Hiking Oahu; Diamond Head & two waterfalls

Aloha!  In my previous post Summer in Hawaii; Waikiki Beach, Honolulu, Oahu, I wrote about where we stay, and favourite places to dine out in Waikiki and surrounding areas.  Besides the bright lights and fantastic restaurants of downtown Honolulu, there is a lot more to the beautiful island of Oahu!

If you get tired of sipping cocktails by the pool, and find yourself yearning for adventure (and need to burn off some of the calories from the Cheesecake Factory!) there are some fantastic hiking trails around the island.

Here are three of our favourites so far..

Diamond Head Hike

Distance: approx 2 miles total

Starting point: Car park @ Diamond Head State Monument (around 10 minute drive from where we stay at the Waikiki Beach Marriott)

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Stunning views of Honolulu from the summit 

This is probably the most popular hike in Hawaii, and is considered a “must do” when visiting Oahu.  The immense circular crater comprises over 475 acres, including the inner and outer slopes.  Diamond Head stands resplendent over the ocean at the highest point.

You can read all about the military history of the crater itself and the original trail on the official State Park website here. 

If you’re staying in the area and only have the time or inclination to do one hike, this would be one of the best ones, for the unparalleled views from the summit alone.

fun fact: I assumed that Diamond Head was so called because it resembled a diamond shape (the whole crater looks like a crown to me), but the Hawaiian name, Lēʻahi, is apparently formed from two words which mean the shape of the dorsal fin of a tuna! (Lae + ahi).  British sailors later named it Diamond Head because they mistakenly thought minerals on the beach were diamonds (they were calcite). So there you go!

The car park & hiking trail are open from 6am – 6pm, with the last entrance for the trail at 4:30pm.  The quieter parts of the day for parking are probably early morning and later in the afternoon.  Although the last time we did this hike in January 2019, we decided on a lie in, so didn’t get to the car park until around midday.  We still only had to wait 5 minutes to get a parking spot.  So I think it depends on the season and the day.  Always be prepared for a wait of some sort for parking.  I’ve seen some people doing the walk up from Waikiki to the start of the trail head instead of driving.  They must be fitter than me!

From the trailhead to the summit is 0.8 miles one way.  “Easy!” I hear you cry.  But it is a deceivingly difficult climb, with a big elevation gain over a short distance.  This is really going to work your legs! My advice would be to wear trainers or hiking boots and have plenty of water.   After the first set of stairs and then coming through the tunnel, I had to take a rest!  With the heat and the relatively fast climb, I was feeling really tired.  So it definitely pays to take your time!

The last section is probably the hardest part, consisting of very narrow and steep metal stairs, a 225 ft tunnel, then more steps (only 99!).  By the time you get to the spiral staircase through the old fire control station (another 52 steps), you may be wanting to give up.  But of course, you have to push though it for the spectacular views.  After you are able to breathe again, you’ll really appreciate them!

And then it’s all downhill, right?

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Exiting the Fire Control Station with views through the old bunker (mind your head!)
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Taking a break (note to self: Perhaps doing the Diamond Head hike in the midday sun wasn’t the best idea!)
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views across to Koko Head from Diamond Head

I really recommend putting aside a morning to do this hike if you’re in the area.  You’ll get an unforgettable birds’ eye view of the city.  Remember; lots of water and take it slowly!


Manoa Falls Trail 

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Another incredibly popular hike – and around the same distance as Diamond Head, but much easier in comparison!

Distance: 2 miles total

Starting Point: End of Manoa Rd, paid car park next to Treetops Restaurant (I think the restaurant may be closed for renovations – but there were toilets and a shop there when we visited in January 2018)

This is a really lush rainforest trail, through green canopies dotted with purple flowers, eucalyptus trees and plenty of bamboo.  There are also some huge banyan trees.  If you have watched LOST (and if not, why not?), then you will recognise this area in many of the scenes. It feels like you could be on a completely different island, but you’re only 15 minutes from Waikiki Beach!

