The Big Island of Hawaii Landscapes and Seascapes
The Big Island of Hawaii has much more land area than all the other Hawaiian Islands combined. It is a land of extremes, from the almost 14,000 foot (4500m) peaks of Mauna Loa and Mauna Kea, to volcanos and lava entering the sea in a near-constant eruption.
The lava is often sharp and new. I like to show that in my photographs. It is a newly born land full of contrasts and interesting things to see. Parts of the island are also as barren as the moon it seems. And those areas have a beauty all of their own. The Kilauea volcano produces a near constant stream of ash and smoke. And the sunsets that you see downwind from the venst are spectaular. Especially aroudn Hapuna beach as you can see below.
The Big Island has a wide variety of climate zones and geological regions. Lava flows create lots of new land and those areas are rough and new. Areas like this valley are on the older side where the volcanos are extinct and the land is being sculpted into fantastic forms.
To get here, you must get up well before sunrise (it is not a sunset beach), drive to the tourist pullout and hike down a 400-foot trail in the dark to get here in time for sunrise. It is not a difficult hike but it is slippery and one mistake and your day is ruined! Also, this is a great place to spend the day, far away from civilization.
It seemed like it would be an easy sunrise to shoot. Merely go around the body-temperature hot pools, over the top of the rock wall blocking the ocean, and around to the cliffs and lava pools. However, the rocks are extremely slippery and you don’t expect that when all of the lava is just a few decades old at most and very sharp. So, you walk along experiencing a reliable grippy surface and suddenly it is as slippery as ice! So if you go here, especially in the dark before sunrise, be careful!
How can there be danger in such a paradise? Well, with no coral reef in front of many Hawaian beaches, it seems like every 4th wave is a sleeper wave, so be careful photographing any non-reef beach. Seriously!
Hapuna Beach, on the dry side of the Big Island gets about 5 inches (12cm) of rain per year. However, the Kilauea volcano mixes smoke (‘vog’) into the clouds resulting in awesome sunsets like this! Hapuna beach is often rated as the #1 beach in the US, with perfect weather year-round, perfect sand and a water temperature of about 77 (25c) year round. Not too hot or too cold ever.
It is a state park, so access is easy. It is also a great place to watch the sunset. Although rain clouds are blocked by the twin 14,000 ft (4300m) volcanos Mauna Loa and Mauna Kea, clouds and volcanic fog (‘vog’) still wrap around them creating lots of thick atmosphere for dramatic sunsets.
Laupahoehoe (lowpa-hoy-hoy) is a small and incredibly beautiful penninsula on the east side of the Big Island, about 15 miles north of Hilo. There once was a town here until a tragic tsunami swept through in 1946 killing many people including students and teachers at a school. The name means “leaf-lava” and is named for the chunky leaf-shaped lava that lines many of its beaches.
This place is overlooked by most tourists because it is off the beaten path, but it is possibly my favorite place on the island aside from the two big valleys. It is a tough place for landscape photography though. The coast is sharp and rugged with black lava everywhere. The beach is exposed with no coral reef so the waves are big and dangerous. But it is beautiful!
Kapa’a Beach Park is the perfect spot to enjoy a calm and relaxing sunset, far away from the crowds of the more popular beaches.
Often, only a few people are fishing and you have the place almost to yourself. The waves here are small and the wind is usually calm. This is where you can find peace! In the distance is a glimpse of Maui behind the clouds. It pays to look beyond the beaten path to find your little bit of paradise and this is it!
This was the view just as the sun touched the horizon at Hapuna Beach as the volcanic fog (vog) from Kilauea moved in on the left side of the frame. The vog turned the lower part of the sky a surreal shade of very light red compared to the usual blue you would normally see.
I made sure to capture the sand at the most reflective moment to bring even more of the sky into the picture. Other than that, there was little drama involved here. In fact, it was so relaxing and perfect that I had to remind myself that I was shooting!