If you are coming to Oahu in the hopes of swimming in a waterfall, learning about the ancient Hawaiian culture, and seeing unique and beautiful endemic and indigenous plants and animals – plus doing a bit of hiking and enjoying beautiful gardens and tropical flowers – then you should probably head straight to Waimea Valley and Waimea Falls on the North Shore of Oahu.
This stunning 1800 acre park has one of Oahu’s most beautiful waterfall hikes, historical sites, reconstructed and preserved archaeological sites, botanical gardens filled with indigenous plants and native birds, as well as a wealth of friendly and knowledgable employees and educational displays.
At $16 per person – this is probably one of the most affordable and enjoyable activities on Oahu. There is a 1.5 mile round trip hike on a gently sloping paved path that leads to the falls. At the falls, swimmers are required to wear provided life vests and there are life guards stationed to assist if you get in trouble. Along the path there are plenty of side trails that will take you to hidden parts of the valley – or you can stick to the trail and explore the many educational displays along the way.
In the visitor center there are frequent educational activities, a lovely gift shop, a good restaurant and always clean restrooms (as well as free wi-fi which you may need since there is no cell service in the valley). On Saturdays, the Pupukea farmers market is a fun and lively event with live music, plenty of great food, and a beautiful open lawn to picnic on. The visitor center also hosts weddings and parties as well as concerts.
There is a great luau which takes place in Waimea Valley.
This valley was one of the main settlements of Oahu in ancient times and it is filled with rich archaeological sites. It was evacuated in 1893 due to heavy flooding and never recovered. The valley is a sacred ahupua’a to the Hawaiian people – that’s a land division.
There are 41 different gardens in the valley containing more than 5000 different plants. For many of my visitors, this is the most fulfilling and memorable part of their journey to Oahu. In addition, it may look familiar because there were quite a few movies and TV Shows shot in Waimea Valley including Lost, Hawaii 5-0, 50 First Dates, Joe vs. The Volcano – and many more.
Children (4-12 years): 8
Seniors (60 years and older): $12
Kama’aina/Military Adults (ID required): $10
Kama’aina/Military Children: $6
Kama’aina/Military Seniors: $8
Annual Pass Individual: $50
Annual Pass Family (2 adults and up to 4 children under the age of 12): $100
Open daily from
Closed on Thanksgiving, Christmas Day and New Year’s Day.
Snorkeling is one of the activities that visitors coming to Oahu, Hawaii or other tropical island destinations want to experience. There’s nothing quite like stripping down to the bare essentials and lowering your body into water that feels just right and then swimming around with ease while marveling at the beauty and diversity of the undersea world.
Most visitors end up either snorkeling in Waikiki – which has some decent spots but in general isn’t all that great in most places, or they join the busloads of tourists and head to Hanauma Bay – which is a spectacular place to snorkel but has an entry fee, is always busy, and is closed on Tuesdays.
Personally, I prefer heading up to the North Shore and checking out Sharks Cove. Open daily every day (though sometimes closed due to high surf in winter), has a wide variety of fish and different levels of snorkeling suitable for beginner through expert, and finally – has great food trucks and a grocery store just across the street.
The protected areas inside the tall reef are a perfect place for beginner to intermediate snorkelers and for those with more experience you can go to the deeper portions where you will find caves, a wider variety of corals and fish, and more. Please be aware of the conditions and watch out for the ‘salt water waterfalls’ where big surf hits the exposed reef and washes down the inside.
Sharks Cove is part of a Marine Life Conservation District and so there is no fishing or spear fishing allowed. You’ll also see scuba divers going 15-25 feet deep to explore the many underwater caves in the area.
There are also many tide pools in the vicinity and a lovely, but small beach for those who don’t want to snorkel. A few notes –
Entering can be a bit tricky as there is sharp lava/reef throughout, you may want to wear water booties or reef shoes.
Reef extends up to and above the surface in areas – careful not to scrape your chest/belly
Kids need to be supervised – there are some tricky areas and places where the reef opens up to the open ocean, so don’t just turn them loose – this ain’t the hotel pool, Martha
Parking is limited, so it’s best to come early or late
If the surf is up, the visibility will be terrible and the conditions can be dangerous
Finally, I’ve never heard of anyone seeing a dangerous shark inside sharks cove, but there are some outside – so be aware. You might see some small white tipped sharks – but they are harmless, if thrilling. The reason it’s called Sharks Cove though is because the outline of the reef is said to resemble a shark – plus, it scares away some of the visitors!
