Tag Archives: Oahu

Koko Head Crater Trail Hike

As part of my gung-ho reintroduction to Oahu, I decided to take on the beast that is the Koko Head Crater Trail hike with my sister, sister-in-law and niece. I’d never done this hike before and figured it was now or never.

More than a few times along the way I pondered whether I was a masochist, because who in their right mind would enjoy this? It was a grueling StairMaster workout, more than a steep hike, up the discontinued railway, but I made it to the top and back down without dying (much).

It’s a good idea to start this hike early in the morning to avoid the heat of midday. Bring a bottle of water for each person in your group as there aren’t any trees along the way for shelter, and the path to the top isn’t fooling around with switchbacks or lazily circling the crater. It’s got one thing in mind – getting to the top – and everyone knows the shortest distance between two points is a straight line. The Koko Head Crater Trail goes up, up and then continues up some more.

By parking at Koko Head District Park, the walk to the mountain is a slight uphill meander that doesn’t give you a hint of what’s to come. In fact, it lulls you into apathy because you can see the top of Koko Head and it looks so damn close. Your mind’s got you thinking it’ll be easy.

But it’s not.

I’m not sure how many stairs it takes to get from the bottom to the top – possibly around 1,000 – but your thighs, butt and knees as well as your lungs will feel each and every one. The heights of each step and the distance between them varies, so if you’re short like me, you might find it more difficult than taller folks.

People with longer legs will be able to reach each step in their stride, but shorter legs will have to adjust with some sort of shuffle step. I found it was easier to lead with one foot for about ten paces and then switch sides.

At one point in the hike, the ground beneath the railroad track gives way and the track continues across in a bridge-like fashion. Anyone scared of heights may want to take the alternate path on the right side of the trail to avoid looking at a 10-foot drop between each tracks.

If you decide to take on the bridge (as most people do), just take your time. I noticed people had different techniques for handling this section of the hike. Sure-footed people simply continued along as if they were walking on solid ground. Other people took it one foot at a time, making sure they planted their feet solidly on each track. Some people even crawled up this section, using their hands as if they were climbing a ladder. Do whatever works for you at your own pace. Trust me, people will pass you if you’re going too slow for them.

After all is said and done, the view at the top is pretty spectacular. I won’t commit to doing it again, but I’m glad I did it. Can you believe some people use this hike for their daily workout and RUN (what?!?!) up and down Koko Head Crater? I, my friends, will never be one of them.

Once you’ve rested and rejuvenated at the top, don’t let your guard down as coming down can be worse than going up if you have bad knees. Be careful and don’t rush. Make sure your footing is stable as it’d be a long, bumpy way down if you slipped and took a tumble.

A nice thing you could do is to smile and encourage (and gloat?) the people on their way up. You can do this now that you’re heading in the opposite direction and aren’t red-faced and puffing like a steam locomotive.

Koko Head Crater Trail is a challenging and grueling workout that’ll make your legs hum for the rest of the day (and possibly sing the following morning). It’s a quick way to get a spectacular view of the east side of Oahu and is definitely a bucket list type of excursion for many people.

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Hiking Diamond Head on Oahu

Hiking Diamond Head, or Lēʻahi, is one of the many things Oʻahu visitors can do during their stay because of its proximity to Waikīkī. Being that I felt like a tourist myself, it seemed only fitting to make the trek to the top with my sister and niece.

Diamond Head is an inactive volcanic crater located between the neighborhoods of Kapahulu and Kāhala. British sailors gave Diamond Head its English name when they saw specs of glitter atop its slopes and mistook them for diamonds. Its Hawaiian name, meaning forehead of the yellow-fin tuna (known as ʻahi in the Islands), is due to the crater’s shape, which looks like the head and dorsal fin of the fish when viewed from the east side.

Even though I grew up in central Oʻahu, this area of the island will always be special to me. Every Friday or Saturday evening during my childhood my family would visit my grandmother’s home in Kapahulu. She lived a few blocks away from the slopes of Diamond Head in the same house in which my dad and his siblings were raised.

However, it has probably been close to 10 years since I last did the 0.8 mile hike, and the improvements since then are remarkable. The trail starts off paved but turns to rock and dirt fairly quickly. The ground is mostly uneven with numerous switchbacks as you ascend the inside of the crater.

Near the top you’ll find a steep stairway to climb, a lighted tunnel and a second staircase that spirals you into a former military bunker. Paved and railed improvements create great photo opportunities with east Oʻahu in the background. Platforms and informational signs at the top have expanded the viewing area and explains the scenery and landmarks to visitors.

A negative change since I last hiked Diamond Head is the initiation of an entrance fee charged to cars and pedestrians. But, I suppose someone has to pay for all these new improvements, maintenance and upkeep of the area and the fees are quite reasonable. It costs $5 per vehicle or $1 per person for anyone without a car as many people catch the bus and walk into the crater from Diamond Head Road.

In the end, it was a great day with good company. My niece jogged to the top, which is incredibly common for people more fit than myself. My sister and I steadily made our way to the top and enjoyed ourselves. We stopped along the way for photos and to take in the wonderful views. As they say in the Islands, lucky we live Hawaiʻi.

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Rediscovering Waikiki

Waikīkī is one of those places where locals avoid, for the most part, unless there’s a special event or family gathering. And, it had been a while since I’d been down there, even before I began traveling, so when my friend Chris suggested we have lunch at The Cheesecake Factory, I jumped at the chance to rediscover it.

Over lunch Chris and I caught up on everything that had happened while I was away. We have one of those friendships where we pick up where we left off no matter how long it’s been since we last spoke. The longer we chatted, the more I appreciated the depth of our friendship. There is no way that I could connect with someone I met on the road like I do with Chris. I suppose our friendship has had years to develop and evolve, and newer friendships just haven’t had time to put in the miles like this one. But, I know I was definitely missing this feeling of complete acceptance and understanding while overseas. It’s reassuring to know there’s someone out there who just totally gets you, and you don’t have to always explain yourself or your actions.

After a massive feed, we waddled our way along Kalākaua Ave and headed for Waikīkī Beach along a nearby path. The beach was overflowing with people swimming and sunbathing beneath the warm afternoon sun. The sand under my feet was hot and the Pacific Ocean looked so cool. All the colors seemed a tad brighter and more amazing than I remembered. I guess this is the reason Hawaiʻi is such a popular tourist destination.

Waikīkī is a good introduction to Hawaiʻi and offers all the sun, sand and (sometimes) surf that you could want. It has a multitude of activities, shops and restaurants to keep you busy during your stay. But, if it’s the only part of Hawaiʻi that you see, you’re missing out on the real Hawaiʻi.

As I have told many people I’ve met throughout my travels, the island of Oʻahu is simply any other American city set in the tropics. If you really want to learn about Hawaiʻi’s culture and natural wonders, visit a few of the outer islands after you’ve explored Oʻahu. Then you’ll know what the Aloha Spirit is all about.

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