Southeast Oahu

Southeast O‘ahu

Diamond Head State Monument

Diamond Head rises up prominently on the east side of Waikīkī, and a short hike to the summit provides spectacular views.  Diamond Head is one of O‘ahu’s prominent geologic features known as tuff cones, imminent reminders of O‘ahu’s volcanic past.

The tuff cone and crater of Diamond Head formed long after the major volcanic activity that created O‘ahu.  Other prominent O‘ahu tuff cones include Koko Head (Kohelepelepe) and Punchbowl (Pūowaina).  [Photograph: Diamond Head]

The Hawaiian name for the highest peak of Diamond Head is Lē‘ahi, a name that is a variation of Lae-‘ahi, said to come from Hi‘iaka, the younger sister of Pele, the legendary goddess of fire and volcanoes.  According to legend, it was Hi‘iaka who compared the lae (brow) of the ‘ahi fish to the mountain.

In ancient Hawai‘i, Lē‘ahi was the site of he‘e hōlua (hōlua sledding), which involved using papa hōlua (wooden sleds) to slide down steep hills or specially constructed stone ramps.  Also located atop Lē‘ahi was a luakini heiau, a sacred place of worship where human sacrifices were performed.

A Hawaiian proverb states, “Nani Lē‘ahi, he maka no Kahiki,” (“Beautiful Lē‘ahi, object of the eyes from Kahiki,” said to refer to, Diamond Head, always observed with interest by visitors from foreign lands.”[i]

The site’s common name, Diamond Head, was the result of British sailors in 1825 mistaking calcite crystals found there for diamonds.  During World War II, Diamond Head became a military installation. 

The construction of Fort Ruger at the edge of the Diamond Head crater began in 1908.  A network of tunnels was carved into the mountain, and cannon emplacements were placed atop the crater rim along with observation posts and bunkers. 

The Fort was reinforced during World War II, though the guns were never fired.  Today the Hawai‘i National Guard has a base within Diamond Head crater.

The Diamond Head Trail leading to the summit climbs 560 feet (171 m) over 1½ miles (2.4 m).  A tunnel along the trail leads to a 99-step stairway, and then another shorter tunnel and more stairs. 

At 760 feet (232 m) above sea level, the summit’s panoramic views include Koko Head and Koko Crater on the southeast coast as well as Barbers Point and the Wai‘anae Mountains on the leeward coast.  Also visible just beneath Diamond Head is Kapi‘olani Park. 

[Diamond Head National Natural Landmark, Montserrat & 18th Avenues, open 6-6 daily.]


Diamond Head Beach

Diamond Head Beach is a popular surfing and windsurfing area.  Showers are available, but no restrooms.

[Diamond Head Beach—Directions: Take Wakīkī’s Kalākaua Avenue to Diamond Head Road and park just past the lighthouse.  The paved trail to the beach starts past the east side of the parking lot.]


Koko Head Regional Park

Koko Head Regional Park encompasses the whole Koko Head area, including Koko Crater and Koko Head (volcanic tuff cones).

Also included in the Regional Park are Hanauma Bay Nature Preserve, Sandy Beach, and the nearby Hālona Blowhole.  Each of these sites is described below.


Koko Crater / Koko Head

Koko Head and Koko Crater are geologic tuff cones.  Koko Head forms the southwest side of Hanauma Bay. 

The 642-foot (196-m) summit of Koko Head includes two craters.  Radar facilities are located atop the summit, and there is a road but it is not open to the public.  A small botanical garden within Koko Crater is run by the county and features a variety of dryland plants including cacti.

In the summit’s ‘Ihi‘ihilauākea Crater(the bigger of Koko Head’s two summit craters), the unique native ecosystem includes a vernal pool as well as the rare Marsilea villosa fern.  ‘Ihi‘ihilauākea means “Wide-leafed ‘ihi‘ihi (an extinct or unknown plant said to have grown at this site).”[ii]  A preserve in the crater is managed by the Nature Conservancy (808-537-5408), which provides access for volunteers.

[Koko Crater, open 9-4 daily.  Directions: Take Kalaniana‘ole Highway (Hwy. 72) to Kealahou Street (at the north side of Sandy Beach); go ½-mile (.8 km); turn left at one-lane road leading to Koko Crater stables; go 1/3 mile (.5 km) to botanical garden.]


Hanauma Bay Nature Preserve

More than one million visitors come to Hanauma Bayeach year.  The snorkeling is fantastic, with large schools of colorful fish of many different species.  Hanauma means “Curved bay.”[iii]

Both sides of Hanauma Bay are lined with lava rock ledges.  When the waves are big or the ocean is rough, it can wash over these ledges, which are sometimes closed due to the dangerous conditions.  The path to the west leads out to Hanauma Bay’s southern point and the chaotic waters of Witches Brew.  From this area there is a good view of Koko Crater. 

Walking along the lava ledge to the east leads to the spot known as Toilet Bowl, a pool in the lava that is connected to the bay’s waters by an underground tube in the lava.  Some adventurous (if foolhardy) people enjoy the sudden change in water level as the water surges in and drains out, but this may be dangerous and is not recommended. 

Hanauma Bay is one of the Hawaiian Islands’ most dangerous beaches, perhaps in part because it is one of the most popular beaches.  Many people have died at Hanauma Bay, including two people who died near Witch’s Brew in July of 2002.

Always check with lifeguards about water conditions.  At the mouth of the bay is a potentially dangerous current known as the Moloka‘i Express.