Hawaii is filled with great spots to surf and snorkel, dive and hike. In fact, there are so many great snorkel spots on Oahu that it’s easy to miss the best ones – and, unfortunately – it’s also easy to wander into areas where the water isn’t safe, the snorkeling isn’t that good, or you are putting yourself in some other kind of danger. With that in mind – I want to share my three favorite snorkel spots on the island of Oahu. One of them is in Waikiki, one of them is on the North Shore, and one of them is on the wild South Shore. All three are generally safe and depending on conditions, are almost certainly awesome places to see lots of fish. As with anywhere you are going to get in the water – check with lifeguards or locals to find out the conditions, make sure someone knows where you are going, and make sure you know how your equipment works before you head out of the shallow water. One last note – do not feed the fish and make sure that you are wearing reef safe sunscreen – both things help preserve our beautiful ocean so that many generations can continue to enjoy it.
I’ve never seen a shark at Shark’s Cove, but I’ve seen many other kinds of fish. This is a reef protected inlet with some amazing fish viewing and a variety of snorkel areas that are suitable for everyone from brand new beginners to seasoned scuba divers. To get there, go to the North Shore and drive until you see the Foodland shopping center at Pupukea – Shark’s Cove is right across the street. I recommend Sharks Cove during spring, summer, and autumn…though it can get a little crowded during summer weekends.
During the winter months, Sharks Cove isn’t usually a great place to go – not because of sharks but because of something that has caused many more deaths…big surf. The North Shore gets anywhere from 10′ to 60′ waves in the winter and this can not only cause crushing death…but also create dangerous currents, riptides, and undertows…as such during the winter, I usually keep my snorkeling at either Hanauma Bay or the Waikiki Fish Preserve
A volcanic crater filled with coral reefs and fish…what’s not to like about that? Even though it is one of the best known tourist attractions in Hawaii, Hanauma Bay is still worth visiting. Bring your own gear or rent it before you go because if you choose to rent it at Hanauma Bay…it will cost you almost as much as if you were buying it new at Costco or Target. Closed on Tuesdays. Here are more details on Hanauma Bay
Waikiki Fish Preserve
I generally don’t like to give away my secret spots – but this one should be okay. If you go towards Diamond Head on Waikiki Beach and pass the statue of the surfer across from the Honolulu Zoo – you will walk along an area where there isn’t really a beach – just a walkway next to the water. You will reach the Waikiki Aquarium and the Natatorium, the crumbling WWI memorial and then Kaimana Beach. If you are in the water, that entire stretch is known as the Waikiki Fish Preserve and it is absolutely teeming with marine life. You can enter the water at Kaimana’s or at Queen’s Beach. There are no lifeguards here and you are on your own, so make sure you can swim and know how to use your equipment. Be sure not to harass the fish.
No trip to Oahu is complete without a visit to Hanauma Bay on the south shore of this beautiful Hawaiian Island. Whether you are going to snorkel or simply look down at one of nature’s wonders from the lookout point above – this is a definite must see natural attraction in Hawaii.
To get there, head south from Honolulu and Waikiki. You will go around Diamond Head, through the neighborhood of Kahala, and on through the neighborhoods of Aina Haina and Hawaii Kai before reaching the turn just as you are passing Koko Head. Hanauma means ‘curved bay’ in Hawaiian languange and this is a beautiful coral filled bay in the remains of a tuff cone volcano. Not your average snorkel spot.
Hanauma Bay is a Nature Preserve and Marine Life Conservation District. It is open to the public six days per week with the seventh day reserved for park maintenance – or as we say in Hawaii – to let the fish rest. To enter the bay, you will need to attend a short environmental presentation that teaches you how to respect and appreciate the beauty of nature in the bay. Visitors are not allowed to touch fish, marine life, or walk on the corals in Hanauma.
Hanauma Bay is home to Hawaiian green sea turtles and over 400 species of fish including parrotfish, rasses, and even the famous humuhumunukunukuapua’a. Global warming has exacted a terrible cost on the bay and nearly half of the corals in it have died as a result.
Hanauma Bay itself was born about 32,000 years ago. It was one of the last eruptions on this island. A crater was formed and eventually waves broke through and flooded it creating the perfect environment for corals and fish. Hawaiian Kings and Queens frequented the bay and one possible interpretation of the name is that there were a variety of sporting and wrestling events held there each year at makahiki. The bay belonged to the Bishop Estate until the 1930s when it was purchased by the City and County of Honolulu. It became a protected area in 1967. In the 1970s white sand was brought in from the North Shore to create the beach you see there today.
The area was overused and suffering greatly up until the early 2000’s when the city enacted an entrance fee, closed the park on Tuesdays, and began requiring visitors to attend the educational presentation. The city has also restricted how many vehicles and how visitors can come to the bay. Commercial vehicles are strictly regulated.
