Exploring Oahu: Craters

For blog newcomers: On top of being a graduate student and blogging about science, I, on occasion, actually get to go out in the world and enjoy where I live. When I get some good pictures or go somewhere neat, I pass on my experiences with my readers. This is that kind of post.

When you drive around Oahu, there are two craters that stick out. The more famous is Diamond Head, whose noticeable profile marks the backdrop of the beaches in Waikiki. If you continue further southeast, the landscape is dominated by the facade of another, perhaps even more daunting tuff: Koko Crater. Both of these volcanic formations are accessible to hikers, so of course, I simply had to climb them.

Both Koko Crater and Diamond Head are what are called "volcanic tuff cones." Tuff is a type of rock made from volcanic ash after it is ejected from vents during a volcanic eruption. Both cones created during the complex series of geologic events known as the Honolulu Volcanic Series. This series is a number of eruptions from the Ko'olau Volcano that created a lot of Oʻahu's other well-known landmarks, including Punchbowl and Hanauma Bay.

i-da6554a529db42ed0199e02252792593-P8010073-thumb-250x187-43772.jpgThe shorter of the two, Diamond Head, was created from a single, brief but explosive eruption around 150,000 years ago that lasted no more than a few days. The native Hawaiians called Diamond Head "Le'ahi," meaning Brow of the Tuna, which, I guess, it kind of looks like. The trail winds a total of only 0.7 miles to the summit of the crater, 670 feet above sea level. It's not a terribly difficult trail, though the 200 or so steps at the end are a little tiring. Because the difficulty is moderate, Diamond Head is often full of people, but the view is spectacular.

Since we can walk to it from our house, Barry and I decided to hike Diamond Head in the morning, right when the park opens at 6:00 AM. It was a perfect time to go - sure, there were four buses of Japanese tourists waiting to enter with us, but we took the trail at a fast pace and made it to the summit before most of the crowd. The view was well worth it.

At the top: The City of Honolulu at night.
From the top of Diamond Head you get a 360 degree view of the entire southern side of the island. It was still dark, so we waited at the top to watch the sunrise. I had hoped that the sunrise would be breathtaking from our high-up vantage point. I wasn't disappointed.


FYI: the mountain-like mound on the left side of those photos is Koko Crater. Just in case you were wondering.

i-d35cd922eab044f9b194dac8e515295b-khbottom-thumb-200x266-43788.jpgHiking Diamond Head gives you a warm and fuzzy kind of feeling - Koko Crater, in contrast, just looks scary. It's much younger than Diamond Head, forming from an eruption around 10,000 years ago, and its age is clear in its height. Its name in Hawaiian is "Pu'u Ma'i", which roughly translates to Hill of Sickness. The summit lies a threatening 1208 feet above sea level, and the trail is straight up. While the trail to the summit of Diamond Head winds and snakes its way around, the trail on Koko Head doesn't take the time for such frivolous weaving. Created from the remains of an old railway that connected a military station atop the crater to the world below, Koko Crater Trail is also aptly known as the "Koko Crater Stairs." There are over 1,000 "steps" (old railway ties) on the way to the top. Needless to say, this trail makes the 200 stairs of Diamond Head seem like nothing.

i-e1ec5e037954707ab58dfb8666174683-kh2-thumb-200x266-43793.jpgI wasn't exactly anxious for the trail up. As it turns out, the 1 mile or so hike right up the side of the crater wasn't as bad as I thought it would be. That might not be saying that much, seeing as I expected to almost die on it. Mostly it just means that the stairs went by much more quickly than anticipated, as we made it to the top in about 40 minutes. Of course, my legs were still killing me.

Koko Crater is much higher than Diamond Head, and the views are that much better. I took some panoramic shots to try to capture the amazing scenery:

Hanauma Bay, Koko Head and the southern shore:
The Interior of the Crater:
Hawaii Kai

I've decided that volcanic craters are one of my favorite things to hike. They're just cool looking to begin with, and the views are unbelievable. I can't wait to hike to the hidden crater in Palolo Valley... I'll tell you all about that one another day :).

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Haunama Bay is another pretty cool late-stage crater to visit. I also liked the Punchbowl when I first got there, even though it got pretty damn old after a couple of years of looking at it while I crawled through the traffic at the Kalihi interchange.

More importantly, how did I not notice that we've picked up someone else with UH ties (even if mine are mostly in the past). Who are you working with out there?

I've always taken the rim trail up, starting in the botanical garden within the crater. It's not so steep, but I'm not entirely sure its legal.

Then there are the Haiku Stairs, if you want lots of steps. Stunning view of the windward side, but alas, not legal at this point.

I'm into volcanoes, craters, volcanic tuff cones, etc. I like identifying them. Just wondering if you agree on the number of recognizable craters on Oahu - I've found several mostly on the southern and eastern ends of the island. Here are the ones worth mentioning: Diamond Head, Koko Crater, Punchbowl, Hanauma Bay, Hanauma Bay Nature Preserve Park (2 separate craters), Ka'au Crater, Aliamanu Crater, Maunawili Crater (Kailua), Olomana (Kailua), Kaimuki Crater (on Crater Rd. and Crater Pl. off of 12th Ave.), Salt Lake is a huge crater that still has a salt water lake in it, Mapunapuna is also a big crater, on the Mokapu Peninsula which the Kaneohe Marine Base occupies there are also 2 craters, Mokulua Nui Island off Kailua Bay, Tantalus, Rabbit Island, and Chinaman's Hat. WOW! That's 18! I'm sure there's even more! Pretty cool! God's creation is so awesome! What an honor to live on O'ahu! Aloha Ke Akua, David.

By David Vargas (not verified) on 15 Apr 2011 #permalink