hiking on the island of oʻahu (cue theme music)

Which theme music? Take your pick. The Jurassic Park movies, Lost, Magnum PI, The Karate Kid Part II, and (of course) Hawaii 5-0 all feature scenes shot on the ever-gorgeous Oʻahu. I’m humming the JP theme music as I type… join me, if you’d like. Wahhh. Wahh wahh wahhhh. Bah dah dahhhh dah dahh. Weh weh wehhhh weh weh wehhhhhhhhhhhh.

I was lucky enough to fit three short hikes into my schedule while on the island of Oʻahu in Hawaiʻi earlier this month. They varied in intensity – one left me soaking wet, the second left my shoes mud-drenched, and the last left me without glasses, unable to see well in the fog and and the darkness. A trio of delight, all were clearly quite thrilling.

The first hike is perhaps the best known to Honolulu visitors – Diamond Head State Monument. Dominating the views from Waikiki beach, Diamond Head is an extinct volcanic cone, home to the United States’ first military reservation in the state, and now home to tourists looking for an easy hike with rewarding views.


The Diamond Head trail begins inside the crater, and takes hikers past grassy slopes, at this time of year just emerging from their summer drought stage (above, bottom). The frequent sputters of rain that greyed the skies above our heads every day of the visit were sure enough present while hiking. Emerging at the top of the trail just as a brief rainstorm stopped, we were allowed the delight of watching dark clouds burn off the landscape. Honolulu and the surrounding coastline slowly came into focus.

Diamond Head was a great first-day activity on the island, paving the way for the more adventurous excursions still in store.

Our second hike was on a whim, spurred from the desire to get off the sandy beach and work off some of those Spam-filled calories. Locals told us in hard-to-decipher English that we should hike to Maunawili Falls, but our maps were sad and non-descriptive. We found what appeared to be a hiking trail on one of our maps, and decided to navigate to it. And of all the great fortunes – it was the Maunawili Falls trail.

Maunawili Falls takes a bit of time to reach, due to the muddy and slippery path that must be traversed to get there. At one point, I sunk fully into the muck, as my shoes that barely lived to tell the tale would attest. If you’ve seen the Jason Mraz video for I’m Yours, you will have visited Maunawili Falls too (see 1:49); it’s likely, though, that you didn’t get as dirty as I did.

Once at the falls, I slipped into the chilly and somewhat small pool of water, and watched the near-daredevils around me jump off a small ledge (above, bottom right). Other taller jumping ledges exist too, but no one braved those while we were there. Refer to the jumpers in the music video and perhaps you’ll see why.

After lingering in the waters to let fish nibble our toes, knees and elbows, we noticed a sign warning of the dangerous bacteria Leptospirosus, potentially present in the water. I purposefully chose not to look up the symptoms of Leptospirosus until many days later, worried that I would develop disastrous placebo effects. Stranger things have happened.

The last hike was more of a non-technical climbing route, if you will. And it was also technically illegal. So, disclaimer. I  “didn’t technically climb it.” Or did I?

The Haiku Stairs, or Stairway to Heaven, is a set of 3,922 stairs leading directly up a mountain to an abandoned radio station on the windward side of the island, near Kāneʻohe. The steps were redone in 2003 with the intention of opening the hike to the public, meaning that it is really quite a safe hike, although less so if it is dark, rainy, and foggy, such as when I “didn’t climb it.” It is by far one of the neatest hikes out there.

How amazing is it to hike up something that you can’t see because it is dark, wet, and foggy? (And cold, although the cold doesn’t much hinder your sight.) And then, how much more amazing, to come down out of the clouds, to find it growing ever lighter, and to see highway traffic buzzing like small wasps at least half a mile below you?

Crazy wild frickin’ insane amazing, that’s how.

Keeping the fog off my lens proved as difficult as keeping the condensation off my glasses, so while I live to tell the tale, I honestly didn’t live to see the tale all that well. However, the patchiness in the pictures was real, as clouds sauntered across our path, weaving a web betwixt lush vegetation, sky, and ourselves.

All in all, a worthwhile act in criminality. For which we were punished with nothing but astonishing views, Stairmastered legs, and a lengthy chat with the friendly neighborhood security guard.

If you find yourself on Oʻahu, do yourself a favor and hike whichever of these you can. Diamond Head is a breeze, and the Maunawili Falls trail is a leisurely saunter.

As far as the Haiku Stairs – – be respectful of the neighborhood. Be sneaky like a cute l’il cat. Be quiet, and don’t use any lights or you will probably get caught. Memorize your directions so you don’t get lost navigating the back road paths, during which you may get caught. And make sure to get there as early as you can, likely earlier if it’s a weekend, otherwise you will definitely be caught. We arrived around 3am, which I think is playing it relatively safe.

If the guard is there, he will catch and stop you. He is smarter than you, and tanner than you. He lifts weights. And he has wild hair.

Don’t get caught… and you’ll have a fantastic story to tell all of your friends for weeks to come.

Diamond Head State Monument

Located off Diamond Head Road between Makapuʻu and 18th Avenues, Honolulu.

Hours: 6h00-18h00 daily
Entrance fees: $5.00/car or $1/pedestrian

Maunawili Falls Trail

Trailhead located at the junction of Maunawili Road and Kelewina Street, Maunawili (near Kailua).

Haiku Stairs / Stairway to Heaven

Look elsewhere for information on how to be a sly fox, because you won’t find it here. Remember? I didn’t hike this. There’s plenty of good info out there on the interwebs.


23 thoughts on “hiking on the island of oʻahu (cue theme music)

    1. Victoria, you know, I felt a desire to go running while in Honolulu, despite the heat. However, I didn’t bring any socks with me. Woops.

