Posted by: kerryl29 | December 2, 2019

Hawaii Day 5: Plugging Gaps

Weather considerations and reservation limitations had caused me to do my two longest planned hikes on the second and third full days on Kauai.  But I still had three full days–and the morning of a fourth–left on the island and I didn’t have all that many planned locations left to visit.  I was beginning to wonder, somewhat absurdly, if I’d scheduled too much time on the island.  I’d already visited Waimea Canyon and Koke’e State Parks twice; I’d used up my reservations at Ha’ena State Park.  I’d visited the area around Poipu Beach and been treated to a phenomenal sunset on Day 3.  Visiting Polihale State Park had been ruled out based on my experience on Day 4.  The only specific places left on the docket were three waterfalls, two of which were the overlook type that wouldn’t take much time.  My plan was to knock off all three of these on Day 5.  What would I do the two days after that?

I started with sunrise–not a great one, as it turned out–at my “home” beach.  I’d become somewhat spoiled with the ability to more or less roll out of bed and be on Waipouli Beach in less than a minute.  It was a lot easier than getting up an hour or two earlier and driving to some remote spot.

Waipouli Beach at Sunrise, Kauai, Hawaii

Waipouli Beach at Sunrise, Kauai, Hawaii

From there I got in the car and made the 10-15 minute drive to Ho’opi Falls, reached via a trailhead abutting a residential area.  Here, Kapa’a Stream cuts through a gorge and spills over two waterfalls, both of which lie on public land and are accessible.  There’s some disagreement over which of these is technically Ho’opi Falls; some say it’s the upper tier while others favor the lower cataract.  Neither side appears to feel that the unfavored falls is deserving of a name.  Being solutions-oriented, I decided to split the difference by referring to them as Upper and Lower Ho’opi Falls.

I have concluded that this area–the gorge that Kapa’a Stream flows through, including both sets of Ho’opi Falls, is the most humid place on the planet.  It certainly was that the morning I visited.

During my time in Hawaii, I was extremely cognizant of the condensation problem created when photo equipment is taken from a cool, dry place (read:  a hotel room) into a warm, moist place (i.e. anywhere outdoors in the State of Hawaii).  My hotel room on Kauai had a balcony, inaccessible to anyone without going through my room.  I took to leaving my photo backpack, with all of its key contents, on that balcony overnight so I wouldn’t have to deal with the inevitable condensation on the glass of any of my lenses when exposing them to the elements each day.  I dutifully did that on this day and, as you can see above, made some images first thing that morning without succumbing to any issues.  I then transported my gear, in the backpack, to my vehicle, put the backpack in the non-climate-controlled trunk, and made the relatively short drive to Ho’opi Falls.

When I got to the location and discovered, with little difficulty, the somewhat obscured trailhead, I found everything absolutely drenched with dew.  It had not rained in the area since some time the previous day.  (It rains for part of just about every day on the east side of Kauai.)  The trail, which descended gently, was slick as all get out, significantly worse than the Kalalau Trail had been two days prior.  Just walking down this trail, which was plenty wide, was a dubious proposition.  The trail followed Kapa’a Stream downriver and gradually descended to near water level.  Negotiating a modestly sloping bank to get down from the trail to rapids well above the still unseen Upper Ho’opi Falls was a dicey proposition, but I managed to make it.  I then climbed back up to the trail itself, with less difficulty.  The falls were now audible and, after a bend in the stream, they came into sight–about 25 feet below the trail itself.  Worn areas on the embankment showed the way down–there were several paths–but it was steep and, again, extremely slick.  I very carefully negotiated the worst parts and managed to reach a point where I could walk down to the stony area abutting the falls.  This area was slicker still than anything I’d seen to this point.  It was extremely warm and I was now drenched with sweat–a now recurring theme on this trip.  In an ominous sign, my eyeglasses kept fogging over.  The humidity was so thick it could have been sliced with a butter knife.

I set my backpack and tripod down in a safe spot on a wide, protruding rock and proceeded to check the immediate area out, sometimes by literally sliding on the rock surface.  I found all kinds of interesting angles and, again with great care, took hold of my camera and tripod and began the photo process.  I removed the lens cap and the front element of the camera immediately fogged up with condensation.  I wiped it off with a cloth and it fogged up again.  I was simply going to have wait for the acclimation process to mature and, given how humid it was, that took some time but eventually I was able to begin photographing.