Hanauma Bay can still be crowded with nearly 3000 visitors each day. If you are going, bring reef friendly sunscreen, water, and it is recommeneded that you bring your own snorkel gear as the rentals on site will cost you almost as much as buying a new set of gear.
I’m not going to write much about this since I’ve already given you most of the words and some of the pictures from my old Nokia phone in the Flashback Friday Post about my 2008 Perimeter of Oahu Walk. This post is mostly to show some of the people I met and the beautiful scenery of this island from the perspective that almost no one ever gets – walking around the entire coastline (albeit having to go around some controlled military bases in Hawaii). Without further ado…here are some of the photos from my adventure. Enjoy the beauty.
In 2008, I decided to walk all the way around the island of Oahu. Here is my record of that. I’ll add a Saturday Slideshow tomorrow with more pictures from my walk. It was awesome. Maybe I’ll do it again. (It’s funny to note how much I took with me – today, I would go with about 1/3 of the equipment/clothing I took then – no wonder my bag was so heavy).
So okay, I think I’m ready for this…today I made an aluminum can backpacker stove. I’ve got my gear list and I have made sure it all fits in one bag. It’s a little more gear than I wanted, but I can always get rid of stuff on the way. Here is the full list of everything:
3 pairs of socks
3 pairs of boardshorts
1 pair of pants
Sarong (for use as towel, etc)
Thermarest ground pad
light sleeping bag
mess kit including knife, spoon, mini can opener
homemade tin can stove and heet for fuel
2 glow sticks
notepad and two pens
camera and extra batteries
cup (plus screen and press for coffee which fit inside the cup)
toothbrush and toothpaste
light first aid kit including sunscreen, chapstick, and some moleskin
hand crank radio/cellphone charger
trusty old nokia phone
matches and lighter
plus not pictured:
A little bit of cash and my ID
nuts and raisons
I can set off tomorrow at 9am and update on the left sidebar of this site by cellphone. I’m trying to work out how to post pics from the phone but so far, I can’t quite get it. Now, I just have to walk 130 miles or so. No problem.
Oahu is the least appreciated of all the Hawaiian Islands, but as far as I’m concerned it is the most wonderful. Not just because it has Honolulu, Waikiki, and the North Shore but because it holds so many beautiful secrets for those who care to look for them. I decided to walk the perimeter of Oahu, a 130 mile trek that I could find no reference of having been done in modern times. (Note actually 227 when walking the shoreline)
Reflecting on my travels.
Well, nothing goes off without a hitch. It’s one of the first rules of vagabonding. So let’s start with the learning experiences. 1) I forgot that this backpack isn’t so great for long trips. I knew this, but I forgot it. Now I remember it. I’ve shifted the load so it’s bearable and am taking breaks as needed to quell the sharp pains in the right side of my neck.
2) My homemade stove works great for boiling water, but the capacity to cook for longer than that is troubling, plus it causes a huge amount of soot…solution eat things that require no cooking or only boiling. Wash frequently.
3) Most troubling, the gizmo I was planning on charging my cellphone with isn’t really doing the job, solution, tweet and text less until I can find one of those AA battery zap chargers.
4) My right ankle apparenttly is lower than my left and its been aching on the edge of my shoe- I just got some Dr. Scholls insoles and used them to raise my right foot a little higher. Problem solved I think.
5) I had planned on uploading my digital pics from the library but the computers are far too slow…so I’ll have to wait. One other thing…ball chaffing…ouch. Not real sure to do about that one except grimace and bear it. Oh yeah, and my pohne labels all my pictures as Xmas! haha.
Okay, now for the good stuff.
Started yesterday at 9:05 from Manoa Sinclair Library. Walked to Waikiki, through Waikiki, past Diamond Head by beach only, through Kahala, Aina Haina, and Hawaii Kai and then camped in a stellar spot with incredible moonlit views. Light rain woke me at midnight and I walked to Sandy’s where I laid on the sand and star gazed at that gorgeous moon some more. Woke up, made coffee and oatmeal, then walked to Waimanalo where I found amazing hidden beaches, met cool tatoo covered people and beautiful local girls, then walked onwards to Kailua…
I’m spending the day at the Malakahana campground and it is totally freaking cool. Walked up to Kahuku high school and public library to use the computers and check email.
Looks like I’m not missing anything though I did get to find out that I recieved a scholarship for fall and passed all my classes for spring. I got a C in 4th level arabic, so I can add that to my other two C’s in Karate and Drawing (I can draw, really, just not the way that teacher wanted me to…as to Karate…well, I’m more of a multi-style guy). So that’s two big reliefs.
