Activity Finds: East Oahu

1) Koko Head Trail

Pick a cooler day to conquer Koko Head - the eastern peninsula along Maunalua Bay. Hovering over Hawai‘i Kai, this 1k hike takes you from Koko Head District Park to Koko Crater and up more than 1,200 feet. If you're not afraid of heights, the view at the top offers awe-inspiring 360 panoramic views of East O‘ahu and the Pacific Ocean. Working up a sweat has never looked so good.

Better than a stair-master, Koko Head takes visitors step by step up more than 1,050 stairs (so if you have a problem taking the stairs when the elevator isn't working, this may not be the hike for you). The stairway of railroad ties is visible from the road and dates back to World War II when railroad tracks were installed along the side of the mountain to carry soldiers to their bunkers on the summit.

Don't forget to bring lots of water and a camera so you have something - other than sore legs - to remember the day by.


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2) Tantalus Drive

Winding its way above Honolulu, Tantalus Drive offers a scenic escape just a few minutes from the concrete jungle of Downtown O‘ahu. Rising above the hustle and bustle this stretch of road has been registered at the State Register of Historic Places and to the National Register of Historic Places, making it the first such designation for a roadway on the island.

The 10-mile tortuous climb up Tantalus Drive provides many rest stops and lookouts which are often crowded at sunset and in the evening with sightseers and couples catching a romantic moment against Honolulu's sparkling skyline. In fact, Waikiki Parc's Todd T. likes to come here for the view of Waikiki, Diamond Head, Downtown Honolulu and the Pacific Ocean. As you snake your way towards the summit, roll your windows down to take in the sights, smells and sounds of the rain, bamboo and ironwood forests.

Many opt to park and picnic at Pu‘u Ualaokua (pooh-ooh ooh-ah-lah-oh-koo-ah) Park at the top of Tantalus, a great rest stop with restrooms and leaping views of Leeward O‘ahu. Stroll further into the park to check out the lookout that was featured in the popular Elvis film, "Blue Hawai‘i."


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3) Makapu'u Lighthouse Trail

If you're going to take a hike, the two-mile Makapu‘u Lighthouse Trail along the Ka Iwi State Scenic Shoreline offers a picturesque window into O‘ahu's southeastern coastline. The roughly two-hour Makapu‘u Lighthouse trail will sweep hikers off their feet with views of Koko Head, Molokai, Lana‘i and the historic Makapu‘u Lighthouse.

If you're working a walk up Makapu‘u Lighthouse into your itinerary, schedule an early morning visit (the trail opens at 7 a.m.). Because parking for this trail is scarce so you'll want to get there early to snag street parking and avoid the blistering Hawaiian afternoon sun. We recommend bringing a hat, lots of sunscreen and water. And with no lua (loo-ah or bathroom) along the trail, make sure to take a bathroom break before heading out for the day.

For those visiting during the humpback whales' annual mating season (which runs each year between November and May) bring a pair of binoculars. You may sneak a sighting of Hawai‘i's most loyal return guest swimming and splashing off shore.


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4) Hanauma Bay Rim Trail

Take a spin around the rim of Hanauma Bay on this lesser-known East Oahu trail. The 45 to 90 minute hike rounds out the cusp of Hanauma Bay covering slightly over one mile. 

And when we say hike, we mean hike. With steep climbs and ascents in places, the Hanauma Bay Rim Trail is a serious work out not suitable for young keiki (children), hiking novices or the feint of heart. Grab your iPhone and make use of the panoramic camera app to capture sweeping views of the aquamarine Pacific Ocean from Diamond Head to Makapuu Point. On a clear day hikers will just be able to discern Molokai in the distance and the odd humpback whale spouting.

What this rustic trail has in rocky terrain (roughly half of the trail consists of a steep, unpaved loose dirt and rocky path) it makes up for by offering a lesser-known window into the east side of Oahu. We'd recommend heading up in the cool morning hours since the lack of shade or cover can make the trek grueling (not to mention give you a mean sunburn) and packing in lots of water, sunscreen and serious hiking shoes.


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5) Diamond Head Crater

Just a short jaunt outside of Waikiki, Diamond Head Crater is an iconic and picturesque destination often synonymous with the islands. For those looking for a friendly activity that offers sweeping views, the Diamond Head Crater Hike is as easy as they come (we’ve actually seen people hike it in heels though we would strongly recommend against it).  

Diamond Head was originally named Le’ahi, receiving its nickname from its shape– resembling a diamond. When it was created, the trail was designed to accommodate mule and foot traffic for the U.S. Army Coastal Artillery defense system, but today the lower parts of the path have been paved with concrete and lined with railings to accommodate the thousands of people that visit every year.

Before starting, take a hike to the bathroom and concession stand located at the crater’s base for water, sunscreen or a light snack. At the top you can rest your feet while soaking in the magnificent views of the Pacific Ocean stretching from Hawai’i Kai to Honolulu as well as a piece of history – the bunker-like structure at the top is actually an old fire control station dating back to 1911. 

The Diamond Head trail is open daily from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m., though guests are only allowed to enter until 4:30 p.m. Just remember to pack a few dollars to pay your $5 parking fee or $1 entrance fee if you plan on hiking on in.

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