Hiking Diamond Head | National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific
Ever since I hiked Diamond Head with my family last spring, I have been teasing Curtis about how he hadn’t yet hiked it. Every time we would do a hike in the Ko’olaus with views of Honolulu and the South shore of Oahu, I would point it out and joke about how he had yet to do the ‘hardest hike on the island’. Well, it finally happened — Curtis has officially hiked Diamond Head!
Looking down on Diamond Head and Honolulu from Lanipo Ridge Trail
The planning for this hike was very strategic and honestly took more thought than the majority of hikes on this island. We had to do it at a time when it wasn’t as busy as when my family hiked it. We reasoned that it would be best to go at sunrise, because most touristy places aren’t too bad if you go early enough. However, Diamond Head is in a state park and doesn’t open until 6AM, so we had to wait until the sunrise was long enough after 6 that we could enter and hike up for the best views. That is the real reason why we put this hike off for so long!
Since we had 3 mornings to ‘sleep in’ over Thanksgiving weekend, it wasn’t too hard to give up one to do a sunrise hike. We drove to Waikiki and parked outside of the park in order to save $3. (Parking inside the crater is sparse, especially later in the day, and costs $5 per car. Walking in is only $1 per person. We parked in the community college parking lot across the street). We walked in, and while there were some cars driving in, it definitely wasn’t as busy as I remembered it being last spring. We paid the fee, then began our trek up.
The hike from where we parked to the peak was just over a mile and a half. I recalled there basically being a constant stream of people walking both up and down last spring, but today the path was surprisingly empty. We mostly only saw a couple joggers going up. Curtis noted how the inside of the crater had that Arizona/Southwestern feel that we crave, and even said “What if this ends up being one of my favorite hikes on the island?”
However, it was when we reached the summit that we finally found all the tourists — there were SO MANY PEOPLE. I heard that there were tour buses that basically arrived right at opening and brought myriads of visitors. I suppose it was better for us to have the hike up to ourselves, but now stuck in a crowd, we felt the urge to just turn around and head back down. We fought that urge by playing PokemonGo and people watching. There was no denying that the sunrise was worth it — especially when the sun gave us a perfect silhouette view of Molokai and Maui on the horizon as the light spilled over the islands. The skyscrapers in Honolulu and Waikiki reflected pink light, and the moon still shown brightly above us.
I attempted to capture all this beauty with my camera using angles to hide the fact that there were hundreds of people with us. However, I soon realized that it was more fun to just take pictures of the tourists themselves. I won’t share many of those to protect the “innocent” (or not so innocent, if you consider all those sitting/standing on the structure that was clearly marked ‘stay off’, ‘structure may collapse’…).
Once we had taken over the Pokemon Gym and Curtis had “bagged the summit,” we began our trek down along with all the other sunrise chasers. The quote of the day goes to the dad who said to his child, “Say goodbye to the sunset!”
In all seriousness though, while I don’t make this hike out to be very challenging, it should not be taken lightly. The Star Advertiser ran an article about rescues on different trails, and between the months of January and February of 2018 there were 59 rescues. That’s at least one per day!! On the first 90º day of the summer, there were 7 people (all unrelated) that needed airlifted out of the crater. If you go by hikes with largest amount of people rescued, Diamond Head would be the ‘most dangerous on the island.’ All that to say, still come prepared for this hike. Bring water, wear appropriate footwear, take breaks if needed. There is almost no shade on the trail and it does get hot. The trail is constantly gaining in elevation and has several switchbacks, staircases, and a tunnel.
All that to say, Curtis and I are experienced hikers, so after we were finished we decided to do a victory lap. By that I mean, we walked all around the base of the entire crater through the neighborhood streets. The highlights of this added part were seeing the surfers, the lighthouse up close, and learning a lot more about the history of Diamond Head through historic plaques scattered around. At the end, we had hiked over 7 miles in under 3 hours. (Check out our impressive AllTrails recording here!) It seemed only necessary to reward ourselves afterwards with Leonard’s malsadas. We had just hiked 7 miles on empty stomaches, after all!
We decided to make one last stop before heading home: the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific. We had meant to visit it several times before because there were letterboxes, but were always too tired after other hikes. We drove up and into the crater (also known around here as the ‘punchbowl’) and parked on the Southeast end, then began a long walk around the inside. While letterboxes had been our original interest, we soon realized how cool this place really was and ended up spending over 2 hours here. Besides being the final resting place for many, this cemetery also has a large monument dedicated to those soldiers who were never recovered in battles across the Pacific from WW2, Korea, and Vietnam. It turns out there are more monuments like it across the world! There was a substantial amount of history written on mosaic walls, which is where we spent most of our time. We ended our visit by walking to the overlook and finding one of the letterboxes. We were very impressed with it all and were glad we took the time to visit.
By the end, we had been out for over 7 hours, walking around and exploring Honolulu. It made me feel kind of like a tourist again, packing in so much into a morning and discovering new sights around the city.
Besides this long morning adventure, we also managed to get some chores and errands done, went to a social event with fellow officers and families, had some down time, took Charlotte on some walks and went on a sunset hike over our 3-day Thanksgiving weekend. We felt so blessed to have had so much time together, and now once again are eagerly awaiting the next extended period of time together!