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Hawaii’s Iconic Sites: Diamond Head Crater

As soon as you arrive on Oahu, you’ll be welcomed by one of the most iconic sites in all of Hawaii: Diamond Head. This extinct volcanic crater sits just south of Waikiki Beach, and is visible all the way up the island’s leeward coast. There may not be a more well-known site on the island, and its iconic shape has been seen in pictures and imagery for as long as people have been vacationing on Oahu.

The history of Diamond Head dates back to the days of ancient Hawaii and has long been the island’s most recognized site. The name comes from a misconception from the 19th century, when British sailors mistook calcite crystals for diamonds. Thinking these were of great value, they began collecting the worthless rocks, and the “diamond” portion of the name stuck. The “head” part of the name likely comes from the ancient Hawaiians, who named the crater after the shape of the Ahi Tuna’s head. In Hawaiian, Diamond Head is “Le’ahi”, taken from the shape of the tuna’s head.

A volcanic tuff cone, Diamond Head is estimated be between 400,000 and 500,000 years old. One of 5 volcanoes on Oahu, the eruption cycle of this volcano is believed to be very brief, thought violent, lasting anywhere from a few days to a month. Interestingly, the volcano erupted just one time, and will never erupt again.

Designated as a National Natural Landmark in 1968, Diamond Head has been used as a military post since the early 1900s and has had a variety of jobs, most notably as the FAA air traffic control center from 1963-2001. Today, only the National Guard facility and the Hawaii State Civil Defense remain in the crater, and the facilities are visible from the top of the trail.

Visitors from all over the world enjoy an easy hike to the top of Diamond Head, where a sunrise view is a perfect way to start a day, and the entire coastline of Oahu’s west coast is visible. The paved trail, with easy to climb stairs and handrails is a great experience for all ages, and shows off the incredible beauty of Oahu. All of Waikiki Beach is visible and the deep valleys and high mountains of the island show off the diverse topography of the island.

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