The Hike Up Koko Head Crater

Out of all the amazing hikes I have done during my stay on Oahu, Koko Head is my absolute favorite. Koko Head is located on the southeastern side of the island in an area known as Manalua Bay. Although it is a relatively short hike, the 1,048 railway stairs to the top can definitely test one’s endurance! One of the most fascinating things about Koko Head, aside from the breathtaking views, is its military history.

During World War II, the U.S. Army erected several bunkers at the summit of the crater with a railway tram that carried up troops and supplies. After the Air Force was formed in 1947, the installation at Koko Head Crater became the Koko Crater Air Force Station.

Koko Crater Air Force Station atop Koko Head

For years, Koko Head Crater was a fully functional radar station. Eventually the Air Force turned the property over to the Hawaii Air National Guard. I sure hope those weekend flyboys didn’t mind the occasional hike!

Her tracks can be perilous in places.

The tracks that remain are now referred to as “railway stairs”. A climb to the summit on the Koko Head Railway stairs will take you up 990 feet in just over .7 miles. It is a grueling hike, but the view from atop is definitely worth every bit of the struggle along the way!

Koko Crater Air Force Station Mess Hall

The building was long gone by the time I began making my way up the summit; but the morning of my hike, I could almost still smell the bacon and eggs! I skipped breakfast that morning, so I was probably just hungry.

Start your hike early enough to catch one of these gorgeous sunrises on the summit!

Parking is free at the Koko Head District Park and the gates open at 6:00 am sharp. I highly recommend that if it is your first time going, start early so you can still catch a sunrise at the top. Just be mindful, it will likely still be dark when you arrive so bring a headlamp.


The trail can get muddy just after a thorough soaking.


U.S. Air Force Radar Station – July, 28, 1949

Koko Crater Radar Station during her prime.


Hanauma Bay in the background

In 1966, the radar station became obsolete and the property was passed on to the City of Honolulu.


For many, the way down can actually prove more difficult than climbing to the top.


American Airman hard at work manning his station.

I know what he is probably thinking. “Those slackers have been gone for hours. They better have brought me back a sandwich!”

It is still quite a trek before reaching the bottom.

This is the part of the trail where I like to sit on the rails and just contemplate life… life is difficult… walking is difficult… sitting is difficult… lying down on tracks is really difficult…. getting back up is even more difficult than that…. people are altogether way too difficult… why won’t they just go around?


With the aid of a gas-powered winch, a military tram slowly makes its way back down up the tracks.

I sure hope the guy photographing this has another ride coming soon. It’s a long walk getting back to the hooch!


It’s a pretty common occurrence to get stuck on the tracks during rush-hour traffic.

Koko Head is a very popular hiking destination for both tourists and the locals. It is estimated that over 500 people visit Koko Head trail on any given day.

Rebecca and Jonah throw up a “shaka” on the trail.


You can’t see Hawaii without seeing at least one of her spectacular rainbows!

I hope you enjoyed my post. If you are ever in Oahu, this is one hike that you really must do. Please feel free to explore more of my site, Big John’s Adventures in Travel, post a comment, and maybe even show me some love on social media.


Happy travels,

Big John

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Remembering Pearl Harbor

On Sunday morning, December 7, 1941, the Imperial Japanese Navy Air Service launched a surprise, preemptive strike on the US. Pacific Fleet stationed at Pearl Harbor Hawaii. All around the island of Oahu, other US military bases and strategic locations of defense were simutaneously attacked by Japanese aircraft.  The attack began at 0748 hrs., when the first of 353 Imperial Japanese aircraft , (consisting of two waves of fighters, dive bombers, and torpedo planes), broke through the clouds and began wreaking havoc on their unsuspecting targets below.

A japanese bomber soars up and over battleship row after releasing its payload.

In the aftermath of the Sunday morning attack, all 8 US Navy battleship were damaged with 4 sunk. The Japanese also sank 3 destroyers, 3 cruisers, 1 minelayer, and an anti-aircaft training ship. 188 US aircraft had also been destroyed in the attack; 2,403 Americans were killed, and another 1,178 others were wounded. By attacking the US Pacific fleet at Pearl Harbor, the Japanese had hoped to prevent the United States from interfering with its planned military campaigns in Southeast Asia and elsewhere. One day after the devastating attack on Pearl Harbor, the United States declared war on the Empire of Japan.

