Tahoe Light Photography » Corporate, outdoor and adventure photography by Reno and Lake Tahoe freelance photographer Scott Sady.

The big island of Hawaii travel photography

by Scott and Monique

Hi there, Monique here, adding a few of my notes to this post about the Big Island of Hawaii! We decided to celebrate our 10 year anniversary with a trip that included some relaxing, and, of course, lots of adventuring as well. Since we honeymooned on Kaua’i, but neither of us had ever been to the big island, we decided to spend our 2 weeks exploring the “off the beaten path” areas of Hawaii. One of the most essential things to have for this endeavor is the book “Hawaii The Big Island Revealed.”  We used the author’s other book for our Kaua’i trip way back when, so we knew we could count on some secluded beaches and adventurous hikes without hordes of people. I planned the 2 weeks with the strategy of seeing as much as we could in the very different parts of the island. So the key to this plan was to stay 3 or 4 nights each in different areas of the island.

We started on the Kona side of the island, but since neither of us like crowds and the city, nor do we like the fancy-pants resort life, we opted to stay in a modest, quaint hotel in the lovely ranch town of Waimea. This was our home base where we just popped down the hill to explore some of the lesser visited beaches. A big bonus of staying in Waimea: The Big Island Brewhaus, a micro brewery with a variety of excellent beer on tap and tasty fresh mex food in a brightly colored, eclectic setting. We happened to be there on open mic night and were totally entertained by the talented musicians that happened to play that night. By the way, any of these pictures and more can be licensed for use simply by typing in “Hawaii” into the keyword field of my online photo archive and browsing for the photos you want.

The Queen

The Queen’s Bath, a freshwater cave near Kiholo Bay on the big island of Hawaii near Kona

Crossing giant fields of lava on our cross-country trek to find Kiholo Bay and the sea turtles

Crossing giant fields of lava on our cross-country trek to find Kiholo Bay and the sea turtles

Kiholo Bay is a beautiful place that requires some walking to, so despite the fact that we say about 5-10 sea turtles per hour, we only saw two other people during our two days visiting this place located near Kona on the big island of Hawaii.

Kiholo Bay is a beautiful place that requires some walking to, so despite the fact that we saw about 5-10 sea turtles per hour, we only saw two other people during our two days visiting this place located near Kona on the big island of Hawaii. Turtles seem to like the confluence of fresh water into the sea. So look for places along the coast with springs or small rivers entering the ocean and that is where you are likely to find the turtles.

Kiholo Bay is a beautiful place that requires some walking to, so despite the fact that we say about 5-10 sea turtles per hour, we only saw two other people during our two days visiting this place located near Kona on the big island of Hawaii.

One of the things I really wanted to see when we went to Hawaii, was to see turtles up close. I thought it might be a little hard, but after one day here with no other people I had my sea turtle fill for the trip. Kiholo Bay is a beautiful place that requires some walking to, so despite the fact that we saw about 5-10 sea turtles per hour, we only saw two other people during our two days visiting this place located near Kona on the big island of Hawaii.

hawaii travel sea turtleshawaii travel sea turtlesWe then set out to Hilo, on the east side of the island. I really liked the town itself, it seemed much more laid back than the Kona side. We stayed at a bed and breakfast just north of town called the Hale Kai, I recommend it. We spent several days exploring waterfalls, fruit stands, farmers markets and parks. Make sure to check out the Hilo Palace Theater, built in 1925. Even if you don’t see a show there, try to pop your head in and take a peek at this historic building.  The highlight of this part of the trip was our hike in Emesine Cave. About half way up on Saddle Road towards the middle of the island we parked the car along the side of the road and followed the directions in our trusty guide book to a pristine lava tube. It is a 5 mile round trip hike just to get to the opening of the lava tube. We estimated we then probably walked about another mile or so inside it. I can not even begin to describe what an awesome experience it is to be in this environment. We even saw a few sets of animal bones perfectly resting in their original shape of where the animals died. If you decide to do this adventure, remember to bring several headlamps and flashlights with you. We geeked out a bit with our light painting photography. But we also enjoyed the hike, and we even shut off our headlamps a few different time and experienced the blackest of all dark in the world. Whoa, it was pure black!

The famous Waipi

The famous Waipi’o Valley on the Big Island of Hawaii. An uber steep, 4 wheel drive only (though it is paved and you could make it with a small car with a good transmission) road is the only way in or out. It boasts an awesome black sand beach and a scenic waterfall that was dry when we got there. A hiking trail switches back up the cliff on the far side of this beach into true wilderness.