I’ve been giving some thought to this walk as I walk. At first I was really in a hurry to get through it so I could get to work for Oahu Nature Tours, but as I walk, I realize, I may never do this again so it is a total shame to hurry through it. That’s partly why I am taking a day to get a little R and R at Malakahana.
The second reason is that the past couple of days really kicked my ass. My feet are angry, the chafing is even worse, and man did I need to let my clothes dry out, wash my shirts, and just kind of enjoy where I’m at for a bit.
I admit, it’s hard not hitting the road right away. A big part of me is like ”’go-go-go”, but I think this is the way to do it. It also gives anyone out there who has considered walking with me a chance to start on Saturday and enjoy Oahu’s beautiful North Shore.
Also, I would be totally stoked if friends came and camped with me tonight- even if they don’t want to walk.
People keep asking me what my cause is or why I’m not doing this for a cause. Does everything have to be for a cause these days? Maybe the cause is more profound than a disease or a charity. Maybe my cause is sublime. Maybe the universe has a cause for me doing this that I’m not privy too. In any event, I’m meeting a ton of people, enjoying this amazing aina, and learning a new respect and love for this place I live. I think that’s cause enough.
The Walk Around Oahu is Completed
Since the last time I sat at a computer here is a brief summary of what went down with my walk around Oahu. I twittered most of it but I suppose that is lost in the twitterverse. Here also are a few photos that I took during the last portions of my walk when the camera on my phone failed.
On Day 5, my friends came up to Malakahana and camped with me. It was relzxing, fun, and interesting. I have to admit that being on the road and spending a lot of time in my own head probably affects me more than I often realize. Did a little nighttime swimming and really enjoyed the camp and the company.
DAY 6 I left at about noon and walked fairly constantly until I reached Pupukea and Sharks Cove. When I was there I grabbed a beer and a bottle of gatorade and rested my feet for a while. Then I began to walk towards Haleiwa to get some dinner.
The Lost incident. This was the only unpleasant encounter I had with another human being on the entire trip. I knew the Lost beach was somewhere around Haleiwa but wasn’t sure and I wanted to get off the road so I walked around a gate and onto a dirt road that looked like it led to the water. Within a minute or so a very stoned looking guy in a white car comes up the road and asks me to stop. He was smoking a cigarette and by all appearances as stoned as I sometimes like to be. This was a young haole guy. He starts to question me in a fairly mellow way while talking on his radio to someone who seemed not so mellow. I asked him, “Did I stumble onto a CIA base or something?” “No,” he said “This is the set of Lost and you are on private property.”
“Sorry, ” I told him, ” I’ll leave”. I was about 100 feet into the property.
“Don’t go anywhere” he told me, ” My boss is coming and he wants to talk to you right here.”
I thought about that for a second and realized that he had no power to detain me and that if I stayed where I was the likelihood of getting trespassing ticket was higher. So after a moment or two of thinking, I turned and walked away, left the property and began to walk on the road to Haleiwa.
That was when Uncle Nasty showed up with his ugly attitude. This guy comes tearing up to me and jumps out of his truck like he is some kind of fat TJ Hooker wannabe and starts accusing me of calling him because I wanted to see the set, I told him he was crazy because I hadn’t called anyone, I tried to apologize and walk away with my heavy pack, blistered feet, and weary legs and he threatened to ‘throw me on the ground and stomp me to shit.’ “You think I won’t” he asked me “You think I won’t beat the crap out of you right now?”
“No,” I replied, “I’m sure you would, I’ve been walking for five days and I’m sure you wouldn’t have any problem. Look, sorry I trespassed, my mistake, I left, I won’t go back, it’s done.”
But he wouldn’t let go, I don’t know if he was smoking ice or what but the guy was crazy, he insisted on seeing my cellphone, tried to call me on the number he claimed had called him, and continued threatening to kill me while telling me how much he loved his job. Whenever I would try to explain he would get in my face and say “Don’t tell me no stupid stories…I know you are one of them..”
“One of who?” I asked him.
“The fucking fans, I know you are one of those fucking fans.” As he said it spit flew from his mouth to my face. This guy seriously hates the fans of the show he works for.
He pulled out a pad and demanded my name, I told him and when he asked me to spell it I spelled it Christ. I swear he mellowed out a little as he wrote Christ.
Finally, I just began to walk away when another car came towards us.
“Hey, there’s your friends”, he said as he moved towards the car filled with nice Canadian looking people. “They’re not my friends, I’m by myself” I told him as he moved over to them, I heard him start yelling immediately and a few minutes later he drove by me with a confused and slightly baffled look on his face. My assumption is that he realized he had been wrong and I hadn’t been lying. The stoned guy stood there smirking while all this went on.
Anyway, he has a direct number to call Christ now.
From there to Haleiwa and a bowl of spaghetti followed by crashing on the beach. Woke up and Shane, a really cool local guy, brought me a cup of coffee.
Beautiful long walk along the deserted North Shore to Ka’ena Point. Stopped and refilled my water at Camp Erdman. Met great people along the trail and as soon as I reached the West Side I met a great family that gave me a soda and some crackers. Ian and Dell and their kids. Continued trekking to Makaha where I bought a beer and a nori wrap at 7-11 and began to make friends with the homeless folks on the beach. They invited me to crash near their camp and I was going to but then Mike Peterson arrived and we drank a bit more and trekked down to Waianai where he bought me dinner.
Slept near camping families on Maili beach, woke, made coffee, ditched my cooking gear, some clothing, the hand crank radio, and more so as to be light and lean. I wanted to cover milage.
People on the West Side are perhaps the friendliest and most open people on Oahu.
I felt lots of Aloha as I walked here until I got to Ko Olina where the homeless camps disappeared and the resorts began. I followed the railroad tracks through the golf courses and eventually ended up in Kapolei where I gorged on food at Wendy’s. I hopped a fence and crossed a huge ditch and followed the tracks further to Ewa. At Ewa I was faced with a choice, a guy at Longs I met named Peter, told me that the only way forward was to go back 4 or 5 miles since ahead lay Iroqouis Point. I chose to trust fate and my wits.
As stated before, the events that took place will be discussed over beers only for security purposes.
As I stepped out towards the Nimitz Highway on the town side of Pearl Harbor/Hickam, I knew I could make it. I threw out my shoes and put on slippers. The walk along the highway showed shantytowns hidden in the nearby bushes. Not as many as were on the West side, but a lot.
I convinced myself that I would end the walk at Aloha Tower but I knew I would have to push on to where I had begun, my little place in Manoa. So I met up with Kate, Hunter, David, Alex, and Lee and drank a few beers at the Tower (a sight for sore feet) and then I walked very quickly back to my place in Manoa. Between the beers and the fact that Hunter had taken my bag to my place in his truck, I was moving. It took me 15 minutes longer to get to Manoa than it took him driving. I had to restrain myself from running.
Whether you are a virgin or not – you should go in a volcano while you are in Hawaii. You can go in Diamond Head or head over to the Big Island but my suggestion is that while you are on Oahu, you visit a geologic masterpiece on the south side of the island.
You can climb up Koko Head Stairs and then you can go take a cool down hike through the Koko Head crater. To get there you will drive from either the Honolulu side or the Kailua side. Between the two you will find Sandy’s Beach and that is where you’ll turn and drive through California looking suburbs, past a golf course, up to a horse stable and guess what…you’re there – inside the Koko Head Volcano. Look around and it will make sense, but when you drive in – you barely notice because one side of the volcano opens to the burbs.
What I love about this spot is th at it is generally off the radar – the yoga/hiking/Instagram selfie crowd like to go to the tops of the mountains, the old bus tourists stay on the well worn coastal roads and stops, and Koko Crater just sits like a jewel waiting to be discovered. Sixty acres of serene, colorful, fragrant and almost never crowded dryland botanical garden. Dozens of plumeria flower trees (frangipangi), bougainvilla, cactii, and Hawaiiian endemic species all abound with color and beauty.
The garden has been built since 1960 and is an ongoing and never ending project of the Honolulu Botanical Gardens. The climate in the crater is suitable for African, American, Hawaiian, and Madagascarian plants and cactii. There is a two mile loop trail with more than two hundred species on it. I usually spend a couple of hours there but I would recommend no less than an hour to enjoy it. Bring water and wear sunscreen. You don’t really have to worry about bugs here.
If you’ve ever dreamed of hiking to the top of an extinct Hawaiian volcano – this hike is for you. Sure, you can join the thousands of other tourists climbing up the inside of Diamond Head – but if you want to climb the outside of a volcano, get away from the entrance fees, experience sweeping wild views of the rocky South Shore of Oahu the Pacific Ocean, and even the neighbor islands of Molokai, Lanai, and Maui – then climbing the Koko Head Stairs is for you.
It’s a funny name…but there is nothing funny about this hike. 1042 stairs up the vertical face of a volcano on Oahu. Koko Head is 1208 feet tall (368m). That’s the tall part with the stairs. There is a bit of confusion around the name because in fact, the stairs go up Koko Crater – Koko Head is actually the headland on the other side of Hanauama Bay – the peak (where the stairs go) is actually named Kohelepelepe. Confused yet? Don’t be – just do like everyone else and call the hike Koko Head Stairs.