Big John at Pearl Harbor Memorial, Hawaii

Blessed with the opportunity to spend a considerable amount of time on the island of Oahu, I made it my priority to explore the Pearl Harbor Memorial, as well as other areas directly affected by the December 7 attack. These are just a few of the photos I captured along the way. It was my intention that these photos cause readers to pause and reflect on this momentous event that led the United States into World War II.

Although some of the sites at the Pearl Harbor Memorial are paid attractions, the USS Arizona Memorial is entirely free. If you plan on visiting the site, I highly recommended that you get there as early in the morning as possible as the tickets to the USS Arizona are all on a first come – first serve basis. The later it is that you reach the park, the longer it is that you will most likely have to wait. While waiting your turn to see the USS Arizona, there are a number of museum-quality displays to explore, as well as the USS Bowfin submarine, and a gift shop and cafe.

Going out to the USS Arizona is a very solemn experience. First visitors will be ushered into a theater where they will watch a moving documentary of the Pearl Harbor attack on a large screen. After the film, visitors will board a boat where US Navy sailors will take them out to the wreckage. During the entire tour of the USS Arizona, all talking and texting is highly discouraged. Photographs are encouraged and permitted.

US Navy sailors ferry visitors to and from the USS Arizona

Battleship USS West Virginia sunk and burning at Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941. In background is the battleship USS Tennessee.

The USS West Virginia was hit with seven type 91torpedoes on her port side while bombers struck her with a pair of 16 in (410 mm) armor piercing shells. The ship was sunk but did not capsize. The crippling damage to the USS West Virginia caused it to sink upright to the harbor floor  During the attack, 106 sailors lost their lives. The USS West Virginia was eventually repaired and saw action during many World War II battles in the Pacific.

Survivors of Pearl Harbor described the scene as a literal hell on earth. Everywhere there were explosions, screams and fire. Sailors jumped from their ships into the harbor, covered in oil and fully engulfed in flames. All the while, Japanese planes continued their onslaught while brave sailors, Marines, and aviators tried to repel their attack.

The USS Arizona (BB-39) explodes violently as a Japanese bomb detonates inside a powder magazine.

For 1,177 officers and crew of the USS Arizona, there would be no future war stories to be told. For the men that died aboard the USS Arizona, the war ended even before it had begun.  Unlike many of the other ships that were sunk on December 7, 1941, the USS Arizona was well beyond repair. The wreckage of the ship, along with her valiant men, still lie at the bottom of Pearl Harbor.

The USS Arizona Memorial with USS Missouri in the background.

The USS Arizona Memorial is an actual gravesite as many sailors are still entombed inside the hull of the ship. The memorial was designed by Alfred Preis, an Austrian-born architect who was sent to a US internment camp after the Pearl Harbor attack.

Although the memorial is positioned directly over the wreckage of the USS Arizona, no part of its structure actually rests on the ship.

To this day, considerable amounts of oil from the ship still seep to the water’s surface.

The names of all lost who served aboard the USS Arizona and lost their lives on December 7, 1941.

An actual anchor belonging to the USS Arizona that was recovered in Pearl Harbor.

The USS Bowfin (SS-287), a Balao-class submarine, saw action in the Pacfic and is now moored at Pearl Harbor, HI.

The lone sailor now stands watch over Pearl Harbor and is a tribute to all those who served in the sea services.

A WWII era torpedo

Prior to the attack on Pearl Harbor, American Naval Command believed that Pearl Harbor was too shallow for a successful torpedo attack. In planning their operation, the Japanese modified their torpedoes to operate effectively in only about 40 feet of water. The Type 91 torpedo, which was deployed in the attack, was an aerial torpedo designed to be launched from an airplane. The torpedo’s wooden stabilizers were shed from the tail fins immediately upon water entry and the weapon power-glided towards its target just below the water’s surface.

Map showing the December 7, 1941 attack on the island of Oahu.

The Pearl Harbor Naval Base wasn’t the only thing on Oahu attacked on December 7, 1941. The Japanese also struck  Schofield Barracks, Wheeler Army Airfield, Hickam Airfield, Bellows Field, Naval Air Station Kaneohe Bay, and Ewa Mooring Mast Field. Along with the numerous military personnel killed and wounded, there were also 49 civilians who lost their lives that day.

A restored Japanese Zero at the Pearl Harbor Aviation Museum on Ford Island, Hawaii.

Many Japanese pilots carried these “good-luck” banners with them inside the cockpits of their planes.

Actual wreckage from a Japanese fighter plane.

On December 8, 1941, Sakamaki became the first Japanese prisoner-of-war as he stumbled out of his beached mini-submarine at Bellows Air Station, Hawaii.

