Only On Oahu (Part 1): Hiking Honolulu

Written on the trail at Diamond Head, it's true of hikes - it's true of life
I’m not one to sit around on a wide, sandy beach, a tropical drink in my hand and stare out at the endless ocean. Sure, that’s cool for some and while in Waikiki I see lots of people plant themselves on the beach and never move. So while staying in Waikiki I indulged my need for movement. Trust me, there are plenty more than these local hikes, but these are pretty damn good. What’s fascinating to me is that you’ll see all manner of people on these hikes: short, fat, old, young, some wearing flip flops, some covered from head to foot like there were in the witness protection program. Those who look like they are in the best shape aren’t; and chances are good that some wrinkled little Asian woman will pass you going uphill. Find a pace that works for you and steadily make your way to the best views on Oahu.
The views of Waikiki from the top of Diamond Head

Diamond Head
Diamond Head is the most well-known and most visible crater from the Waikiki area, just a 10 minute drive from downtown. Its profile and name are almost iconic with Oahu. The moderate hike will take you 35 minutes to the top if you’re in reasonable shape and you have a good pace - but it's a workout - you will sweat. Part concrete walkway, part stairs and part rocky trail, the peak is just 761 feet above sea level which might seem unimpressive, but the views from the top are stunning and you can see the rim of the crater behind you. In the immediate distance there is Waikiki and Honolulu; to the east is Maunalua Bay. You need to pay to park – just $5 per car, or like many people, you can park outside this State Park and walk in for just $1. 
The trail at Diamond Head

The trail, full of stairs and switchbacks even a few hundred feet through a tunnel, was built in 1908 as a coastal defensive position. Now this park sees tons of tourists and it’s not uncommon to see buses pull up – which is why early is always better – less heat, more room to check it out. The terrain is rather sparse but if you’re there at the right times of year, you might see whales passing by far below you.

Makapu’u Point and Lighthouse
With easy access to the parking lot off Highway 72, the trail to this Lighthouse is a 40 minute walk on a paved road. Easy enough, right? Well yes, and no. That all depends on the kind of shape you’re in. No shade, heat rising off the blacktop, the only benefits are the breezes you get as you approach the windward side which eases your perspiration. 

The climb is gradual but it’s a climb. But again, the views are amazing. You can’t get down to the lighthouse, but it’s there just below you once you reach the top - its bright red dome contrasting with the endless blue of the ocean. 
The Windward side views from Makapu'u Point
You get sweeping views up the windward side including Manana Island and all across Waimanalo Bay and for my money, since there is less development on the windward side, the views are quintessential Hawaii. You can also view the backside of Koko Crater about half way up the path and clearly see how one portion of the cone has eroded over time. This is the least crowded of these three hikes and certainly the walking portion is not challenging. That falls to Koko…

Koko Crater is one of those hikes which comes with a price tag, and it ain't money. Think of Koko as a free cardio workout with a little breeze and a lot of views. Head to Koko Park and drive to the upper baseball diamond - you'll see all the cars there. The crater looms before and you can make out tiny specks flashing in the sunlight near the top. That’s when you realize those are people who are heading nearly straight up the face of this dead volcano. 
About to ascend Koko

At first the steps look simple enough. Actually “steps” isn't quite accurate – this is an old railway system used originally to haul supplies to the top where another defensive position was set up during World War II - the lonely bunker remnants still guarding the 360 degree views. The railroad ties are uneven, spaced out at peculiar intervals. Some say there are 1,000 steps, some say its closer to 1,100, frankly, after the first few hundred it doesn’t matter. Most people walk it, my wife scrambled it on all fours…well, to each his own. About half way up the railroad ties separate from the ground as they pass over a culvert. It’s not a far drop down, maybe 20 feet, but the fact that you’re already tired and now there are 30 steps over a mild drop with no hand rail doesn’t help. Some people freak, and that doesn’t help either. On my hike one 20-something girl was having a panic attack and it took the help of her friend to make it the 30 steps. Stay focused and keep moving – it’s when you stop and assess your surroundings that you begin to over think it. Frankly, it’s a little harder going down this section as your legs are wobbly and feeble, well, at least mine were. Once you cross the ‘bridge” you’re half way up the face of the crater. But the thing is - everything gets proportionally steeper, therefore, harder. 
Just a partial view from Koko

But hard isn’t the issue once you arrive at the top and you have jaw-dropping views of everything, including other islands and Hanauma Bay is just below you. And you can see past Waikiki and Honolulu as well as the Ko’Olau mountain range is behind you. Every drop of sweat (and there were many) are well spent to get here. There is minimal shade, hardly any at all, and the eroding concrete bunkers at the top are pretty cool. I timed my ascent at 45 minutes – down was longer.

Heading down Koko

As with all of these hikes, morning is best since shade is minimal, so bring a hat, water, sunscreen and a camera. Trust me, after hiking all these spots you’ll feel rather invincible and have an experience of Oahu most people don’t get. Check out this VIDEO ONLY ON OAHU I shot at Koko Crater for some way cool views!
For additional things to do make sure you read Part II of this post: ONLY ON OAHU: Sharks, Mai Tais & The Family Jewels

This sign at Koko sums up all Oahu hikes: Be Careful!

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