Tantalus (Oahu)

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Tantalus Panorama.jpg
A view of Honolulu seen from Tantalus (2008)
Highest point
Elevation2,014 ft (614 m)
Coordinates21°19′57.58″N 157°48′53.34″W / 21.3326611°N 157.8148167°W / 21.3326611; -157.8148167
LocationHonolulu County,
Hawaiʻi, U.S.
Parent rangeHawaiian Islands
Topo mapUSGS Honolulu
Age of rockGreater than 10,000 years
Mountain typeCinder cone
Easiest routePaved road

Mount Tantalus (Puʻu ʻōhiʻa)[1]: 581, 583, 931  is an extinct cinder cone in the southern Koʻolau Range on the Hawaiian Island of Oʻahu. It also has a summit crater, Tantalus Crater. The cinder cone formed after the demise of Koʻolau Volcano, during a time of rejuvenated-stage volcanism in southeastern Oʻahu that also formed Punchbowl Crater, Diamond Head and Koko Head as part of the Honolulu Volcanics. Tantalus overlooks the modern city of Honolulu, which is built on top of Tantalus cinders.


The 6-mile (9.7 km) Tantalus Loop was a popular wagon trail from the late 1800s for views and picnic parties. It had "rugged canyons, wooded valleys, aromatic eucalyptus giants, stag-horn fern, pungent guava", monkeypod, shower cassias, and myrtle, with a two-room, corrugated-roofed "Half-Way House", managed by 1900s forester David Haugh, offering a welcome stop for trekkers.[1]: 581  Many immigrant families of note settled there "in cool picturesque seclusion", including the Waterhouses, Giffords, Wilders, Dickeys, Davies, Isenbergs, Browns, and Alexanders.[1]: 581  A 25-foot (7.6 m) cliff of pitch-black volcanic sand was an attraction on Tantalus until it was mined for blacktopping paths and yards.[1]: 582 

As part of the U.S. Army's coastal artillery defense system, a fire-control station was built on Tantalus. In conjunction with the fire-control station at Diamond Head, the two positions were used to control coast artillery batteries: at Fort DeRussey and Fort Ruger. The southern slope of Tantalus was bombed in Operation K, Japan's unsuccessful second attack on Oʻahu, which took place March 4, 1942.

Today, Tantalus is a popular destination for hikers, road bicyclists, and skateboarders as well as one of the most frequented tourist spots on Oʻahu. Starting in 1974, The Tantalus Time Trial, a bicycle race from the bottom to the top of the loop, is the longest continuously running cycling race in Hawai‘i.


Tantalus was named in the 19th century by students from Honolulu's Punahou School for Tantalus, the mythological Greek whose eternal punishment in Hades was to be frustrated and tempted by food and water receding out of his reach, unable to quench his thirst or hunger.[2][3] "Perhaps similarly, as the students climbed, the peak seemed always to recede." This group of students also named other Hawaiian summits like Olympus, Round Top and Sugarloaf.[4]

Popular culture[edit]

Tantalus Crater is a setting in the novel Micro by Michael Crichton and Richard Preston.


  1. ^ a b c d Edward B. Scott, "The Saga of the Sandwich Islands". Nevada: Sierra-Tahoe Publishing Co., 1968.
  2. ^ School, Punahou (1891). Punahou Jubilee Celebration. Hawaiian Gazette. p. 99. Tantalus was so named by our classic scholar, later known in Yale as Fiji Aleck.
  3. ^ Thrum's Annual, 1928:105-106
  4. ^ Mary Kawena Pukui, Samuel H. Elbert, and Esther T. Mookini, "Place Names of Hawaii". Hawaii: The University Press of Hawaii, 1974, p. 213.