Koko Head last erupted about 35,000 years ago. So you don’t have to worry about that happening while you hike. You just have to worry about finding your way to Koko Head Regional Park. Once there, park past the baseball diamond. The pop pop pop you hear is the Kokohead shooting range. It’s contained and no danger to hikers. You’ll see exhausted hikers strewn all around the parking area.
Follow the path past the baseball diamond to the base of the stairs. You’ll see hundreds of pairs of hiking shoes thrown onto the power lines as you approach the base of the stairs. I don’t know why people do that. Shoes are expensive.
The stairs are the remains of a funicular built by the U.S. military during World War II. A small train pulled troops and equipment up to pillboxes and bunkers on the top. You don’t get that option because the train is long gone. The railway ties, howeever, remain. Get ready for over a thousand lunges…big steps. Halfway up you will have to overcome any fear of heights as you cross the crumbling railway bridge and then you will go up the last near vertical section just as you think you can’t go any further.
Finally, you will reach the top and share smiles and congratulations for your amazing achievement – don’t let the fitness freaks who have run past you four times on your journey up take away from the moment (they went up and down and up and down and up and down and up and down – freaks.) It’s not an easy hike. Many turn back. Many look up the stairs and don’t even try.
From the top you can find different views. The communities of Hawaii Kai and Portlock with Diamond Head in the distance. Hanauma Bay below you. The neighbor islands. And the interior of the Koko Crater which is filled with a desert botanical garden.
Hike up to the metal grate and take epic photos. Hydrate. And get ready for the hike down when your legs will turn to jelly.
Don’t forget to wear sunscreen, bring water, wear breathable clothes, wear good shoes – this is not a flip flop or barefoot hike. Also take breaks if you need to and don’t be afraid to call it quits if it is too much. A hat isn’t a bad idea either.
I’m going to start using the Saturday Slideshow to showcase some of my travels to different places around the world and around the USA – but that will be next week. This week – I’m going to share some splashes of amazing tropical flower power to brighten up the cold and rain that I know are hitting most of the United States and much of Europe. This is how I share a little Aloha before the holidays!
Come to Hawai’i and visit Oahu – the flowers are for everyone – just remember the secret code of the flower – behind the left ear means you are taken, behind the right ear means you are available, behind both ears means that you are taken but willing to consider upgrading…:)
I’ve always thought that the Halona Blowhole, and blowholes in general, are very unfortunately named. They should instead be called ocean geysers or lava tube spouts – but blowhole? Really? Oh well, there’s nothing I can do about it. The unfortunate name doesn’t change the fact that the Halona Blowhole is one of Oahu’s most exciting natural wonders. Like Diamond Head– people come to Hawaii with seeing ‘the blowhole’ on their bucket list – often without knowing what to expect.
Halona is a stretch of rocky and wild coastline on the South shore of Oahu. The word Halona means overlook in Hawaiian language and as descriptions go, it’s pretty apt. Sitting between Breakneck Beach (Sandys) and Hanauma Bay – this rocky overlook provides views of whales, Maui, multi-colored water, and of course, the aforementioned blowhole. So, just what is the blowhole?
Several hundred thousand years ago, the Koko Head volcano was active and lava flowed from it to the ocean below. Surface lava cooled quickly and hardened into stone, but under the surface rivers and streams of molten rock made their way to the ocean. As the streams dried up, they left tubes behind – sometimes large, other times small. Most of them collapsed from the weight of the rock above but some of them (in particular smaller ones) remained as small tunnels. One such lava tube formed at Halona and was left just below the high water mark. Tens of thousands of years of wave action eventually broke the surface of the tube so that incoming waves would burst through the rock after traveling some distance in the lava tube – if the pressure was (or is) strong enough based on direction of the waves, volume of water, and tidal conditions – the water spouts skywards and sometimes causes visitors to get wet!
On the right day, at the right time, in the right conditions – the Halona Blowhole goes as high as 30 feet! Other days you are lucky to see a little mist coming out. Nearly every visitor to Oahu makes the trek to Halona – the parking lot can be crowded – but on the right days – you won’t even notice the people. Don’t forget to look behind you at the Kokohead Volcano.
There are strict rules in place and visitors are not allowed to go down to where the blowhole erupts. In the past there were no fences or barriers and adventure seekers would get close to the blowhole to feel the power of nature…and some of them died. There have been a handful of fatalities from people making bad decisions and the result is that no one is allowed to go near the blowhole. On one tragic day, a teenager got blasted by the spray and then sucked into the blowhole and died in front of visitors.
The Halona Blowhole parking lot is also where you park if you want to visit Eternity Beach – but I’ll tell you about that in another post.