Sakamaki was commanding a 79-foot submarine armed with twin 18-inch torpedoes. His mission to destroy the USS Pennsylvania was cut short when it got stuck on reefs at Belllows Air Station and them bombed by US piloys patrolling the area.

My son, Jonah, stands in the same spot the Japanese submarine washed to shore.

This map was found in the beached submarine showing the entrance to Pearl Harbor.

The big barracks at Hickam Field was set ablaze after being strafed and bombed by Japanese aircraft.

During the attack on the barracks, a bomb directly struck the mess hall during breakfast and killed 35 men. In total, the casualties on Hickam Field totaled 121 men killed, 274 wounded and 37 missing.

Today, the Hickam barracks serve as the Headquarters for the Pacific Air Force.

This flag, which once flew proudly over Hickam barracks, was rescued from destruction on the day of infamy. 

The Courtyard of Heroes inside the courtyard of the Pacific Air Force Headquarters Building (formerly Hickam barracks).

Those that view the bullet holes and shrapnel damage to these walls are reminded to always stay vigilant.

A wall of remembrance at the Pacific Air Force Headquarters Building

A Japanese dive bomber aims for the runway at Ford Island and Battleship Row.

Tora! Tora! Tora! (Photo courtesy of

This view was captured from from the top of Ford Island’s control tower as Hangar 6 burned after being struck by multiple bombs. Men can be seen pushing planes away from the carnage while trying to fight back the flames. Imperial Japanese Navy Captain Mitsuo Fuchida broadcasted the words, “Tora! Tora! Tora!” (Tiger! Tiger! Tiger!) to signal a successful surprise attack. Captain Fuchida later recalled, “When Lieutenant Commander Takahashi and his dive-bombing group mistook my signal and thought we were making a non-surprise attack, his fifty-three planes lost no time in dashing forward.”

The tower on Ford Island as it appears today.

These glass panes still carry bullet holes from the December 7, 1941 attack.

The Pearl Harbor Aviation Museum on Ford Island houses a Boeing B17 Flying Fortress. Visitors to the museum can see this heavy bomber, along with many other planes that helped America win the war in the Pacific.

The Curtiss P-40 Warhawk was one of WWII’s most famous fighters.

This Douglas SBD (slow-but-deadly) Dauntless was the navy’s premier dive bomber of that day.

This massive burial ceremony was performed for the men killed at NAS Kaneohe Bay during the December 7th attack.

This signpost represents the crossroads to war in the Pacific.

Following the vicious attacks on Pearl Harbor, nearly every able-bodied American rushed to the recruiting office to do their part for the war effort.

My maternal grandfather, Robert Triebull, (on the right), crouches for a snapshot outside the Lan Ting restaurant, Waikiki, Hawaii.

Robert Triebull enlisted in the navy. He drove Marines to shore on landing craft (LCVP) during seven major battles in the Pacific. Click on the following link to read more of his story:

Diary of a Higgins Boat Sailor in the Pacific

My paternal Grandfather, Richard Cutler, serving as a Marine in the jungles of the Pacific.

Richard Cutler joined the Marines when the war broke out. He served as a rifleman and also played the saxophone in the Marine Corps band. Read more of his story by clicking this link:

A Leatherneck with a Saxophone Takes to the Pacific

Many scenes from the Pacific Theater can be revisited at Pearl Harbor Memorial.

The USS Missouri (BB-63) is now permanently moored at Ford Island, Hawaii, USA.

Signing an end to WWII aboard the USS Missouri Battleship.

On September 2, 1945, the Japanese joined with allied forces aboard the battleship USS Missouri (BB-63) to sign the Instruments of Surrender. This event marked the allies’ victory over Japan and the ended the war.

Big John takes his mother to meet Sterling Cale, one of the last remaining survivors of the Pearl Harbor Attack.

Sterling Cale is a true American Hero. He went on to survive the attack on Pearl Harbor, only to serve again in both the Korean War and Vietnam. On the day of our visit, Sterling Cale was at the park signing autographs for his inspiring autobiography.

Remembering Pearl Harbor

Through the passing of time, historical events can become so distant that they adopt an almost abstract quality to them. In remembering Pearl Harbor, I hope we always remember that the men that died there, and those men and women that ultimately served and sacrificed in the Second World War, were not some abstract figures in some bygone, abstract event. The attack on Pearl Harbor – the day that will live in infamy – involved the very heart of America, our very own families and friends.

