photos, check out my Smugmug gallery.

Gray April 6, 2012 at 10:48 am

Thanks, Kent. I feel a little bit better hearing you say that, because I know you guys are much more active travelers than I am.

Kent @ No Vacation Required April 6, 2012 at 8:46 am

I thought the hike was SO worth. Having said that, the number of people and the tight spaces were overwhelming.

Gray March 25, 2012 at 8:25 am

Well, NOW I feel a lot better, Christine. If you thought it was tough, too, then I know I’m not a wuss. The shave ice definitely helped me cool down. Smart of them to have that truck there.

Christine | Grrrl Traveler March 24, 2012 at 9:46 pm

I agree with the sadist part. That’s exactly how I felt when I climbed it, starting from the dry heat. And after I saw the gorgeous site of Oahu from Diamond Head and took all my photos, I swore I’d never climb it again. Those steps are scary.

Bravo for you to face your fears & glad you rewarded yourself afterwards with the shaved ice, though!

Gray March 24, 2012 at 5:02 pm

Good idea, Michael! Do you know of any good hikes in Rome or Cannes?

Michael March 24, 2012 at 4:10 pm

Well, that was certainly a challenge and eventually an adventure, don’t you think? As you said, if grannies can do it, it must be an easy enough hike. That said, we’ve never encountered a dark tunnel in the trails we’ve hiked. Next time you’re in Europe, you should try at least one easy hike. In the Black Forest, perhaps?

Gray March 24, 2012 at 1:08 pm

Grete – Yes, despite the challenges, this will remain a fond memory for me as well.

Gray March 24, 2012 at 1:02 pm

I hate to admit it, but there may have been written signs and stuff about “what was to come”, and I just wasn’t paying attention, Sabina. Isn’t the color of the water just gorgeous?

Grete karin Krogstad March 24, 2012 at 12:46 pm

A nice day we had up there, lovely to see it again 🙂

Sabina March 24, 2012 at 12:43 pm

Wow, Gray, too bad that tunnel turned what could have been a thorougly blissful hike into such a difficult journey! I’m surprised, frankly, that you were the only one whom you know of who was having trouble. Tons of people are claustrophobic, and tons more couldn’t possibly climb all those stairs after having scaled the mountain and endured the tunnel. They should have written and verbal warnings for people about what they’re getting themselves into. Good for you for sticking it out and enjoying the views. That turqouise water is gorgeous!

Gray March 21, 2012 at 5:43 pm

Thanks, Sere. It’s tough, but worth it.

Gray March 21, 2012 at 5:37 pm

Krista – Yes, I’d have to say Diamond Head is a terrific hike for solo hikers. You don’t have to worry about anything creepy happening to you or being out in some isolated spot in case you fall and break something or whatever. There is plenty of foot traffic here.

Sere March 21, 2012 at 3:37 pm

Yikes the tunnel would have freaked me out as well. We didn’t hike Diamond Head when we were there. Looks like we missed a heck of a hike. The stairs would have killed me haha. But your right you can’t stop at that point. Reminds me of my black diamond ski adventure, no way I was not going down that hill at that point. Kudo’s to you for finishing. Sounds like it was worth it. Awesome pics from up top. Thanks!

Krista March 21, 2012 at 1:52 pm

Yikes, I was exhausted just reading about the hike. That staircase alone seems like too much, but i’m pretty tired today so it could be my lack of sleep talking :). I’m not sure I like the crowd of people on the trail but it could be pretty beneficial if something happens to you on the trail there would be somebody to help.
Thanks for the great detail of what the hike is like! It is nice to know what to expect.

Gray March 20, 2012 at 7:45 pm

Oh, it was totally worth it. You know what they say, no pain, no gain. 😉

Suzanne March 20, 2012 at 7:31 pm

Yowza thats a heck of a hike, but sure looks worth it. I appreciate the details you gave, when I get there someday I will know what I am getting into. Thats the part of hiking that makes me most nervous when you dont know whats coming up next 🙂 Aloha!

Comments on this entry are closed.

{ 2 trackbacks }

Previous post:

Next post: