History of Diamond Head Oahu
Diamond Head, known in Hawaiian as Lēʻahi, is one of the most iconic natural landmarks on the island of Oahu in Hawaii. This volcanic cone got its English name in 1825 when British sailors found what they thought were diamonds glittering in the crater. These actually turned out to be calcite crystals, but the name Diamond Head stuck. For centuries, Diamond Head has been an integral part of Hawaiian history and culture. Prior to Western contact in 1778, the crater served as an important navigational point for canoes traveling along the southern coast of Oahu. The view from the rim of Diamond Head was critical for spotting distant canoes. Ancient Hawaiians also used the slopes of the crater for growing crops like taro. There is evidence that ancient Hawaiians used the interior of Diamond Head crater as a fort and lookout point. The 225 acre crater provided natural protection and vantage over Waikīkī Beach.
During the late 1700s and early 1800s, battles erupted on Oahu between regional rivals. Forces likely used the strategic position of Diamond Head for defense during these skirmishes. When King Kamehameha I conquered Oahu in 1795, uniting all the Hawaiian Islands under his rule, he used the vantage point of Diamond Head to monitor naval traffic coming into Honolulu Harbor. Kamehameha established a string of lookouts atop Diamond Head that could signal the king if unknown or threatening ships were approaching. Defensive fortifications, including pits and trenches, were constructed inside the crater as well. In 1856, Diamond Head and the surrounding land was sold to the Hawaiian government. Plans were made to construct a lighthouse at the top of the crater to aid ships, but it took over 40 years for construction to begin. In 1899, the Diamond Head Lighthouse was completed.
However, it only operated for about a year before it was shut down. Coast Guard reports found that the location was too high for the lighthouse to be useful. Fort Ruger, as the base was known, became the headquarters for defending Oahu and the entire Hawaiian Island chain during WWII. In 1961, Diamond Head crater was designated a National Natural Landmark. And in 1968, a portion of the former Fort Ruger became Hawaii’s first state park. Today Diamond Head is one of Hawaii’s most visited destinations, attracting over 3 million people per year. The 1.5 mile hike to the summit offers stunning 300 degree views of Oahu that showcase the strategic Hawaiian value of this volcanic crater throughout history. Though no longer an active military base or fort, Diamond Head will always have great cultural and tactical significance in Hawaii.
Contributed by Paul Adams, Hawaii Real Estate Broker - Deep Blue HI