      I thought about your visit to the cacao farm while driving about the island. Fortunately/unfortunately, I was sharing my trip with two dudes who were accommodating enough to let us go out of the way so I could visit Madre… I wasn’t about to demand a trip to a not-yet-producing-cacao-beans cacao farm as well;) But I did feel a teeny tiny pang of regret that I didn’t get to visit !

  1. Oh Emma, this is incredible! That first photo (and, really, most of the following ones) took my breath away. This may partly be due to my insane vulnerability towards anything travel-escapism-ish right not, but also because of yoru incredible photography and wonderful adventurous spirit. You probably would have had to carry me and my stupid-cramping legs part of the way up, though….

    P.S. I hope stress month from hell is over for you! have been thinking of and wishing you happiness and calm xoxo

    1. Hannah, so glad to take away your breath. Hmm, that came out wrong, but you know what I mean – so glad to offer inspiring photos to fill your travel-dreaming days with glimpses of possibility.

      We traveled up quite slowly, taking our time (because we were in frickin Hawaii on a mountain! why not??!) and stopping to rest at platforms. I don’t think I would have had to carry you – girl, you’re stronger than that;)

      Stress month from hell is sadly not yet over. However, I can see the light at the end of the tunnel – it’s my defense date! And it’s in just over two weeks!! Yay.

      Your wishes for happiness and calm mean a lot to me, thank you so much. I haven’t been keeping up to date on too much online lately, but I try to always follow you and your updates, as your humorous storytelling is an effective wave of calm and happiness for me. xo:)

      1. Oh darling, that means the world to me. I’m incredibly honoured, and so happy to be able to bring even a teensy bit of lightness to your day. Stay strong, lady! You’ll rock your defense like it’s never been rocked before. x

  2. These pictures are amazing. I can’t believe places this beautiful exist outside of a postcard!
    Hope you’re feeling better and nothing was due to odd tropical bacteria.

    1. sarah, oh noooooo! It hadn’t even crossed my mind that I might actually have the dreaded…. Leptospirosus!

      No no, I am doing better – I hope the same for you:) I can’t believe that places like this are real either – if you google Haiku Stairs you can see how much more crazy beautiful the hike is without cloud cover. I might have to go back just for that!

  3. Emma, not only are you a market-going bad ass, you rocked all those hikes too! I think you covered more ground on your Hawaii trip than we did during our entire year of travel. Feeling very lazy over here;) But really, that stairway to heaven is a stunner – worthy of the stealth moves.

    1. Erin, a-ha! It’s me, the market-going bad ass. Pleased to meet you.

      I think it’s much more admirable that you traveled for a year with a husband and kids, and everyone stayed pleasant, positive, and appreciative (I think!). No need to feel lazy, as these hikes are the only good exercise I’ve gotten since summer.

      Stairway to Heaven was indeed the most stunning stunner of ’em all, that’s for sure !

  4. As always, gorgeous photos…absolutely loved your comment:”…as clouds sauntered across our path, weaving a web betwixt lush vegetation, sky, and ourselves.”
    Poetry for sure!
    And extra points for use of the word “betwixt”.
    I really wish that you had a photo of that guard!

    1. Mum, betwixt the sublime and the subliminal doth where poetry lay.

      Oh, that’s just me, making up bogus old-timey slogans again! Someone get this girl away from the keyboard:)

      I wanted so badly to ask to take a picture of the guard. I’ve been looking to see if anyone’s got such an image online, but I can’t find a thing. I’ll keep trying, as I’ve heard they may exist somewhere…!

  5. I am incredibly jealous of you and your adventures! As usual your pictures are beautiful, and your descriptions make my mouth water (so to speak). :D I haven’t ever been to Hawaii before, but if I do, I’ll be sure to try those trails out – you just can’t beat views that gorgeous.

    Also, I love the look and sound of the Haiku Stairs…sounds totally worth the challenge! Glad you didn’t get caught!

    1. Mary, thank you, miss! I think there are plenty of additional trails on the island, if one knows where to find them – and we didn’t. So a bit of pre-planning would help out immensely in this department. There is, for example, a back way of ascending to the top of the Haiku Stairs, so that one wouldn’t have to start redonkuslously early.

      I’m glad we didn’t get caught too, because what a tale to remember, and continue to dream about! It’s by far my stand-out memory from the trip. So much beauty laid out in front of you – so very stunning!

  6. woah, that is very Jurassic Park! LOL I’m so freakin happy you’re doing these Hawaii posts since I finally booked my trip over there in Feb! I’ve favourited all your amazing posts!

    1. Adrian, exactly! We’re thinking the same thing. I expected to find angry velociraptors around each bend;)

      Hey-o!! You booked your trip, that’s awesome! That’s not too far off…. I can’t wait to see the memories you make while there. They will be food-based, I’m sure:)

  7. I saw a lighthouse in there! Breathtaking photos, lady. What a great trip that must have been. Hope things with that crazy thesis are going well!

    1. Brianne, hehee! I put that lighthouse in there for you!

      I’ve been feeling quite bipolar lately (or even tripolar!), between extreme stress for the thesis, laziness brought on by watching Twin Peaks (again!), and a happy sort of apathy from eating too many cookies. It’s an okay life by me:)

  8. Gorgeous, gorgeous photos! It kind of reminds me of NZ, especially the photo with the fern. They call that curly-cue a koru, which is a symbol of new life. I have a bit of a fear of going down stairs, so I think I know which hike to avoid if I ever make it to Hawaii. ;)

And now I'd like to pass the mic / So you c'mon and do anything you like ...aka, Leave your reply.

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