As a guide, one of the top requests I get is to ‘see Diamond Head’ – which is funny, because often when I get the request – it’s in Waikiki where Diamond Head is most visible! Diamond Head is just one of those monuments that people have heard of but don’t really know what it is – sometimes they know it’s a volcano, sometimes they know it’s a hike, sometime’s they know it’s a surf break – but Diamond Head is that and more. It’s also a neigborhood, a road, a direction, a crater, a park, a National Guard base, a historic military lookout, a lighthouse – and quite frankly – an experience and feeling – a sense of actually being in Waikiki.
Geologically speaking, Diamond Head is a tuff cone volcano that last erupted about 400,000 years ago. The Hawaiians called it Le’ahi which means ‘forehead of the tuna’ and from Waikiki – that’s exactly what it looks like. Western sailors gave it the current name because it was a visible landmark from sea – also known as a ‘head’. The shape of the top is roughly diamond shape which makes sense to me but there are other stories about sailors finding calcite crystals they thought were diamonds and even about the way the light refracted off of it at sunset. At it’s tallest point, it is 762 feet tall (232 m). Diamond Head was the last gasp of the Oahu volcanos and took place millions of years after the main island-forming eruptions of the Ko’olau and Waianae Volcanos. The Pali Lookout sits at the top of the Ko’olau Volcano rim – sometimes people get the lookouts confused.
In modern times, the crater and nearby areas outside the crater were part of the U.S. Army’s Fort Ruger. Today there is still a National Guard Unit and Hawaii Civil Defense inside the crater. It was used as a lookout point for the U.S. Military in Hawaii during both world wars and the pillboxes at the top of the popular interior hike are the remnants of those bygone days.
Diamond Head is a U.S. National Monument and Natural Landmark – so it is protected. In the 1960s and 70s there were huge Woodstock style concerts in the crater with the likes of Jimmy Hendrix, The Grateful Dead, the Rolling Stones, and more. I would have loved seeing the Grateful Dead in there.
Today, most people who come to Diamond Head want to do the hike. It is less than a mile each direction but with some serious elevation gain (about 560 feet). Bring plenty of water, wear sunscreen, and take breaks if you need to. The trail was built in 1908 by the U.S. Army. In ancient times, there was a Heiau (temple) dedicated to the God of Winds up near where tourists take in the view today. You’ll see why – so hold onto your hat! Admission is $5 per car if driving or $1 per person if walking. It is open every day of the year from 6am to 6pm with last entrance at 4:30 pm daily.
Parking is cheap but you may have to wait for a few minutes. To get there just drive up Diamond Head Road to Kapiolani Community College and turn right at the sign, drive through the tunnel into the crater, and pay for parking at the gate.
After you take the hike, drive back out through the tunnel and continue on around Diamond Head’s exterior. You will find several pullouts where you can take in the view of the surf on one side and the exterior of the Volcano on the other. Between the lookouts and the Diamond Head Lighthouse which is operated by the U.S. Coast Guard – you will see a trail that leads down to the surf break. Diamond Head is one of the most consistant and popular surf breaks on the island of Oahu. You will have to hike your board down (and back up) but it will be worth it. If you just want to watch the surfers, the lookout with the Amelia Earhardt memorial is the best spot.
Further down the road, you will enter the Diamond Head neighborhood, one of Oahu’s most exclusive and expensive places to live. Just a bit further and you will be back in Waikiki at Kapiolani Community Park. Don’t forget to turn around and enjoy the beauty and grace of Diamond Head as you enjoy Waikiki.
One of the most spectacular viewpoints in the world lies just a few miles from Honolulu and Waikiki. The word ‘pali’ in Hawaiian language means cliff – and the Pali Lookout won’t disappoint you as you get an amazing view up the Windward Side of Oahu and down into the beautiful towns of Kailua and Kaneohe. The lookout itself is a magnificent section of cliff which sits at the top of the Nu’uanu Valley and just on the town-side of the Nu’uanu tunnels (Route 61) which go straight through the walls of the ancient Ko’olau volcano. The tunnels date back to 1958, before that the road went up and over the lookout.
From the lookout you can see Kualoa Mountain, Chinaman’s Hat, Coconut Island, and Kaneohe and Kailua Bays.
Driving from Honolulu, you will take the Nu’uanu Pali Highway and turn off at the Nu’uanu Pali State Wayside – don’t forget to pay for parking- the attendants are vigilent! If you wear a hat, hold onto it because there are often strongtrade winds barrelling through the pass. Before the tunnels, this was the main road across the Ko’olau connecting town-side with windward side. The road up from the town side has always been important and today there are consulates, church headquarters, Buddhist missions, a synagogue, and nice neighborhoods. The Nu’uanu valley has been inhabited for more than a thousand years. Hawaiian royalty built their summer homes in the valley to avoid the higher temperatures from June through September.
