Photographing the Big Island of Hawaii

We have been to the Big Island of Hawaii four times and recently in January 2022 and 2023. We have photographed most of the top spots (other than the top of Mauna Kea – too cold and too long of a day). Here are our favorite locations and what you might see.

There is a lot to see and do near Hilo. The waterfalls drive can be very fruitful with an overcast day. We also visit the Gardens and the Park. We usually stay at least two nights and three days to get all of these locations.

Mauna Kea Observatories from Hilo

There are only a few times that it has been clear enough to see the mountain. Most of the time it is shrouded in clouds and/or it is raining or storming. On this clear day, I used a telephoto to capture the snow and observatories juxtaposed with some palm fronds.

Lili’uokalani Park and Gardens

We usually stay in a hotel that is walking distance to this park. The Hyatt is right across the street. A late afternoon/sunset stroll through the park is a great way to relax and find a lot of interesting subjects.

Hawaii Tropical Bioreserve and Garden

This Garden is only a few minutes drive out of Hilo. It’s very nice with a lot of variety. It is a steep walk up and down to the ocean and it can be quite warm. Bring water and a hat.

Rainbow Falls

Probably the most photographed waterfall in Hawaii, but who cares, it’s pretty and it’s close by and it has a good parking lot with restrooms, so go.

Wailuku River Falls

Up the road from Rainbow Falls.

Akaka Falls

These two are a bit more of a drive and a hike with a horribly small parking lot with a high price. There is a lot of over growth. I tried my tip toes at first, but not good enough. Then I held up my tripod and Mary used the Fujifilm App to control the camera and got the shot.

Kahuna Falls

Pe’epe’e/Boiling Pots

Pretty easy to get to and has a big parking lot. Not any tourists here, just a few locals.

Waipi’o Valley Lookout

This is an iconic shot, but frankly it’s a really long drive for one shot and one location. If you are hiking into the valley, that’s a whole another story.

Tree Tunnels – Government Beach Road near Pahoa, HI

If you like tree tunnels, then this is the place. There are more famous ones, like the Eucalyptus Tree Tunnel on the South Shore of Kauai. This one is smaller and no crowds and little chance of being run over by standing in the road.

Pu’uhonua o Honaunau National Historic Park

This is always a fun stop. There is a lot to see and do and the history of the site is interesting and educational. We almost always shoot infrared here as there is a lot of white sand and black rocks and it makes for great high contrast photos.

Kona Coast

The Kona Coast faces dead West and is the best spot on the island for sunset.

Pele’s Well

The Well is really a lava tube. I have seen better photos of it than these, but I was afraid to get any closer and be swept out to sea. The photos do not do the location justice. It’s beautiful at sunset. Great place to scout when you land at the Kona Airport as it is 5 minutes away.

Volcanoes National Park

Finally, if you are on the Big Island, you probably came to see the active volcanoes. It’s crowded. The best time is sunrise, which is hard unless you are staying at Volcano House. Sunset is manageable, but a lot more people. The caldera has been quite active the last two years and has dropped and changed shape. The viewing areas close and open depending on the danger and where the activity is.

Kilauea caldera

Halei Sea Arch and Drive to the Beach

A less crowded and delightful way to spend the afternoon is a drive from the top of Volcanoes down to the beach. Along the way you will see miles and miles of lava fields of various ages, some with vegetation and some without. The view of the coast is spectacular and your final prize is a photo of the Halei Sea Arch.

It’s hard to say between the Big Island and Kauai, which one we like better, as each has spectacular scenery. Go to both is my best advice.

Here are two other blog posts about Hawaii: Volcanoes National Park and Big Island of Hawaii.

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