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The hike to the falls is not too steep, and a pretty easy walk, but can be muddy.  As with all trails, proper hiking boots are advised!

Manoa falls itself cascades beautifully down 160 ft of rock, and I think was again used as a location in LOST (I’ll have to watch it again to check which episodes, unless any of you can set me straight!).

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Approach to the falls..

Our guidebook for Oahu states that the mile-long hike is “long enough to dissuade casual visitors, but close enough for almost any hiker to visit”.  While this is the case for some of the hikes we have done, unfortunately I didn’t agree with this at Manoa falls.  Despite several very clear signs to not go past a certain point, people were climbing all over the rocks and under the falls, desperate for the best photo.  More than one person was standing right in front of the falls just texting on their phone, ignoring the fact that other people may want to get some photos.

I’m a blogger, a user of Instagram, and I love to share my adventures; but please, people –  wait until you get back to the car!  Better still, leave the phone at home and just enjoy the beautiful waterfall 😊

Aside from that, the hike was very enjoyable, and I’ll be going back on our next visit to Oahu earlier in the day to try and avoid the crowds!


Hamama Falls Hike

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This is one of our favourite hikes on Oahu, which we’ve done on two separate visits. I call it the “Secret Waterfall” hike, because you have to really know it’s there.  However, the last time we did it a couple of weeks ago, it had obviously become a bit more popular!

Distance: 3 miles total 

Starting point:  North of Kane’ohe, take the first left off Highway 83, after the Hygenic Store (a general store).  Follow the road to the end.  It’s residential parking, so you’ll probably have to park a bit further down the road than the gate where the trail starts.

Quick note:  I originally though the waterfall was Waihe’e Falls, as that’s what our guidebook called it.  It seems that there are two separate falls, and the one you come to at the end of this trail is actually Hamama Falls.  I stand corrected.

The trail starts at a gate, which has warning signs to Keep Out, and No Trespassing.  According to our guidebook, these signs are outdated, and the Board of Water Supply have confirmed you’re allowed to use the trail.  Other websites claim that you need a permit.  I can’t confirm either way.  Google Maps lists it as permanently closed.  I’ll leave it up to you to decide! At any rate, the gate is chained shut, so access is via a hole to the left above the stream.

The first half mile of the hike is easy, although we did do this on a very humid day the most recent time, and in the afternoon, so any walk is relatively challenging! Most of this part is a dirt road, which vehicles could drive on, so it’s not a narrow trail.

You’ll pass a freshwater “swimming hole” on your left, which is usually busy with locals taking a dip. Then you get to a big stone dam with locked wooden doors.  To the left of this (with your back to it), the trail winds around and continues uphill towards the falls.  Some people take a short-cut closer to the dam, but there are signs asking you not to do this, as it’s a conservation area.  Best to stick to the trail!

The stone dam, which again looks like something straight out of LOST!  and lush views across the valley on the way to the waterfall

The remainder of the trail to the falls is steeper and more challenging.  The last time we did it, I found it quite difficult in the heat, and I’d forgotten how much elevation there is.  At least that means that coming back is mostly downhill!  It can also be muddy and slippery for the last part of the trail.

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Views across the valley all the way to Kaneohe Bay

The beautiful waterfall and pool 

The first time we did this hike, a couple of years ago, was in the winter, and we were the only people at the falls (apart from one other person who kindly took some photos of us).

This time, it was a lot busier.  I don’t know if that’s because it’s the summer, or the hike is becoming more well known, but it was rivalling Manoa falls in terms of visitors and Texting People!

Hopefully, if you do this beautiful hike, you’ll be lucky enough to have a semi-private viewing of the waterfall, like our first visit.  I would recommend going in the winter months if you can, and maybe earlier in the day.


I hope this post has inspired you to get out there and do some great hikes on the beautiful Island of Oahu.

I’ll be trying other trails on future trips – in the meantime I’d  love to hear from any of you who have done these or other hikes, and any recommendations you have.

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Safe travels and Mahalo!

Charlotte

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