Last day in April, though it’s already May 1st on the other side of the International Dateline. The distinctive shape of Diamond Head beckoned today. This was my first chance to visit this Hawaiian icon, and I wanted to see it from the lofty heights of the crater whose silhouette was so familiar.
We hopped a city bus and asked for the Diamond Head stop. The bus driver said she’d warn us and took offense when we heard “Diamond Head” and started to descend a stop too early. Chastised, we sat down and rode another hundred feet to the right stop, where we started the hot, uphill slog.
The first part of it was along the road and through the Kapahulu Tunnel, where traffic was supposed to slow to 5 mph because pedestrians have no protective lane, just a narrow shoulder. The tunnel burrows through the Le’ahi crater and into what was a U.S. military reserve from 1906 to 1976, when it was opened to the public.
Le’ahi was formed about 300,000 years ago in one massive eruption. Erosion gradually shaped it into the most well known landmark in Hawaii.
The Hawaiian word, Le’ahi, has two meanings. One is the brow of the ahi fish, which is what it looks like to anyone gazing upward from Waikiki. The second meaning is wreath of fire. Polynesian navigators were guided safely into harbour by the signal fires lit on the crater’s rim.
Westerners named the old volcano Diamond Head. They found calcite crystals and got all excited, thinking they were diamonds.
The trail that leads to the summit of Le’ahi was built by the U.S. military, as part of the Army Coastal Artillery defense system. At the top was a fire control station. Mules carried most goods up the trail, but there were also winches for hauling things to a midway point.
The day was hot and humid, and our destination looked out of reach for a couple of sixty-somethings still not accustomed to tropical weather. We headed past the displays and the restrooms and began the ascent up the asphalt trail. A flash of red caught my eye so I stopped to snap a photo of a Brazilian cardinal.
The asphalt soon ended, and we began the next stretch of the trail, a stony, eroded path that switchbacks up the steep slope. Several dozen other intrepid walkers were winding their way upward. We weren’t the speediest so occasionally stopped to let others pass by. Any excuse for a breather.
A long tunnel was a welcome break from the relentless heat. But after that came several sets of steep stairs, one with risers too narrow for a bit-footed woman. That wasn’t so bad on the way up, but on the way down the angle was dizzying. Visions of slipping and ending up sliding the whole 99 steps competed with all those crazy admonitions that what we focus on is what ends up happening to us.
By the time we’d made our way up the last spiral staircase, squeezed through the old gun emplacement, rounded the last switchback, and climbed the last steps, we were committed to finding the view from the top worth the effort of reaching it.
And it was. Below us stretched Waikiki Beach to the west, Maunalua Bay to the east, and the deep, blue sea to the south. We spent a long time reveling in the view and listening to the conversations of fellow travelers.
The trek back to the bus stop was easy, except for those crazy, steep steps. We stopped at a refreshment stand near the visitor center for a mango smoothie, took one last photo of fragrant, pink frangipani, and headed back through the car tunnel and down to the bus stop.
After a long wait for a bus that was too full to stop for us, we hopped a bus that meandered through neighbourhoods and finally deposited us at the Ala Moana Shopping Center, where we caught a bus back to our floating home.
We were tired, but having bragging rights for having reached the summit of Diamond Head made it all worthwhile.