Upper Ho’opi Falls, Kauai, Hawaii

Upper Ho’opi Falls Black & White, Kauai, Hawaii

Moving into some of these positions to photograph the falls required great care.  My stone platform was plenty wide, but to achieve the perspectives I wanted I had to get fairly close to the edge.  Upper Ho’opi Falls is roughly a 30-foot drop into a narrow, rocky gorge, with rapidly flowing water.  The stone platform I was on sloped gently toward the gorge and was beyond-description slippery.  There were a few spots I would have liked to check out but didn’t dare, even without my gear, as falling into the gorge would have been a very bad scene and a very real possibility.

Kapa’a Stream, Kauai, Hawaii

Kapa’a Stream Black & White, Kauai, Hawaii

Kapa’a Stream immediately above the falls was itself quite interesting and much more easily investigated safely, as there was no drop-off to speak of.

Upper Ho’opi Falls, Kauai, Hawaii

Upper Ho’opi Falls Intimate Black & White, Kauai, Hawaii

I got to the stream as early in the day as possible both in an attempt to beat the inevitable crowds (this was a Saturday, so things would be even worse than normal) and to give myself the best chance to make images while the light was still even.  Sure enough, while I was working on the upper falls, sunlight started to encroach on parts of the scene.  I worked in some areas that remained tight, in open shade, and in other cases waited for a cloud to drift in front of the sun.

Upper Ho’opi Falls Intimate, Kauai, Hawaii

Upper Ho’opi Falls Intimate Black & White, Kauai, Hawaii

Upper Ho’opi Falls, Kauai, Hawaii

White Lady Intimate, Kapa’a Stream, Kauai, Hawaii

Upper Ho’opi Falls Intimate, Kauai, Hawaii

When I finished at this spot–perhaps more accurately, when the sun became enough of an annoyance to finish me–I decided to follow the overgrown trail downstream nearly half a mile to Lower Ho’opi Falls.  In a sense, the lower falls are more impressive than the upper falls, but less photogenic in a way.  While it’s impossible to get into a position to photograph the upper falls from below–there’s literally nowhere to stand to do so–the lower falls, which drops roughly 40 feet, can be rendered from both above and below…though getting down to the “below” spot requires some effort.  By the time I got to the upper falls, the sun was out full blast and other people had shown up.  After investigating what it would take to get down to water level, I decided to stay up top.  Had the light been consistently even, I would have gone down to the lower location and poked around but that felt like a needless waste of time and effort under the circumstances.  I found a composition I liked from above, set up and waited for a cloud.  That wait lasted a solid half an hour, if not more.  But eventually, the scene was bathed in even light; that lasted about 20 seconds before the sun reappeared.

Lower Ho’opi Falls, Kauai, Hawaii

Having obtained the image, I retreated to the blessed cool of my vehicle.  It was now late morning.

With the sun fully out now–it was as close to fully clear at this stage as at any point since I’d been in Hawaii–and with other waterfalls the only other things directly on my agenda, I wasn’t sure what to do, so I retreated back to the hotel.  The sky was virtually clear, the light was awful, there was no specific place that I wanted to scout and so I did something that I basically never do:  I hung out on the beach for about 90 minutes.  The place I was staying had some lounge chairs out under the shade trees on the beach; I sat down in one and inertia took over for awhile.  Once it reached early afternoon I noticed that some clouds were blowing in and I arose, hoping that it would cloud over enough to make it possible to photograph the other waterfalls on my list.  It did so and I was on my way.

My first stop was the overlook for Opaeka’a Falls, only about 15 minutes from the hotel.

Opaeka’a Falls, Kauai, Hawaii

This is a bit of one trick pony; the only way to photograph the falls is from the overlook.  There are some compositional choices, however, partly because the overlook walkway wraps around the edge of a cliff for about 500 feet and partly because there’s always the option to include or exclude certain elements.

Opaeka’a Falls, Kauai, Hawaii

Opaeka’a Falls, Kauai, Hawaii

Opaeka’a Falls, Kauai, Hawaii

Opaeka’a Falls, Kauai, Hawaii

Literally across the street from the Opaeka’a Falls parking lot is the Wailua River overlook, which has an attractive scene of its own to reveal.