The Hawaii tropical botanical Garden near Hilo. This giant Botanical garden was a real treat with some crazy looking plants, and this coming from someone who really would normally not be impressed by this sort of thing.

The Hawaii Tropical Botanical Garden near Hilo. This giant Botanical garden was a real treat with some crazy looking plants, and this coming from someone who really would normally not be impressed by this sort of thing.

The Hawaii tropical botanical Garden near Hilo. This giant Botanical garden was a real treat with some crazy looking plants, and this coming from someone who really would normally not be impressed by this sort of thing.

The Hawaii tropical botanical Garden near Hilo. This giant Botanical garden was a real treat with some crazy looking plants, and this coming from someone who really would normally not be impressed by this sort of thing.

Fruit stands dot the roads.

Fruit stands dot the roads.

Fresh Coconut it one of my wife

Fresh Coconut is one of my wife’s favorite foods, and there was plenty to go around.

Eucalyptus forests abound in Hawaii. These non-native trees were originally brought in from Australia and the Phillipines as a plantation crop, for wood pulp, but were not profitable on Hawaii, so the fast growing invasive species soon choked out native trees and plants on entire hillsides.

Eucalyptus forests abound in Hawaii. These non-native trees were originally brought in from Australia and the Philippines as a plantation crop, for wood pulp, but were not profitable on Hawaii, so the fast growing invasive species soon choked out native trees and plants on entire hillsides on the eastern side of the island.

Rainbow over the airport in Hilo as planes com in for landings.

Rainbow over the airport in Hilo as planes come in for landings.

Rainbow over the airport in Hilo as planes com in for landings.

Rainbow over the airport in Hilo as planes take off.

Rainbow over the Japanese gardens in Hilo, where a clock stands stopped at 1:04 am. After a second devastating Tsunami struck here with a 20 foot wave at 1:04 am in 1960, the state prohibited residential rebuilding in the twice affected areas, turning much of the land into public parks.

Rainbow over the Japanese gardens in Hilo, where a clock stands stopped at 1:04 am. After a second devastating Tsunami struck here with a 20 foot wave at 1:04 am in 1960, the state prohibited residential rebuilding in the twice affected areas, turning much of the land into public parks.

The Japanese gardens in Hilo, where a clock stands stopped at 1:04 am. After a second devastating Tsunami struck here with a 20 foot wave at 1:04 am in 1960, the state prohibited residential rebuilding in the twice affected areas, turning much of the land into public parks.

The Japanese gardens in Hilo, where a clock stands stopped at 1:04 am. After a second devastating Tsunami struck here with a 20 foot wave at 1:04 am in 1960, the state prohibited residential rebuilding in the twice affected areas, turning much of the land into public parks.

Big Banyan trees near the Japanese gardens in Hilo, where a clock stands stopped at 1:04 am. After a second devastating Tsunami struck here with a 20 foot wave at 1:04 am in 1960, the state prohibited residential rebuilding in the twice affected areas, turning much of the land into public parks.

Big Banyan trees near the Japanese gardens in Hilo, where a clock stands stopped at 1:04 am. After a second devastating Tsunami struck here with a 20 foot wave at 1:04 am in 1960, the state prohibited residential rebuilding in the twice affected areas, turning much of the land into public parks.

The farmers market in Hilo is the place for deals on good food. 6 papaya for a buck. Can

The farmers market in Hilo is the place for deals on good food. 6 papaya for a buck. Can’t beat that!

Entrance to the touristy Kaumana Cave near Hilo on the big island of Hawaii.

Entrance to the touristy Kaumana Cave near Hilo on the big island of Hawaii.

Entrance to the touristy Kaumana Cave near Hilo on the big island of Hawaii.

Entrance to the touristy Kaumana Cave near Hilo on the big island of Hawaii the lava drippings had crumbled and people defaced the entrance by carving into the stone. Jerks!

Swimming in Wai

Swimming in Wai’ale Falls on the big island of Hawaii near Hilo.

The highlight of our trip, the utterly pristine lava tubes of Emesine Cave, a remote 1 mile hike on the big island of Hawaii

The highlight of our trip, the utterly pristine lava tubes of Emesine Cave, a remote 1 mile hike inside the tube on the big island of Hawaii. Plan a full day adventure for this and don’t be stupid. This is a for real hike out and back, a hard search to find the opening, and parts of the roof could collapse on you at any moment. Lava tubes usually only survive a few hundred years and this one is utterly pristine, so keep it that way!

The highlight of our trip, the utterly pristine lava tubes of Emesine Cave, a remote 1 mile hike on the big island of Hawaii

The highlight of our trip, the utterly pristine lava tubes of Emesine Cave, a remote 1 mile hike inside the tube on the big island of Hawaii

The highlight of our trip, the utterly pristine lava tubes of Emesine Cave, a remote 1 mile hike on the big island of Hawaii

The highlight of our trip, the utterly pristine lava tubes of Emesine Cave, a remote 1 mile hike inside the tube on the big island of Hawaii

hawaii travel lava tube

 

The highlight of our trip, the utterly pristine lava tubes of Emesine Cave, a remote 1 mile hike on the big island of Hawaii

The highlight of our trip, the utterly pristine lava tubes of Emesine Cave, a remote 1 mile hike inside the tube on the big island of Hawaii.

After spending some time in the Hilo area, I dragged Scott to a “hippy-dippy” retreat center in the Puna area called Kalani. He actually liked it! The food is amazing, and we did a few yoga class, and even an aerial silks class. Making this our home base, we were able to visit some of the interesting warm spring ponds in the area. This would have also been the perfect home base for seeing/ photographing the lava flowing in to the ocean, but it stopped doing that several months before we arrived.

Sunset and waves crashing along the coast of lower Puna on the big island of Hawaii.

Sunset and waves crashing along the coast of lower Puna on the big island of Hawaii.

The cleanest air in the world is supposedly at Cape Kumaukahi Point on the big island of Hawaii. Apparently the air currents that travel over this point cross over 3000 miles of open sea and nothing else before reaching here. Scientific instruments are scattered here and there taking air quality readings, and there are some cool hot springs, called the Champagne Pond that go right into the ocean and where sea turtles like to hang out.

The cleanest air in the world is supposedly at Cape Kumaukahi Point on the big island of Hawaii. Apparently the air currents that travel over this point cross over 3000 miles of open sea and nothing else before reaching here. Scientific instruments are scattered here and there taking air quality readings, and there are some cool hot springs, called the Champagne Pond that go right into the ocean and where sea turtles like to hang out.

The cleanest air in the world, a natural hotspring flowing into an ocean bay, and some local brew. Oh, and no people, like ever! It

The cleanest air in the world, a natural hotspring flowing into an ocean bay, and some local brew. Oh, and no people, like ever! It’s no surprise adventurous folk like the Big Island so much.

Our next stop was Volcanoes National Park. We stayed at another Bed and Breakfast that I would also recommend called Hale Ohia Cottages. What a small, sleepy “town.” We spent the days hiking on incredible lava formations through craters, and Scott spent each night photographing the milky way rising out of the glowing Halema’uma’u Crater.

Since flowing lava is currently not visible, the next best thing, is to view Halema

Since flowing lava is currently not visible, the next best thing, is to view Halema’uma’u Crater by night at Volcanoes National Park from the observation deck at the Jaggar museum on the big island of Hawaii. One of my main goals was seeing lava moving down to the sea, unfortunately at present the lava flow on Hawaii is tiny and on inaccessible private property.

Night shot of Milky Way galaxy and Halema

Night shot of Milky Way galaxy and Halema’uma’u Crater on Hawaii. Out of three days here, we had one mostly clear night when all these pictures were taken.

Since flowing lava is currently not visible, the next best thing, and if you have never seen a living volcano before, a truly spectacular thing, is to view Halema

Since flowing lava is currently not visible, the next best thing, and if you have never seen a living volcano before, a truly spectacular thing, is to view Halema’uma’u Crater by night at Volcanoes National Park on the big island of Hawaii. One of my main goals was seeing lava moving down to the sea, unfortunately at present the lava flow on Hawaii is tiny and on inaccessible private property.

Desolation trail at Volcanoes National Park on the big island of Hawaii.  One of my main goals was seeing lava moving down to the sea, unfortunately at present the lava flow on Hawaii is tiny and on inaccessible private property.

Desolation trail at Volcanoes National Park on the big island of Hawaii. One of my main goals was seeing lava moving down to the sea, unfortunately at present the lava flow on Hawaii is tiny and on inaccessible private property.

Ki

Ki’lauea Iki trail through the old crater floor in Volcanoes National Park on the big island of Hawaii. It amazes me that in my lifetime, this was a frothing see of molten lava that people just drove up to and had a few beers while watching. One of my main goals was seeing lava moving down to the sea, unfortunately at present the lava flow on Hawaii is tiny and on inaccessible private property.

Ki

Ki’lauea Iki trail through the old crater floor in Volcanoes National Park on the big island of Hawaii. It amazes me that in my lifetime, this was a frothing see of molten lava that people just drove up to and had a few beers while watching. One of my main goals was seeing lava moving down to the sea, unfortunately at present the lava flow on Hawaii is tiny and on inaccessible private property.

Lava fields cover old roads in Volcanoes National Park. It amazes me that in my lifetime, this was a frothing see of molten lava that people just drove up to and had a few beers while watching. One of my main goals was seeing lava moving down to the sea, unfortunately at present the lava flow on Hawaii is tiny and on inaccessible private property.

Lava fields cover old roads in Volcanoes National Park. It amazes me that in my lifetime, this was a frothing see of molten lava that people just drove up to and had a few beers while watching. One of my main goals was seeing lava moving down to the sea, unfortunately at present the lava flow on Hawaii is tiny and on inaccessible private property.

There is a wonderful petroglyph field along chain of craters drive near the ocean in Volcanoes National Park on the big island of Hawaii. One of my main goals was seeing lava moving down to the sea, unfortunately at present the lava flow on Hawaii is tiny and on inaccessible private property.

There is a wonderful petroglyph field along Chain of Craters Drive near the ocean in Volcanoes National Park on the big island of Hawaii. One of my main goals was seeing lava moving down to the sea, unfortunately at present the lava flow on Hawaii is tiny and on inaccessible private property.

Friendly Ernest the Goat at the Volcano Garden Arts center near the entrance to Volcanoes National Park on the big island of Hawaii. Cafe Ono is also on the grounds and is hands down the best restaurant in the area. One of my main goals was seeing lava moving down to the sea, unfortunately at present the lava flow on Hawaii is tiny and on inaccessible private property.

Friendly Ernest the Goat at the Volcano Garden Arts center near the entrance to Volcanoes National Park on the big island of Hawaii. Cafe Ono is also on the grounds and is hands down the best restaurant in the area. One of my main goals was seeing lava moving down to the sea, unfortunately at present the lava flow on Hawaii is tiny and on inaccessible private property.

After leaving Volcanoes National Park, we took a day trip to the south part of the island to see the green sand beach among a few other things. We stayed our last several nights South of Kona near the Kealakekua Bay in a bed and breakfast that I will not name because it was a pretty whacky experience! I am all for alternative, organic and back to nature, but the owner was so over the top, it was actually comical. Scott got a free crystal reading too! Our main efforts in this area of the island focused on getting up at sunrise each day attempting to find the wild dolphins that frequent several of the bays in this area. We snorkeled a lot around here too, and even swam what we estimated to be an ironman length swim across the Kealekekua Bay and back. On our final full day, we found a dolphin pod with about 6 or 7 adults and 2 babies that kept flipping out of the water. We waded in slowly since it is a no-no to harass them, and they naturally swam right near us several times. This was also one of the highlights of our trip!

A turtle lounges in the sand of the Punalu

A turtle lounges in the sand of the Punalu’u black sand beach on the big island of Hawaii.

Famous green sand beach near south point on the big island of Hawaii. Before crossing over to dirt roads, there will often be locals offering a $5 "passage" fee to transport you in. If you do not have a high clearance 4x4, and even if you do, but are not an experienced off-roader, PAY THE FEE. I have been driving 4x4

Famous green sand beach near south point on the big island of Hawaii. Before crossing over to dirt roads, there will often be locals offering a $5 “passage” fee to transport you in. If you do not have a high clearance 4×4, and even if you do, but are not an experienced off-roader, PAY THE FEE. I have been driving 4×4’s since my dad taught me to drive on sand bars when I was 13 and this was touch and go in good weather. So many deeply rutted tracks constantly diverge and then occasional end in cliffs or holes or other impassible spots. As a general rule, if you drive yourself as we did, stay on the highest tracks.

Famous green sand beach near south point on the big island of Hawaii. Before crossing over to dirt roads, there will often be locals offering a $5 "passage" fee to transport you in. If you do not have a high clearance 4x4, and even if you do, but are not an experienced off-roader, PAY THE FEE. I have been driving 4x4

Famous green sand beach near south point on the big island of Hawaii. Before crossing over to dirt roads, there will often be locals offering a $5 “passage” fee to transport you in. If you do not have a high clearance 4×4, and even if you do, but are not an experienced off-roader, PAY THE FEE. I have been driving 4×4’s since my dad taught me to drive on sand bars when I was 13 and this was touch and go in good weather. So many deeply rutted tracks constantly diverge and then occasional end in cliffs or holes or other impassible spots. As a general rule, if you drive yourself as we did, stay on the highest tracks.

