Big Island Trip

July 21, 2019  •  Leave a Comment

SeljalandsfossA gorgeous waterfall no matter the time of year. Back again with another post! I've posted the first photo from Iceland and I'm also doing a post on the Hawaii trip in this installment.

The first photo post from Iceland is of Seljalandsfoss (pronounced "sellyalandsfoss") which was the first waterfall we visited on day one and we returned later that evening to shoot again at sunset. The light is kind of harsh for landscape but I thought the wildflowers and illuminated mist from the falls really made this a nice shot.

As mentioned in the previous post, I spent four days in Iceland and then returned home for 48 hours before heading to the island of Hawaii (big island) for a two week vacation. I actually did not take many photos in Hawaii this time around as the trip was really meant to just decompress. Besides, the volcanoes are all taking a nap. ;-) I spent quite a bit of time editing photos from Iceland, read eight books, and lounged by the pool. There were also some adventures along the way too. On the third or fourth day there we did an entire loop around the island from Waikaloa and proceeding clockwise. First stop was Laupahoehoe Point to take in the views at one of the few spots on the north side of the island where you can get down to the water (most of the north side of the island is sheer cliffs). From there, we headed to Akaka Falls which is a must see. On our visit this Akaka FallsAkaka Falls with all its huge 442 foot drop and emerald green surroundings. time it became apparent that tourism on the big island is picking up as the small state park for the falls was jammed with people. It was my third visit there and was definitely the most crowded I've ever seen it. Unfortunately, there's only one vantage point to get a photograph of the falls which is the exact same photo everyone else has. I did some research on whether it's possible to walk up river from the main highway to get to the bottom of the falls. I have no idea if it's possible but it looks like it would be extremely difficult to do. Perhaps an adventure for a future visit. It does look like there are other falls down river along the canyon walls and perhaps one small falls on the main river.

From there we headed into Hilo for lunch and a little wandering around the local shops where I picked up a hat that I have to admit is probably my favorite now.  It's super comfortable and keeps my head cooler than the others I have. After a really good lunch at Cronies Bar and Grill (I HIGHLY recommend their ribs!) we headed out to loop around the south side of the island. Our next destination was South Point and Papakōlea Beach (green sands). This beach is not easy to get to and quite honestly, it can be a dangerous beach at high tide as the cove is narrow and the surf gets quite rough. Once the tide is fully in there's not really any beach left to stand on either. You can read more about the beach here and here. If you plan to hike out to the beach you're looking at a 5-6 mile out and back hike. At the trailhead you will also find many locals selling rides out to the beach; however, it is illegal for them to do this. Pay at your own risk. We had a borrowed 4WD from a friend and did the drive, though while not illegal, it is frowned upon.
Even if you rent a 4WD the rental car companies expressly forbid you from taking them off road. I would also strongly recommend against doing this drive unless you are an experienced off-roader. There are many tracks leading out to the beach and this is due to erosion. If you are inexperienced doing this type of driving it would be all too easy to get yourself stuck or, worse, seriously damaging the vehicle to the point of making it inoperable (broken axle, broken oil pan, high centering the vehicle, etc.). We arrived shortly before sunset (also NOT recommended unless you have A LOT of off road experience -- driving off road in the dark is 10 times more difficult!) which afforded us having the beach entirely to ourselves and allowed me to get a shot with sunset skies and cooled shadows. The drive back in the dark took almost twice as long as I often had to stop, get out of the vehicle, and scout ahead with a flashlight. Headlights create weird shadows making it hard to judge how steep a ledge, rut, or other obstacle is and whether it's passable. I'm certain we did not take the exact same path out as we did in and this was due to the weird shadows forcing me to make decisions about what looked like the path of least resistance. Once we made it back to the trailhead it was smooth sailing and we completed our loop back to Waikaloa.

Papakolea BeachThis beach is absolutely gorgeous but try to plan your trip when the people are less likely to be there.

