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Best Drives On Oahu: The Tantalus to Round Top Drive Loop

Basic Information

  • What: Tantalus Drive
  • Where: Oahu, Hawaii
  • Distance: 9 miles
  • More Information: Wikipedia

Picture from Tantalus Drive, Oahu

Narrative

One of the best drives on Oahu is also one of the closest to access from Honolulu.  Tantalus Drive travels up nearly to the summit of the 2,010 foot Mt. Tantalus from central Honolulu before traveling back down into the city on Round Top Drive.  The beginnings of this road date back to 1892, but the road loop was not completed until 1917 when it was completely made of gravel.  The road would be paved 20 years later in 1937.  Due to the historic nature of the road it was added to the Register of Historic Places in 2009.  The fact that people lived this high up on the mountain for so long was surprising to me because accessing homes this high on the mountain before modern automobiles had to be difficult.

The start of this drive begins near the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific:

You can read more about this interesting cemetery at the below link:

The easiest way to access Tantalus Drive is to exit off the Pali Highway on to the Pauoa Road.  From there take a quick right on to Lusitana Street followed by making a left on to Auwaiolimu St.  The next turn is tricky where a right on to Hookui St. has to be made followed immediately by a left on to Tantalus Drive which crosses over a bridge.  I actually missed this turn and drove under the bridge on Auwaiolimu St. which was my cue that I had missed the turn.  Once on Tantalus the drive up the mountain is pretty straightforward.  The road initially passes through a neighborhood before becoming surrounded by a thick forest and slowly begins switchbacking up the hillside:

Picture from Tantalus Drive, Oahu

There are a few pullouts along the road where views of Honolulu through the forest canopy can be seen:

Picture from Tantalus Drive, Oahu

Here is a closer look at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific which is near where this drive begins:

Picture from Tantalus Drive, Oahu

At another pullout higher up on the road I could see Waikiki in the distance:

Picture from Tantalus Drive, Oahu

Here is a close up look at the iconic Diamond Head crater from the lookout:

Picture from Tantalus Drive, Oahu

You can read more about my prior visit to Diamond Head at the below link:

Here is a closer look at the high rise buildings that compose Waikiki:

Picture from Tantalus Drive, Oahu

From the lookout I then continued up the road and could actually see the top of the mountain ahead of me:

Picture from Tantalus Drive, Oahu

Mt. Tantalus is 2,010 feet high and the road gets to about 1,800 feet before descending.  So this road does have a pretty impressive elevation gain considering that it starts near sea level.  As I continued up the road I had some nice views of some of the adjacent ridge lines that extend towards Honolulu from the Ko’olau Mountains which Mt. Tantalus is part of:

Picture from Tantalus Drive, Oahu

Near the top of Tantalus Drive I crossed over a bridge where I had views of western Oahu and the Waianae Range out in the distance:

Picture from Tantalus Drive, OahuAfter reaching the top of Tantalus Drive the road turns into Round Top Drive and begins a winding descent back down the mountain.  This section of the road was surrounded by many beautiful homes.  I can only imagine how much some of the estates along the side of this road must cost.  The highlight of the descent though was stopping at PuʻʻUalakaʻa State Wayside Park and taking the in the views of Honolulu from there:

Picture from Tantalus Drive, Oahu

This park was actually quite nice with many trees, picnic tables, and even a trailhead for a hike around Mt. Tantalus.  I plan to spend some time here in the future with my family.  For now I was just taking in the views from the really nice lookout constructed within the park.  Here is the view looking towards Diamond Head:

Picture from Tantalus Drive, Oahu

Right below the lookout I could see the entirety of the Manoa Valley which is well known and historic neighborhood in Honolulu which is famous for being where parts of “The Descendants” was filmed:

Picture from Tantalus Drive, Oahu

Conclusion

After checking out the park it was short drive back into the hustle and bustle of Honolulu.  Overall it was a really nice drive and something that I will add to my itinerary for people who come to visit me on Oahu.  The drive costs nothing and provides some really beautiful scenery and views of the island that should not be missed.

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