Famous green sand beach near south point on the big island of Hawaii. Before crossing over to dirt roads, there will often be locals offering a $5 "passage" fee to transport you in. If you do not have a high clearance 4x4, and even if you do, but are not an experienced off-roader, PAY THE FEE. I have been driving 4x4

Famous green sand beach near south point on the big island of Hawaii. Before crossing over to dirt roads, there will often be locals offering a $5 “passage” fee to transport you in. If you do not have a high clearance 4×4, and even if you do, but are not an experienced off-roader, PAY THE FEE. I have been driving 4×4’s since my dad taught me to drive on sand bars when I was 13 and this was touch and go in good weather. So many deeply rutted tracks constantly diverge and then occasional end in cliffs or holes or other impassible spots. As a general rule, if you drive yourself as we did, stay on the highest tracks.

 

 

Heading away from South Point, the landscape is rolling fields and farms.

Heading away from South Point, the landscape is rolling fields and farms.

St. Benedict

St. Benedict’s Catholic Church near Honaunau, the more famous of Hawaii’s two painted churches. St. Benedict’s dates back to between 1899 and 1904. Father John Velge painted the myriad frescos on the walls and roof and local volunteers lovingly maintain it.

St. Benedict

St. Benedict’s Catholic Church near Honaunau, the more famous of Hawaii’s two painted churches. St. Benedict’s dates back to between 1899 an d1904. Father John Velge painted the myriad frescos on the walls and roof and local volunteers lovingly maintain it.

Dolphins playing in Honomalino Bay on the big island of Hawaii. Monique and I really wanted to swim (naturally) near dolphins. The big island of Hawaii is fairly famous for hosting pods of dolphins in its many secluded bays that "sleep" by circling the bay during the day in a sort of autopilot that passes for rest. It is important not to disturb these guys as that may make them tired and vulnerable to predators. We decided to tread water in what we guessed was their natural path and let them come by us. In an hour of treading water, the dolphin pod passed us 3 times, once only 5 feet away, without altering their behavior.

Dolphins playing in Honomalino Bay on the big island of Hawaii. Monique and I really wanted to swim (naturally) near dolphins. The big island of Hawaii is fairly famous for hosting pods of dolphins in its many secluded bays that “sleep” by circling the bay during the day in a sort of autopilot that passes for rest. It is important not to disturb these guys as that may make them tired and vulnerable to predators. We decided to tread water in what we guessed was their natural path and let them come by us. In an hour of treading water, the dolphin pod passed us 3 times, once only 5 feet away, without altering their behavior.

  • November 13, 2015 - 10:09 pm

    Shoba Shrinivasan - Oh I loved your photoblog…It was beautiful! We are planning a ten day trip tp the Big Island over Thanksgiving and I was looking for pointers…Is there anything that you would tell for a family travelling with three kids?? Great pics!
    Shobha

  • November 15, 2015 - 3:27 pm

    ssady - I think anything you see on the blog with the exception of the Emesine Caves would be great for kids. There is a lot of easy peasy snorkeling near and just south of Kona. The volcanoes national park lookout is an easy drive. While you are there I would continue down chain of craters road and take the short and easy walk out to the petroglyphs for a learning moment, plus the seashore and cliffs at the end of the road are quite spectacular. Depending on how old the kids are, they may be standing on earth that is younger than them, quite a trip. There are some easily accessible lava caves outside of Hilo and around and just outside of Hilo are some nice lagoons with springs, and the japanese gardens with lots of crazy trees. The actual botanical gardens is even cooler, with plants you would never see on the mainland. If you get the blue “Hawaii, big island revealed” book you will have the best travel book, in my opinion, you can find for the big island, food and all. Just know that some of the stuff is strenuous, and it will say in the book, and some of the access points to waterfalls and such have since been shut down. Kiholo bay just north of Kona was amazing. We saw literally 50 sea turtles, but the kids have to be able to walk for a couple of miles for that one. Have a read of the book and you will be able to decide what suits you best. If it was me and I had only a few things I could do, it would be Volcanoes National Park, and snorkeling and exploring around Kona. If I had the time, I would drive way up to the observatories at sunset just for another teachable moment.

  • December 22, 2016 - 5:43 pm

    Ashley - Beautiful pictures!! Can you tell me what mm lens you used for the pics of Kiholo Bay and Waipi’o Valley? We are going in a week and can’t wait to check some of your recommendations out! Thank you!

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