Posted by: kerryl29 | October 7, 2019

Hawaii: Background and Day 1

Before getting to the (limited) photographic experience of my first day in Hawaii, I thought it might be useful to provide some background information about how this trip came about and ultimately developed.  My wife first proposed that I consider a trip to Hawaii late last year some time–after returning from Alaska.  I want to publicly offer thanks to E.J. Peiker, who has spent more time photographing in Hawaii than anyone I know–for his assistance as I began the planning for the trip.  I had been to Hawaii before–twice, in fact–but it had been nearly 40 years since my last visit.  The previous two visits, both of which took place while I was in high school, were family vacations.  This was years before I became serious about photography and photo opportunities were not a significant consideration when deciding where to go and what to do.  Besides, Hawaii has changed a great deal over the last four decades and E.J. was able to provide a plethora of useful advice.

Early on, I was encouraged by my wife to think big when it came to planning where to go and for how long.  At one point, there was talk of my visiting four, or even five, islands.  When I started to think specifically, I quickly pulled back on such thoughts.  In addition to being prohibitively expensive and utterly exhausting, it quickly became clear that the sheer time necessary to carry out such an itinerary was disqualifying.  I ultimately decided to limit myself to two islands; the question was which two.

There are eight major islands in the Hawaiian chain, seven of which are inhabited and six of which can be readily visited by the general public.  Of the six, I wrote off Lanai as a possibility for a variety of reasons.  The least visited of the six, Lanai has limited amenities and very limited accommodations…virtually all of which are extremely expensive.  It’s also by far the smallest and least accessible of the islands that can be visited, so I felt that my time (and money) could be better spent elsewhere.

The remaining five islands originally under consideration were, in no particular order, Kauai, Maui, Molokai, the Big Island of Hawaii and Oahu.  Of the five, Oahu was of the least interest to me, given my more or less exclusive interest in spending my time photographing, and it was fairly quickly eliminated from consideration.  Oahu–home to Honolulu–is by far the most populous (read: crowded) of the five islands and is arguably the least interesting (in part because of how crowded it is) to a landscape photographer, so that island was fairly quickly eliminated from consideration as well.

As for the remaining four islands…well, none of them were really eliminated.  I ultimately decided to pair them–the largest (the Big Island) with almost certainly the greatest number of photographic locations (i.e. demanding the most time) with the smallest and least accessible island (Molokai), arguably requiring the least time; and the remaining two, both of which were kind of in the middle (Kauai and Maui).  The question was, which pair to do?  (The hope is/was to do the pair not done on this trip at some point in the relatively near future.)  I more or less arbitrarily decided to do Kauai and Maui on this trip, Kauai first, then Maui.

Almost literally everything in Hawaii is expensive.  Accommodations are expensive.  Food is expensive.  Gas is expensive.  Fees for things that have fees are (with very few exceptions) expensive.  Despite this, Hawaii is essentially always crowded with visitors.  Some times are relatively worse than others (June…and summer in general, and the holiday period are known to be particularly difficult), but there really is no off-season.

But very few of these innumerable visitors, apparently, are primarily there to photograph…or so it appeared to me.  I saw plenty of smartphones while I was in Hawaii but people were mostly pulling them out for the purpose of producing selfies.  As best I can recall, I saw only three or four other people with tripods during the entire trip (and keep in mind that I was out all day, pretty much every day, for 14 days in a row).  I’ll have some additional thoughts on this subject in a later post in this series.

I decided, not entirely arbitrarily, that I wanted to devote six full days to each of the two islands I was visiting; this would give me ample opportunity to visit just about every place on my list for both islands, with the likely opportunity to return to those locations I found of particular interest.  Since a great deal of hiking was on my agenda, the sheer number of days would better enable me to pick particularly propitious weather days for each hike.  There would, additionally, be a day to arrive, a day to transition from Kauai to Maui and a day devoted to return travel to Chicago.  The question was how to do this without requiring a second mortgage.  In truth, there’s almost no way to spend two weeks in Hawaii without spending a lot of cash.  I minimized it as much as possible by using miles for the airfare (which saved roughly $800), booking the least expensive hotels I could find on both islands, keeping the rental car costs to a minimum and limiting food purchases to roughly $12 per day.  So while it was still an expensive proposition, I figure that I spent about as much in two weeks as the average visitor forks over in five days…or less, depending on the actual cost of the specific resort the average visitor might book.

The flight to Hawaii was direct from O’Hare airport in Chicago to Honolulu…roughly 9 1/2 hours in the air.  There’s a five-hour time difference between Chicago and Hawaii so even though the flight was scheduled to leave at roughly 10 AM (it was actually nearly 11 when we took off, but who’s counting?) it arrived in Honolulu at roughly 3 PM local time.  Then, after a short layover, it was on to Lihue, Kauai on a Hawaiian Airlines flight of approximately 25 minutes in duration.  By the time I’d negotiated the rental car line in Lihue, obtained my vehicle and made the short (15 minutes or so) drive to where I was staying (Kapa’a), it was roughly 5 PM.  Sunset was before 6:30, so I really had no time to go anywhere…thus, I decided to photograph the early evening scene right from the beach fronting the hotel, even though it was an east-facing locale.  There was no way to find a suitable west-facing location, so I made do.