Wailua River, Wailua State Park, Kauai, Hawaii

When I was done at this location it was on to Wailua Falls, about 10 minutes further into the interior part of Kauai.  While it’s possible to photograph this waterfall from below, there’s no official trail or uncomplicated way of getting down to river level.  I satisfied myself with the lookout point above.

Wailua Falls, Kauai, Hawaii

Wailua Falls Black & White, Kauai, Hawaii

As attractive as Wailua Falls is, I was almost as intrigued by some of the trees in the thick forest surrounding the river.

Moluccan Albizia Forest, Wailua Falls, Kauai, Hawaii

Moluccan Albizia Forest, Wailua Falls, Kauai, Hawaii

Though these Moluccan Albizia trees aren’t native to Hawaii–they were imported from Indonesia–I found them fascinating, particularly when observable in isolation.  On my way out of the Wailua Falls area, I passed an open pasture that included some mature specimens of this species and I stopped to make an image that caught my eye, though the light wasn’t ideal.

Moluccan Albizia Meadow Black & White, Upcountry Kauai, Hawaii

It was now early evening.  One of the things about Kauai is that finding good sunset locations is a bit of a challenge when located on the eastern side of the island.  There are some decent locations far to the north–in the neighborhood of Princeville, Hanalei and all the way up to the end of the road at Ke’e Beach, where I’d ended my first full day on the island.  And, all the way down at Poipu, and points further west on the southern shore, also make potentially good end of day locations.  Unfortunately, I was nowhere near any of these places and really didn’t have time to get there before the appointed hour.  So I decided to make my way to Secret Beach, north of my location on the east coast, where the Kilauea Point Lighthouse could be seen from water level.  I hadn’t visited this spot yet but had read about it.  I figured I had about enough time to get there with 30 minutes to spare before sunset.

The thing about Secret Beach–and presumably the reason it got its name–is that it’s a pretty decent walk down there from the parking area.  This is not one of those fall-out-of-your-car-onto-the-beach locations.  There’s about a quarter of a mile hike, on a steep path, down to the sand and the beach is quite deep, so it’s a decent walk from the point one reaches the beach until one nears the surf.  Still, I got down there roughly when I expected–about 30 minutes before sunset.  There weren’t that many people on the beach when I arrived and more were leaving with each passing minute as the daylight dwindled.

I found a rocky area and set up shop.  The lighthouse (it’s hard to see in some of these images due to the size) is in the background, on the cliff near the upper right-hand part of the frame.

Secret Beach, Kauai, Hawaii

Secret Beach, Kauai, Hawaii

Secret Beach, Kauai, Hawaii

The sun was setting more or less directly behind my position and there was really nothing particularly compelling, photographically speaking, in that direction, so I simply continued to focus my attention on the lighthouse as the light got better and better.

Secret Beach, Kauai, Hawaii

Secret Beach, Kauai, Hawaii

Kilauea Point Lighthouse from Secret Beach, Kauai, Hawaii

Kilauea Point Lighthouse from Secret Beach, Kauai, Hawaii

And with that, the light was gone.  By the time I reached the trail at the back of the beach it was almost completely dark and the steep path through the thick woods was absolutely pitch black.  Good thing I had my headlamp.


  1. This looks like another incredible day on Kauai. I particularly like the images of the Upper Falls with the greenery in the foreground.

    • Thanks, Ellen!

  2. I’m loving this series and in the adventurous way you are describing this trip.

    • Thanks. It’s long been my sense that a description of the experience adds something to the visuals. It kind of allows readers of the blog to come along for the ride.

  3. Very lovely shot

  4. I was taken by the contrast of the larger volume of water versus the small stream forming eddies over the rocks in the first few stream images. Hawaii truly is a paradise-except for the humidity and what it does to the camera! I do enjoy all the images.

    • Thanks very much, Jane. At some point–maybe my next post–I’m going to discuss the fact that there’s far more to photograph in Hawaii than merely beaches and palm trees…

  5. Stunning!!

    • Thanks very much!

  6. Beautiful pics, I really like how you captured the movement in the water!!

    • Thanks very much!

  7. […] is part of the explanation, as is a temporary malaise that had kind of set in.  I mentioned in my previous daily chronicle that I’d felt that I’d kind of run out of subject matter on Kauai and wondered, rather […]

  8. […] each of the past two chronological entries (Day 5 and Day 6) I mentioned that I’d fallen into a bit of a malaise.  I kind of felt as though […]

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