Happy travels,

Big John

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Hawaiian Monk Seals and Wai’anae Sunsets – A West Side Story

Hawaii has exceptionally nice weather all year around, so mid-November is as good a time as any to take an evening stroll along the beach. Avoiding the bustling crowds of Waikiki and determined to find a bit of tranquility, Rebecca, Selah and I decided to head to the western side of Oahu.  On the westward or Leeward side of the island lies the quaint community of Waianae. The area is home to beautiful beaches, various sea-life, and real small-town living. Waianae is also a very tight-knit community and it once was home to the legendary singer, Israel Kamakawiwo’ole.

Rebecca poses for a picture as Selah counts coconuts at the top of the tree.

The evening turned out even more beautiful than we had imagined. Along the way, I managed to capture some pretty fascinating scenes.

Rebecca and Selah standing between a rock and a hard place.

When I told Rebecca she would have to hike over that mountain to get to the beach, she almost didn’t want to go. Sure, she was carrying a baby but…. Joking!

My two girls looking pretty as a picture!

Although Rebecca didn’t have to hike over any mountains to make her way to the beach, she still experienced quite a bit of apprehension just getting there. Between you and me, the girl has a serious phobia when it comes to walking on sand. I am not making any of that up. Watching Rebecca walking on sand is similar to watching Neil Armstrong or Buzz Aldrin walking on the moon.

I don’t know what it is about me and selfies, but I always come out looking like a deranged sociopath.

There is nothing I enjoy more than a good old-fashioned scavenger hunt. “Finders, keepers” is the law of the land and I scored a few amazing items along the way!

After a thorough inventory, I had acquired a green coconut, a cracked boogie board, some pretty coral, and a Hawaiian monk seal. Not bad for a 15-minute walk along the shore!

There are only about 1,100 Hawaiian monk seals alive today.

Rebecca had no problem with me keeping the coconut or the small chunks of coral, but she got all bent out of shape when I told her I also wanted to hold on to the seal.

A Hawaiian Monk Seal napping in the sand.

I asked Rebecca to give me one good reason why I couldn’t keep the monk seal, and she spouted off about ten of them. First of all, she said there was probably some sort of law against transporting an unrestrained, 500 pound sea mammal in the back of a Toyota Venza. I passed her my smartphone and asked her to point to that particular ordinance. She must have known there was no such law because she didn’t even attempt to reach for my phone. Rebecca then asked me if I was aware that a monk seal could eat upwards of 50 pounds of fish per day. I responded by reaching into my wallet and producing my Sam’s card, “Isn’t that just the sort of thing I carry this for?”

I don’t remember what all else Rebecca said, something about seals not being house-broken and them being really hard on carpet and furniture. Truth be told, none of it sounded all that convincing. Had she not told me I would be required to walk it and bathe it every day, I would have stuck to my guns and brought the seal home with me. Although it killed me to let Rebecca win in an argument, she had a pretty good point. Walking and bathing a 500 pound monk seal is a big responsibility; especially when I don’t even remember to walk and bathe myself every day.

On a serious note, the Hawaiian Monk Seal is an endangered species. It is the only seal native to Hawaii and several laws have been passed against harming, harassing or encroaching into the animal’s personal space. We were really lucky to get a glimpse of the seal on the beach; but as a general rule, any person in the animal’s vicinity should attempt to remain at least 50 feet away. Monk Seals can be very aggressive and it’s really hard to look cool when your screaming and crying, all the while being chased down the beach by one you got a little too close to.

A Wai’anae sunset in November

Although I couldn’t keep the monk seal, I managed to get some pretty spectactular sunset photos that I can share with all of you. While these pictures certainly don’t give the scene the justice it deserves, I think you will enjoy them just the same.


I love how I managed to capture that sea foam just as it came crashing against the rocks.



Only God could create a scene so beautiful as this!


That dark cloud coverage and choppy water has some sort of eerie effect on me.


This scene is one of beauty, sorrow, and everlasting peace. From the erected cross at this beachfront memorial, It is only obvious that some poor family experienced great tragedy here. Although our walk started out very light-hearted, we ended it on a rather sobering note. Looking now at this photo, it is a bible verse that comes readily to mind:

For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven: a time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted; a time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up; a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance; a time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing; a time to seek, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away; a time to tear, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak; a time to love, and a time to hate; a time for war, and a time for peace. What gain has the worker from his toil? I have seen the business that God has given to the children of man to be busy with. He has made everything beautiful in its time. Also, he has put eternity into man’s heart, yet so that he cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end. – Ecclesiastes 3:1-11

Happy travels,

Big John

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