One of the best–if not the best–aspects of both the places I stayed (on Kauai and Maui) was that each facility had direct beach access.  In Kauai, it took about 45 seconds to get from my room to the beach.  (In Maui, it was about 20 seconds.)  This was particularly nice in Kauai where I could, if I chose, photograph sunrise from an east-facing beach without driving anywhere.  I did, in fact, do that on three of the seven mornings I was on Kauai.

But, as I noted above, my introduction to Waipouli Beach on Kauai was at sunset on that first day.  It had been a very long day, what with the two flights taking a total of nearly 10 hours in the air, so being able to take the short walk to the relatively empty beach was welcome.

Waipouli Beach is fairly shallow, but it has a number of interesting elements that can be used for foreground interest–driftwood and rocks, primarily.  I didn’t have much time for scouting, but it really wasn’t necessary.  I found some interesting driftwood, almost right at the spot where I entered the beach, and went to work.

Waipouli Beach at Sunset, Kauai, Hawaii

Waipouli Beach at Sunset Black & White, Kauai, Hawaii

Given that I was looking to the east as the sun was setting to the west, I wasn’t going to be able to get the full effect of the sunset–whatever that might have been, given copious clouds to the west.  But the light was still nice and the scene itself was captivating.

Waipouli Beach at Sunset, Kauai, Hawaii

Waipouli Beach at Sunset Black & White, Kauai, Hawaii

There wasn’t much time before the light faded completely.  In fact, before it became completely dark, it started to rain.  (These relatively brief, but occasionally forceful, spells of rain were a fairly common experience, and one I’ll touch upon again in later installments.)

Waipouli Beach at Sunset, Kauai, Hawaii

Waipouli Beach at Sunset, Kauai, Hawaii

During the cloudburst, I was able to gather up my things very quickly and take shelter under an awning attached to the on-the-beach restaurant that was part of the hotel complex.  When it stopped raining, I retreated to my room, but there was time for one more image before I packed things away for the evening.

Palm Tree Moonrise, Waipouli Beach, Kauai, Hawaii

Given the lack of opportunity to scout remote locations on that first day, I decided that I would begin the following day with sunrise at Waipouli Beach.  I’ll describe that experience when I chronicle day two–my first full day on Kauai.


  1. What a lot of thought and planning! Would love to enjoy the beaches – great photos

    • Thanks!

      There are numerous beautiful beaches in Hawaii. There are enough that it’s still quite possible to find mostly empty beaches (at least on weekdays), despite how many visitors there are, including beaches that are fronted by resorts and rental units.

      It’s a pricey place to visit, but depending on what one’s looking for it, appears that many people have decided that the cost is well worth it.

  2. Great perspective and such luck in finding quarters close to beaches!

    • Thanks, Jane. I was fairly impressed that both places I stayed at–which were (relatively, by Hawaii standards) inexpensive, had such ready access to beaches that weren’t crowded.

  3. I don’t think I’ve seen many beach pictures from Hawaii without people.The driftwood and rocks make great foregrounds.

    • Thanks, Ellen.

      See my response to an earlier note in this thread. I mean, Waikiki (in Honolulu) is pretty much always very crowded, but with minimal effort it’s not difficult to find numerous relatively empty beaches, at least on weekdays, on all of the outer islands.

  4. Wow -these are fantastic!!

    • Thanks very much!

  5. Magnificent scenery…cute

  6. These photos are breathtaking. The driftwood is particularly interesting. There’s a fella here who finds the best pieces and makes art with them. I’ve bought a few of his creations and absolutely love them!

    Hawaii always seemed like such a wonderful place to visit. As you say though – everything is expensive. To try and find a place too that isn’t overwhelmed with people, not real easy!

    Thanks for sharing this little slice of paradise with us. It sounds like you made some wonderful memories there! ♥

    • Thanks very much!

      This first evening in Kauai was really just a warm-up for the succeeding days (as I hope to demonstrate via future posts in this series). There were some pretty interesting stumbling blocks that I encountered that needed to be overcome, but that will all come out in the wash.

      Hawaii is definitely expensive and superficially crowded, but if you get out early and/or stay out late, most of the crowds melt away. And if you poke around, there are also certain locations that don’t ever seem to get particularly crowded in the first place.

      • Thank you for such a thoughtful reply 🙂 Your advice has been noted! I look forward to your future posts. The photos are absolutely breathtaking and the stories are so much fun to read. 💚

        • Thanks very much. If you’re at all interested, feel free to peruse the archives of this blog. Over the 10+ years I’ve been posting, I’ve written fairly lengthy pieces (and posted many images) describing the experience of photographing numerous locales in North America.

        • I am definitely interested and will most certainly be looking back at your earlier posts. It’s always fun to go back and see what adventures happened years ago… Yet with the beauty of photography, they always live 🙂 Many blessings to you & yours!

  7. Big fan of the foreground driftwood. Did you make it to lanikai or Waimanalo?

    • Thanks!

      The beaches you mentioned are on Oahu, I believe. Other than an incoming connection through Honolulu, I spent no time on Oahu on this trip, so, no…I didn’t make it to Kanakai or Waimanalo. Maybe next time?

  8. […] detailed elsewhere, Day 1 of my photo trip to Hawaii was a notably circumscribed experience.  Opportunities were so limited, […]

  9. […] alluded to this in an earlier post:  I came across very, very few other people during my time in Hawaii whose primary reason for […]

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