Almost half of the visitors arriving at Diamond Head crater when it opened at 6 a.m. Thursday were unaware of a new rule requiring reservations for out-of-towners, according to the State Department of Land and Natural Resources.

Local residents with state identification such as a driver’s license are welcome to come into the crater at no cost and without reservations.

State personnel check whether arriving tourists have reservations through the new system.
State personnel checked whether arriving tourists have reservations through the new system. Denby Fawcett/Civil Beat/2022

DLNR employees turned away confused tourists but not before passing out green leaflets to explain how they could still try to get in via the new online system set up two weeks ago to accept reservations.

At 6 a.m. Thursday, a long line of cars backed up almost all the way to Diamond Head Road.

State parks worker Cassandra Springer said traffic was additionally slowed “by visitors asking 20 questions” to the DLNR staffers posted at the entrance to help on the first day.

“So far it has been OK,” Springer said. “But some people think they can arrive any time they want during the two-hour time slot of their reservation. But they are supposed to get here when the reservation slot starts.”

The goal of the reservation system is to never again allow a day like Dec. 27, 2018, when 6,000 visitors crowded into the crater at the same time.

Reservations are supposed to spread out the number of visitors over the park’s hours of operation from 6 a.m. until 4 p.m., instead of having most of them squeeze in during the current popular visiting times from 6 a.m. to 10 a.m.

Kahala resident Nancy Badin, who hikes the crater two times a week, said she was surprised and happy by the lack of crowding on the trail.

“It definitely is a lot calmer,” she said.

Badin said she was also glad to find a parking place, which she said before could be stressful and difficult whenever she arrived after 8 a.m.

ProPark Inc., which manages parking in the crater, set up the new reservations system. Manger Nick Leong said 20 spaces in the parking lot have been reserved each day for local residents.

Cars pour into Diamond Head crater on first day of a new reservation system.
Many visitors to Diamond Head crater Thursday were unaware of a new reservation system and had to turn back. Denby Fawcett/Civil Beat/2022

Before, tourists had to pay with cash or credit cards to enter and park. Now they can drive in by flashing a QR code because they already paid online.

“The QR system is so much easier for us than having to accept cash and coins and make change,” Leong said.

In the parking lot, Thomas and Aida Hurst of San Antonio were getting into their car after finishing the hike to the summit.

Thomas said the reservation requirement makes life more certain for visitors because it was impossible before to know when the parking lot would be full and cars would be turned away. That happened to him yesterday.

“It was easy to get our reservation spot for today and we didn’t have to worry about getting in,” he said.

Another visitor from Chicago at the summit said he felt the new system ruined the spontaneity of travel. “It is not fun to have to keep to a schedule when we are in Hawaii for only a limited time,” said the visitor, who declined to give his name.

Some Honolulu residents hike to the summit every day, like 87-year-old Ala Wai condo dweller Bob Burns.

Burns was in the crater today to check out the new system. He said, “This morning it seemed to be very confusing, but we will have to wait and see, especially when thousands of Japanese visitors start returning.”

In a news release sent hours after the opening of the crater, DLNR said the new system went relatively smoothly. But despite all its efforts with visitor industry partners to spread the word, it expects it will take months for out-of-towners to realize that Diamond Head now requires reservations.

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