A couple of days later we went to a local farmer's market just outside the Waipi'o Valley area where we purchased locally produced honey and jams and also bought a fresh coconut that we drank the coconut water straight out of. It was quite refreshing even though it wasn't cold! From there we headed to the Waipi'o Valley overlook. The Waipi'o Valley is a culturally significant place to native Hawaiians and stays relatively segregated from the rest of the island (read more about why it's significant here). You can descend down into the valley however you must be driving a 4WD vehicle even though it's a paved road. The descent is incredibly steep and narrow and requires a vehicle capable of a very low gear. Once at the bottom you can follow the "road" out to the black sand beach but just be aware that the "road" is unpaved, considered off-road and is quite rough (not as bad as driving to Papakōlea beach though). Waipi'o Valley is beautiful to view from both above and below but to be honest it's not very photogenic. It's just difficult to get a photo to do justice to the valley. Perhaps during a brilliant sunset (the overlook looks west into the valley) or during some type of moody weather it would photograph better. I've photographed the valley on three different occasions now (at different times of day and under different weather circumstances) and they all turned out in such a way that I would not want my name attached to them. If you are renting a 4WD vehicle you may want to ask about whether you can descend into the valley or not. I'm assuming you can because you're technically not going off road but I'm not sure. We saw lots of people doing the hike down and up and I'm going to be honest. It's not worth the walk. If you want to visit another black sand beach that's going to require a hike I'd recommend Pololu Valley instead. The hike is not any more difficult coming out than Waipi'o but it's shorter and the beach offers better views; and if you're so inclined to, you can hike up to the top of the ridge on the opposite side of the valley.

My last adventure of the trip was to go up to the summit of Mauna Kea which I've been wanting to do every time I've been to the big island. This time around, I had a window where the weather was good and had plenty of time to do the trip. From Waikaloa it takes about 90 minutes to reach the summit. This is where things get interesting because Mauna Kea is the highest peak in the Hawaiian Islands at just over 13,800 feet. Due to this elevation and how the winds blow it creates different climate zones on the big island. In fact, the big island boasts 11 of the 13 climate zones on Earth. The big island is also the only place on Earth you can drive from sea level to over 13,000 feet in less than 2 hours. One other interesting fact is that it's not uncommon to see snow at the top of Mauna Kea and it was covered by a massive glacier during the last ice age too! My objective was to get Milky Way photos from the summit. I really lucked out as the skies above Mauna Kea were incredibly clear and I don't mean just cloudless. The humidity was quite low and sight was very crisp. After letting my eyes adjust to the dark I could begin to see the light from the Milky Way reflecting off the hood of the vehicle and even though it was a completely moonless night I could see quite easily even without any light sources around other than the night sky. Admittedly, I probably could have chosen something with better foreground for the shot but I was still amazed at how my shot turned out. It looks as though the Milky Way is a brilliant cloud of dust erupting from the summit of Mauna Loa! 

If you're not familiar with what you're looking at, I've annotated this photo. Starting at the top left, is Saturn right near the top edge of the frame. Going down toward the center of the frame is the galactic core which is actually dark due to all the gas and dust that is blocking all the light from the core. To the right, the super bright "star" is actually Jupiter. It was easily the brightest object in the sky even without this long exposure. Just below Jupiter is what I originally thought to be Saturn. That yellow star is actually Antares which is just over 600 light years away from us. Out of curiosity I did some searching and found that Antares doesn't even rank in the top 100 stars closest to our own Sun. This really kind of blows my mind for a few reasons. A) Look at how bright that thing is! Antares is a red supergiant star and is considered to be around the 15th brightest object in the night sky. B) I'm looking at light from a star that is 600 years old. For all we know Antares is not there anymore (probably unlikely though) C) The fact that at Antares doesn't even make the top 100 closest stars even though it's a mere 600 light years away (that's nothing given the size of the galaxy, never mind the universe) makes you appreciate just how many flippin' stars there are just in our Milky Way. D) Red supergiants aren't exactly the brightest stars, in fact they are the faintest stars which gives me appreciation for just how massive this star is. I read somewhere that if you were to drop Antares into our solar system where the Sun is, it's outer layer would reach somewhere between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter. That's enormous!

One other thing to mention about that photo. While it may look like we are looking "down" to Mauna Loa in the photo (which we are) it's a little deceiving. Since I'm not at the summit proper of Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa is only about 130 feet shorter than Mauna Kea; at this distance we are essentially eye level with the Mauna Loa summit (I'm roughly 90 or 95 feet higher than its peak). if you do plan to go to Mauna Loa altitude sickness is a real thing. People under 16 are strongly discouraged from going to the summit because their lungs are still not fully developed. I had a hell of a headache by the time I left the peak but that was my only side effect. Some people can be more adversely affected. Be extremely vigilant of your actions, move slowly and take slow deep breaths. You are getting somewhere between 35-40% less oxygen at this altitude.

I'll be posting some additional (and shorter) posts from the Iceland trip and in the meantime it's on to getting new photos and adventures! Keep an eye on my social media sites for updates on when new photos post.

Milky Way Over Mauna LoaAn annotated version of the Milky Way over Mauna Loa shot.




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