Diamond Head Crater, located to the east of Waikiki, is one of the first sights many visitors glimpse as their planes bank toward Honolulu’s airport. Glinting in the bright Hawaiian sun, rising just short of a thousand feet above sea level, it’s easy to see how one of the younger volcanic craters in Hawaii got its name. The first British sailors to arrive in Hawaii mistook the shining crystalline deposits for diamonds, hence its nickname. Sadly, none have ever been found there.
Today, visitors and locals alike flock to the historic crater for a variety of reasons, none of which are diamonds. Nevertheless, the story of its creation isn’t diminished by the lack of valuable gemstones. The tuff cone crater provides magnificent views from all angles and is a must-visit for those enjoying a vacation on bustling Oahu.
How Did It Get There?
Like all of the Hawaiian islands, Oahu was formed by a hot spot spewing lava through the earth’s crust. As the Pacific Tectonic Plate moved eastward over the hot spot, these eruptions formed the iconic islands. Diamond Head, on the other hand, was formed long after the creation of Oahu. The Ko’olau Mountain Range, which forms the spine of Oahu, is 2.6 million years old. Diamond Head, by comparison still in diapers, dates back “only” about 200,000 years.
Diamond Head seen from Waikiki in the 1800s
It was formed by a series of eruptions that formed many of Oahu’s famous geological landmarks. Known by geologists as the Honolulu Volcanic Series, Diamond Head, Koko Head Crater, and Punchbowl Crater were all formed by a short but intense string of eruptions, likely not lasting longer than a few days. Today, each crater is home to a popular attraction. Punchbowl is the final resting place of 34,000 brave men and women who valiantly fought in the name of freedom. Koko Head is a grueling hike and popular spot for sunrises. Diamond Head is the crown jewel of Waikiki, overlooking Oahu’s version of South Beach.
During the violent eruptions, the surrounding reefs and ocean off Diamond Head weren’t spared. Huge plumes of ash, dust and rock shot thousands of feet into the air before settling on the slopes, hardening into the crater you see today. It is believed that the ocean level was higher pre-explosion and may have contributed to the violence of the blast as seawater mixed with rising magma. The crater is wider than it is tall, covering 350 acres, and ii’s remarkably symmetrical. Geologists think its proportional figure may be due to the brevity of the eruption.
From postcards to paintings, the iconic crater is ubiquitous in any illustration of Waikiki. Whether looking from your hotel balcony or gazing up from a sailboat, Diamond Head presents a stunning juxtaposition with Waikiki’s glittering skyline. Few places on Earth can boast a vibrant and spirited nightlife so closely shadowed by natural beauty. It stands as a paragon of the awesome power of nature.
What Is The History of Diamond Head?
Why is it called Diamond Head, anyway? If you learn about the history before going, you’ll be able to share valuable information to fellow hikers along the way. The area has rich history, both geological and with Hawaiian culture.
Diamond Head’s geological origins date back to over 300,000 years ago. It was part of the Honolulu Volcanic Series, which also resulted in Koko Crater, Punchbowl Crater, Hanauma Bay, and Mañana Island. These events range from 800,000 to 30,000 years in the past, intriguing visitors with their ancient origins.
For 1.3 million years, the volcanic activity was nonexistent. Diamond Head’s famed volcanic cone began from one single eruption of molten lava that flowed into the Pacific Ocean, leading to explosive conditions for the sea floor and reefs that finally settled into the landmass you see today. At the highest point, the cone is 760 feet tall, with a gaping crater measuring 350 square feet. Visitors can expect to hike to a height of 560 feet during their adventure. With its jagged rocky sloped and somewhat arid terrain, Diamond Head presents a unique style of vegetation that is unique to this area. The crater is covered in low shrubs, without many other large plants. Although the crater was once an active volcano, it hasn’t erupted whatsoever in the past 150,000 years.
Diamond Head wasn’t just a point of interest for its scenic beauty alone. In the early 1900’s, the government decided to leverage the asset of panoramic views and use the landmass for military purposes. Fort Ruger was born, a defense for sea and ground attacks. This was the first military reservation in Hawaii, named after Thomas H. Ruger who was a Civil War General. Around the crater, the military created bunkers, stations, and heavy defense systems. Once you ascend to the summit, you will be able to view some of the military’s history.
Nowadays, Diamond Head is a major icon for Hawaii. It’s highly recognizable, and even appears on loads of merchandise including clothing, souvenirs, logos, posters, and more. If you’re interested in some Diamond Head gear, you can check out the selection online at Pacific Historic Parks. Or, you can pick your memento in person at the gift shop right by the trailhead
As if Diamond Head’s sheer beauty wasn’t enough, a visit to the crater is also an educational experience. When you can get exercise and education in the same activity, you’re truly living the Waikiki experience.
What Is The Origin Of The Name Diamond Head?
Originally, Hawaiians named the volcano Lae Ahi, which interestingly means “brow of the tuna”. Most people are familiar with “Ahi” due to the class of tuna, but most would never know that “Lae” means brow. Remember this, because you never know when bar trivia will focus on Hawaiian history.
By contrast, the commonly known name “Diamond Head” originated in the 19th Century, from British sailors who marveled at crystals that appeared to be diamonds at first glance. Little did they know, the crystals were made out of calcite and did not hold value anywhere close to diamonds. Oahu’s most famous monument mistakenly got its name, but we still think the views are as majestic as diamonds, so it works out.