Historically, the lookout is celebrated as the site of the unifying battle of the Hawaiian Islands where King Kamehameha the First brought ten thousand warriors and slaughtered the defenders of Oahu – who were mostly conquering Maui warriors. He forced Kalanikupule to the edge of the cliff and then threw him from the edge along with four hundred of his soldiers. This happened in 1795.
Fifty years later, the first road crossed the Pali. Hawaiian legends abound about the Pali – there are ghosts and goddesses and magical dogs and enchanted lizards – but mostly you will see chickens and cats.
One of my favorite of the stories goes that you should never have pork in your car when you cross the Pali – mainly this is because Pele, the goddess of the Volcano had a terrible relationship and bad breakup with Kamapua’a – the pig god. Since that time, she won’t let any pork or pigs come across the Pali and if you try…your car will break down until you remove the pork from the vehicle. So you better not pack ham sandwiches for lunch!
Makapu’u Point. One of the most visually striking places on the island of Oahu comes as you head around the south side of Oahu through rocky, volcanic, cactus filled and generally desert island vistas and you turn north onto the Windward side of Oahu. People think of Oahu and generally they think of Honolulu – a large and wonderful city of right around 1-million people – but here is the secret – most of the tourists on Oahu stay in Honolulu and Waikiki – on the other islands they go everywhere. That’s just one of the reasons why Oahu is my favorite of all the Hawaiian Islands…but of course there are many reasons beyond that.
As you turn North and start to head towards the Windward side – don’t be in a hurry – Kailua, Kaneohe, Laie, and the North Shore can wait…right now you are on sacred ground. This is where the climactic zone you are in suddenly and without warning does a handstand.
Pull into the overlook at Makapu’u Point…take the walk up to the viewpoints. Look north and take a deep breath…suddenly, all is green and blue and wonderful. There are a dozen shades of blue and a dozen shades of green here – your camera can’t capture all those colors – but your eye can. Still, even the pictures can take your breath away. This is Hawai’i. This is the amazing land of Aloha. This is where the magic happens.
When you get back in the car and start heading North, you’ll drive along the rocky cliff face and see a pull out where you can park your vehicle, get out, and look back. Do it!
You’ll see the stunning Makapu’u Lighthouse. It was built in 1906 and has the largest lens of any lighthouse in the USA. Plus, it’s scenic as hell.
For an even better view go down into the Makapu’u Beachpark parking lot across from Sea Life Park. If you do it at sunrise, it’s even better – but don’t leave your valuables in the car. The cockroaches love breaking windows and stealing valuables…and you’ll never see them do it.
I have been all over the world, I’ve seen a lot of places, but there is nowhere that is like Hawai’i. Especially at sunrise.
Sure, you will enjoy this hike more if you pay for it – the guides will tell you lots of stories, you will learn about the plants, the history, the geology – and you won’t have to worry about parking your car. But if you want to go for a great free hike on Oahu – Manoa Falls is it. Easy hike (5 year olds do it all the time and so do grandparents) with great scenery, set locations from lots of different movies, and a waterfall. Are you suppossed to swim in the waterfall? Well, no, you aren’t. Does that stop anyone? No, not really. In fact, the ropes and signs are ignored by everyone – even the people who have died from rocks dropping from above and smashing their heads – so don’t say you weren’t warned.
I’ve been doing this hike for a long time – and even though it’s more crowded than before – it’s still a good hike. Here’s me doing the hike back in 2007.
To get to it, you simply head out of Waikiki towards the University of Hawaii at Manoa and if you want to pay $5 for parking, drive all the way up to the lot or if you want to walk an extra half mile or so, park in the neighborhood below. The waterfall can be gushing but sometimes it’s just a trickle. The hike is the best part. Getting in the water at the falls is illegal, but most people do it anyway…there is some danger of rocks falling from the cliffs above and killing you if you are in the pool. There is also the danger of Leptosporosis. You’ve been warned.
The hike will lead you through a hau tangle, into a verdant rainforest (parts of Jurassic Park were shot here – watch out for dinsaurs) into a Bamboo forest, down muddy trails, and along a stream. Do bring bugspray – you will end up at the beautiful Manoa Falls. Don’t drink the water! For two reasons – first leptospirosis can get in tropical fresh water – you don’t want it. Also, figure that everyone in that waterfall pool is peeing in it – so if you wash off mud downstream – you are pretty much washing in. A bunch of strangers urine. Urine Luck!
Pee jokes aside – take your time on this hike and be sure to bring water, good hiking shoes, snacks, and a towel to dry off with (either at the waterfall or at the bottom when you wash off the mud in the parking lot.