My wife and I have some good friends that love Hawaii and have always wanted us to go along with them. After a few years, we finally let them talk us into going with them to Kauai (one of the islands) for a week. It seemed like a good idea to me, in that Kauai is pretty well known for being a land of visual possibilities. I had seen a lot of Kauai guidebooks, photo books and even photo blogs, so I knew there would be a lot to explore. I had heard Kauai is different from the other islands; it’s more un-developed, has a lot of green space and mountain views. I was ready to go.
Four of us planned this trip for a year, traveled and stayed on the south side of the island in a place called Poipu. I was the only photographer, which is always tough, but lucky for me the other three were pretty understanding of my need to run off and explore.
I really didn’t know what to expect. I was thinking it would be more of a Marine feel like you might get in a coastal town in Florida or the Carolinas, but somehow it was not that. It almost had a Midwestern feel with all the farmland and mountains, but yet you were in the middle of the south pacific…a pretty strange but incredible mix of elements.
Landing in Honolulu after 10 hours in the air, we island hopped to Kauai and landed in the Lihue airport sometime right after sunset, so it was hard to see or get the “feel” of the place right away. After a stop at Bubba’s (great by the way), we took our Bubba Burgers and fries to our house on the water and just stopped moving for a few. In the dark warm breeze listening to the the gentle rhythm of the pacific lapping on the shores out front, we knew we were someplace very cool. It was so relaxing.
At sunrise everything is beautiful. We hit the open-air restaurant and market down the street for breakfast, and the Taqueria and Margarita bar sounds like right where you want to be at 8:00am in the morning. Well it was, and a very light drizzle with the sun poking through and breakfast semi under cover on the patio just added to the ambiance.
Now that we had eaten and everybody was somewhat settled in, it was time to think about scoping out some photo locations. Even though the island is full of picturesque destinations, I kept coming back to the beach out front of the house we were staying in. Baby Beach, with this assortment of volcanic rocks that formed our own little bay was just so simple, plain and picturesque. Looking back at all the photos later, I realized I spent a lot of time there. the coolest and probably most productive was with a variable neutral density filter, shooting long exposures of the surf during the day.
There were a couple of destinations I knew I wanted to go see… Wiamia Canyon to the west, and then take a hike up to the north side of the island. Just was not sure how it would pan out traveling with non-photographers, but my opportunity came on the second day and I slipped out and headed to Wiamia (renting your own jeep helps). I had heard Waimia Canyon called the Grand Canyon of the pacific, but I was having a hard time picturing something like that on an island in the middle of the Pacific. It was quite a drive through all the little towns across the southwest side of the island and the Jeep was a lot of fun to drive. After ascending 3 or 4,000 feet, it opened up and you were away from any populations, and all of a sudden it did look like the Grand canyon, except it had water falls. As I learned, there are a lot of water falls on Kauai, but the majority of them are in the interior of the island, which is just about un-accessible except by helicopter. That was my first trip to Waimaia, and I did not go all the way to the end, where I read you had a good view of the Napoli coast if its clear (which is usually early in the morning if you are lucky). I was under some pressure to hit the farmers market by 5:00pm, so I headed back with at least an hour+ drive in front of me. The farmers market was fun, actually it was a party….fresh pineapple, Hawaiian food and spices, margaritas & wine… yea, I could live with that.
The next day it was time for all 4 of us to drive to the east and then up to the north side of the island. You can drive the perimeter of Kauai except on the west side and that’s the Napoli coast, which is basically a jungle and an impassable side of the island. So if you are in Waimia, in the southwest corner and want to get to the northwest corner, you have to drive 2-3 hours all the way around the island. Anyway, we knew Todd Rungren and his wife had a restaurant (Tiki-Iniki) on the north side in the town of Princeville, and that was our lunch destination for the day. We stopped at some scenic places, Kilauea point and lighthouse, Hanelei Bay and finally to the furthest North West point we could drive to, Ha’ena State Park. It was more of a sight seeing day than a photo day, but I was able to squeeze in and snap a few scenic attractions. In hindsight, I should have come back and made that same drive at sunrise with the early sun from the east.
We also wanted to discover a little local culture of Kauai while we were there, so for that we went to the local art walk in the southern city of Hanapepe. Every Friday they have an art festival, with music and lots of food. It’s in the “old” part of the city , so we ate Barbecue at Bobbie’s and just hung for the evening. It was a lot more local festival than it was any kind of touristy attraction.
I’m kind of a fool for waterfalls, and I really wanted to see and try to photograph Wailua falls. It’s a double falls, and if you remember Fantasy Island, it is the falls you see in the opening sequence. It was a little bit of a drive off the main road, but at least you could drive there and didn’t have to take a helicopter, which is always a plus. You could see the falls from the parking lot where there’s an observation point, but you could only look down at an angle, and I just kept thinking that I want to get down to the bottom and look up at them. After looking around and finding the path down though, I thought I’m not doing this alone, cause it was very very steep, and I want to believe I’m getting a little smarter in my old age. But then, I spotted a group of twenty something kids carrying beach towels and obviously going to either the top or the bottom (they ended up doing both), so I tagged along. That was quite an adventure, and I’m really glad I did it despite the mud, bruises, rope burns and stickers. In the end from a photographic view, it was OK, but its the fact of wanting to do it, and overcoming the obstacles to do it (in this case following a bunch of kids who had no fear).
Another area we soon discovered while hiking was shipwreck beach on the south side of the island. It was a long stretch of shoreline, and there was a little climbing and even walking on a championship golf course along the way, but the views and vista’s were breath taking. I did go back at sunrise the next day and got what I thought were some spectacular shots of the sun just breaking the horizon. I really could have spent a lot more time there (like everyday) just hiking and shooting.
I feel like I barely scratched the surface of photographic opportunities on Kauai, but then you could probably spend a lifetime there and still feel the same. I would love to do a workshop there, like the one Don Smith Photography offers, only because with a workshop or somebody that already knows the place and where to shoot, you’re halfway there, still a lot of work to do, but just saying… Without a doubt I want to go back, but next time I’ll have to make it for 2 weeks or more. The 10 to 12 hours on a plane just scream to stay longer. For more photos of kauai, click here.