[Hanauma Bay Nature Preserve, 808-396-4229, 7455 Kalaniana‘ole Highway (Hwy. 72), Honolulu, open daily except Tuesdays, 6am-7pm from April to October; 6am-6pm from November to March.  Directions: From Waikīkī, take Kalaniana‘ole Highway (Hwy. 72) about 10 miles (16 km) east.]


Sandy Beach Park

The pounding shorebreak at Sandy Beach can be extremely dangerous, and many injuries have occurred there, including broken necks.  This same dangerous shorebreak, however, also makes the beach popular among experienced body boarders as well as surfers.  Sandy Beach is also a popular sunbathing beach with a wide stretch of golden sand.


Hālona Blowhole

Less than 2 miles (3.2 km) past Hanauma Bay is Hālona Blowhole, where water rushes into an underwater tunnel in the lava rock, sending seawater spouting up through a hole above.  With each surge of the ocean waves against the shoreline, the air compressed into the tunnel lets out a roaring sound to accompany the erupting geyser of water.  Hālona means “Peering place.”[iv]

Below and to the right of the blowhole area is Hālona Cove, seen in the 1950s movie From Here to Eternity.  Waves surge over Burt Lancaster and Deborah Kerr (as Sgt. Warden and his commanding officer’s wife) as the embracing lovers have an affair on the secluded beach.


Makapu‘u Point

Makapu‘u Point is located just over 1 mile (1.6 km) north of Sandy Beach (see above).  The point reaches an elevation of about 647 feet (197 m) and is accessed parking off Kalaniana‘ole Highway (Hwy. 72) near the service road for the Makapu‘u Lighthouse.  The walk in is about a 1 mile (1.6 km).  Makapu‘u is O‘ahu’s easternmost point.

Just past the lighthouse access road is a roadside lookout over Makapu‘u Beach.  This is a popular hang-gliding site.  Offshore is an islet called Kāohikaipu(“Hold back the container”), which gained its name “because the rock blocked sea-swept matter”[v]). 

Behind Kāohikaipu is the larger Manana Island, also called Rabbit Island because it is home to many rabbits.  Manana also provides habitat for native seabirds, including ‘ua‘u kani (Puffinus pacificus chlororhynchus, wedge-tailed shearwaters), which sometimes inhabit the same burrows as the rabbits.

Makapu‘u Beach, located across from Sea Life Park, is a popular bodysurfing beach—surfboards aren’t allowed.  The currents and shorebreak at Makapu‘u Beach can be extremely dangerous during the winter months, and it is not a place for beginners.  During summer, however, the beach becomes much more hospitable.


Sea Life Park

Sea Life Park is located just north of Makapu‘u Point, and features an 18-foot (5.5-m) deep, 300,000 gallon (1.1 million liter) aquarium full of a whole panoply of marine creatures, including reef fish, sharks, eels, and even sea turtles.   A spiral ramp provides optimal viewing from different levels.  The park also features dolphin performances, and has separate pools housing harbor seals and California sea lions.

A bird sanctuary area at Sea Life Park provides habitat for such native birds as mōlī (Diomedea immutabilis, Laysan albatross), ‘a (Sula sula rubripes, red-footed boobies), and ‘iwa (Fregata minor palmerstoni, great frigatebirds).  A 38-foot (11.6-m) skeleton of a palaoa (Physeter macrocephalus, sperm whale) hangs from the park’s Whaling Museum.

[Sea Life Park, 808-259-7933, 41-202 Kalaniana‘ole Highway (Hwy. 72), Waimānalo, open 9:30-5 daily (Friday until 10 p.m.,]



From Makapu‘u Point to Wailea Point, Waimanalo Bay extends for 5½ miles (9 km), making it O‘ahu’s longest continuous beach.  Located along the bay are three beach parks, including: Waimanalo Beach Park, Waimanalo Bay Beach Park, and Bellows Field Beach Park.  An offshore coral reef keeps the area somewhat protected from the surf.

At the northern end of Waimanalo Bay is Bellows Field Beach Park, located in front of Bellows Air Force Station.  The beach park is only open to civilians during the weekends, from noon on Fridays until Monday at 8 a.m.  Camping is also available, and permits are issued through the County Department of Parks and Recreation (808-523-4525).

Toward the middle of the shoreline of Waimanalo Bay is Waimanalo Bay Beach Park, and about 1 mile (1.6 km) south is Waimanalo Beach Park, a nice swimming area with a good view of the deeply furrowed Ko‘olau mountain range.  Waimanalo Bay was seen regularly on the television series Magnum PI (it’s where Magnum often took his morning swim).


[i]p. 248, Pukui, Mary Kawena.  ‘Ōlelo No‘eau: Hawaiian Proverbs & Poetical Sayings.  Honolulu: Bishop Museum Press, 1983.  Proverb 2277.

[ii]Pukui, Mary Kawena, Elbert, Samuel H., and Mookini, Esther T. Mookini.  Place Names of Hawaii: Revised & Expanded Edition.  Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1974.

[iii]Pukui, Mary Kawena, Elbert, Samuel H., and Mookini, Esther T. Mookini.  Place Names of Hawaii: Revised & Expanded Edition.  Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1974.

[iv]Pukui, Mary Kawena, Elbert, Samuel H., and Mookini, Esther T. Mookini.  Place Names of Hawaii: Revised & Expanded Edition.  Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1974.

[v]p. 86, Pukui, Mary Kawena, Elbert, Samuel H., and Mookini, Esther T. Mookini.  Place Names of Hawaii: Revised & Expanded Edition.  Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1974.