Between Tongg’s Beach and the next one at Lanihau is a fifty-yard patch of nasty, knee-deep reef water that’s rocky and slippery, even at low tide. While I lurch about between wet stumbles that soak my shorts, Lanihau Beach unfolds before me: golden sand, luxuriant foliage, and towering coconut trees—all of it back-dropped by Diamond Head’s tawny peak.
The two-acre Lanihau estate, directly behind the beach, is perhaps the best surviving residential example of a uniquely Hawaiian architectural synthesis, devised after World War I by noted Maui-born architect C.W. Dickey. Built in 1936 for sugar plantation heir Wallace Alexander of Maui, the estate’s roofs, massings and materials recall Native Hawaiian grass-house villages, yet the living is modern, on one level, flowing outdoors-to-indoors-to-outdoors to the house’s wide lanai and lawns.
As historic as it is beautiful, the little cove at Lanihau saw the only fatal bloodletting to attend the overthrow of the Hawaiian Kingdom during the last decade of the nineteenth century. Anxious to see the Island nation annexed by the United States, Honolulu businessmen, backed by the threat of U.S. military force, staged a bloodless coup of Queen Lili‘uokalani and her government in 1893. For months afterward, aggrieved Hawaiian royalists plotted to topple the businessmen’s Republic of Hawai‘i and restore the monarchy. In December 1894, a shipment of rifles arrived from San Francisco and was hidden in two caches at Kähala and Ka‘aläwai beaches, just east of Diamond Head. Then, on January 6, informers reported suspicious activity at royalist H.F. Bertelmann’s beach cottage, located approximately where the Lanihau estate now stands.
As police officers approached the house at twilight shots were fired, and lawyer Charles L. Carter, a Waikïkï resident and member of the Republic’s Citizens’ Guard, was mortally wounded. Surprised and in disarray, the royalists dispersed. Martial law was declared, 200 royalists (including Bertelmann) were arrested, and the deposed Queen was imprisoned in her former palace, where she formally abdicated on January 24.
My walk continues east from Lanihau on the seawall-walkway in front of lush little Mäkälei Beach Park, where a couple shares a water bottle and a man sleeps under a tent-like hau tree. I pass several oceanfront villas, including the house and pool used in the MTV reality series The Real World: Hawaii in 1999. Another pocket park, Lë‘ahi Beach Park, terminates this section of walkable seawall. The park, donated to the city by the Dillingham family in 1976, preserves the demolished family mansion’s waterside lanai as well as a magnificent grove of coconut trees.
A handsome old flight of lava-rock stairs leads down off the park’s seawall and onto an exposed sandy reef flat for the easy, 200-yard slog through ankle-deep water to Diamond Head beach. This section of reef flat fronts some of Honolulu’s oldest and most dramatic oceanfront lots. Girded against storm surf by formidable, ten-foot-high seawalls, the properties cling to Diamond Head’s steepening and bone-dry headland.
The ultimate lot in the middle of this stretch was once owned by Sanford B. Dole, the jurist son of missionaries who became the first president of the Republic of Hawai‘i after the overthrow of the Queen in 1893. He led the fight against the 1895 counter-revolution, and when the United States eventually annexed the Islands in 1898, the tall and bewhiskered Dole (a cousin of pineapple king James Dole) was appointed the first governor of the territory of Hawai‘i. He named his rustic beach cabin at Diamond Head “Aquamarine” and spent much of his later life there. Since then, the property, brimming over with ancient plantings and now marked by an impressive shingled roof and towering chimneys, has been occupied by a succession of Honolulu’s business and social leaders. It was recently listed for sale for $15 million.