Largest of the Hawai’ian Islands, the Big Island of Hawai’i covers a land mass of only 4,000 square miles—nearly twice that of all other Hawai’ian Islands combined. It is far smaller than the state of Connecticut, yet the Big Island offers a wealth of photography opportunities in some of the most unique, diverse and unspoiled landscapes in the US—and, indeed, most other tropical islands in the world.
"My Wild Hawaii tour was exactly that! Thanks to Van Os Photo Safaris, I was able to photograph lava from land, sea and air, capture images of large green sea turtles basking on a black sand beach, watch and photograph whales off the Kona coast and check an item off my bucket list when I got to photograph an incredible sunset from the top of Mauna Kea (this was the highlight for me)."
The array of photogenic landscapes, from black sand beaches at sea level to snowfields at the summit of nearly 14,000-foot-high Mauna Kea, is spectacular. Verdant rain forests, surreal lava formations, lush valleys leading to hidden waterfalls, and expansive volcanic landscapes are all within a drive of a few hours. Here, the best of the South Pacific meets the stark severity of landscapes in their infancy. As a living evolutionary laboratory, the Big Island—the youngest in the Hawai’ian chain—is home to an intriguing spectrum of endemic flora and fauna.
Positioned over a geologic hot spot, the island continues to grow from five active volcanoes. Kilauea—one of the world’s most active—has been erupting almost steadily since 1983. In Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park we photograph the landscapes of the Kilauea caldera, including steaming bluffs, the glowing Halema'uma'u Crater at dusk, and the expansive “moonscape” of the Holei Pali slope that falls spectacularly to the ocean beyond. In the early morning we charter helicopters (with doors removed) for dramatic unobstructed views of the changing lava landscape and activity—currently, no public access is allowed on the ground. Our special charter flight departs at daybreak, well before any other regular aerial flights can be booked.
A private whale charter on the west side of the Big Island bring us within shooting distance of wintering humpback whales and the acrobatic spinner dolphins that sometimes play alongside the boat. Large numbers of female humpback whales, calves and escort whales are observed near the coastline. Heat runs—where males vie for female attention—result in exciting displays of lob tailing, tail slapping and breaching behaviors. We photograph lush Hawai’ian landscapes where waterfalls plunge into green tropical ravines, sea turtles bask on black sand beaches, 2,000 species of exotic plants and flowers flourish wildly along the boardwalks and trails of Hawaii Botanical Garden, and a 400-year-old volcanic lava cave tunnels through the earth.
The finale of the week is a sunset shoot on the cinder-covered summit of Mauna Kea. Sunset photography here is far different than at sea level—we shoot downward so the clouds are more three dimensional. We capture the setting sun with some of the world’s most advanced astronomy stations in the foreground. Following sunset the stars come alive—Mauna Kea is one of the world’s top stargazing locations. Opportunities for photographing star trails and Milky Way starscapes are possible here.
From the vivid greens and brilliant bloom of rain forests, gossamer streams of secluded waterfalls, and black sand beaches, to otherworldly volcanic landscapes, the Big Island offers an abundance of diverse photography packed into one week. Private charters take us to the best locations in the best light where we photograph graphic, complex volcanic landscapes by helicopter, experience close-up encounters with humpback whales, and, as conditions permit, capture dynamic images of the fiery flow of molten lava as it enters the sea. Join Todd Pierce on the Big Island of Wild Hawai’i—an extraordinary, yet often overlooked, source for great nature photography.
Be sure to check out Stuart Westmorland's 2016 Wild Hawai'i Trip Report in the Photo Safari Blog.
Day 1 (Feb 10 or Feb 17)
Participants arrive in Hilo, Hawai’i, and transfer by taxi to our hotel. We meet for dinner. (D)
We depart early to capture sunrise along a rugged shoreline where backlit waves dance and splash through jagged rocks. Later in the morning we photograph a dramatic 442-foot-high waterfall tucked into a lush ravine among tropical flowers.
Following lunch in Hilo we depart for Isaac Hale Beach Park and one of the highlights of the tour—a boat trip down the Kalapana Coast to the ocean entry point of the lava from Kilauea caldera. Here, depending on volcanic activity, we photograph one of the most dramatic geological events on Earth—streams of glowing molten lava pouring into the ocean. (BLD)
Our special early morning charter of two helicopters (with doors removed) allows us the opportunity to photograph the lava flows and graphic landscapes around Kilauea, one of the most active volcanoes in the world. After our thrilling aerial photo session we explore some of the waterfalls and creeks tucked into valleys around Hilo, as well as the diverse native plants of Hawaii Tropical Botanical Garden. Later we transfer to Volcano House, our hotel base in Volcanoes National Park, and as the light fades to night we finish our day by photographing the brilliant red glow of lava from Halema’uma’u Crater. (BLD)
After a breakfast while overlooking Kilauea, we depart for an excursion through the Thurston Lava Tube, a 600-foot-long, easily-accessible tunnel where molten lava flowed five centuries ago. We spend the remainder of the morning photographing endemic plants, flowers and geological formations along the Sulphur Banks Trail.
Following lunch we make our way down the Chain of Craters Road, stopping at various points of interest where lava formations offer dramatic foregrounds and abstracts to an otherworldly scene. After a stop at the Holei Sea Arch, we ascend to a high point along the Holei Pali escarpment where we can pair graphic lava formations in the foreground with the Pacific Ocean nearly 2,000 feet below, and shoot the sunset over the shoulder of Mauna Loa. (BLD)
Following a photo shoot of first light on Mauna Loa and steam vents glowing in the morning sun, we have a quick breakfast before departing for the Kona Coast. Along the way, we stop at Punalu’u Beach to look for sea turtles basking on the black sand beach among tidal pools while ocean waves crash over rugged lava formations. After lunch and check-in at our lodge in Waimea, we explore ranchlands and coastal locations until the sun sets over the Pacific, where the “green flash” is often visible. (BLD)
We begin our day with a private ocean cruise on a 42-foot-long, partially-covered boat to photograph humpback whales in their winter habitat. Exuberant displays of breaching, lob tailing, and tail slapping are common at this time of year. Our boat captain has a wealth of knowledge about the whales, seabirds and marine life in the area.
After lunch we drive up Mauna Kea to the visitor center located at 9,200 feet. With conditions permitting, here we acclimate to the higher altitude before continuing to the summit where giant research telescopes are located. Winter storms at this time of the year often clad the summit with snow. We should have an opportunity to shoot down on the cloud layers during the colorful transition from daylight to darkness in the pure clear air. After the sun slips into the Pacific, we return to the visitor center as the stars fill the night sky and photography of star trails is possible. We return to our Hilo hotel later this evening. (BLD)
Day 7 (Feb 16 or Feb 23)
We depart from the Hilo airport for flights home.
The boat tour and helicopter tour to the firehouse lava flow were the highlights of the trip. Todd was a great guide. He was very helpful and knowledgeable.
- Photograph active lava flows and volcanic craters by helicopter
- Shoot humpback whales from our privately-chartered boat
- Visit the lofty world of Mauna Kea’s 14,000-foot-high summit
- Create landscape imagery of rain forest, waterfalls, wave-churned beaches, and dramatic lava fields
- Enjoy an exotic photo shoot that requires no immunizations, passports, visas or international border crossings for US citizens
Feb 10 - Feb 23, 2018
Fee: $5,495 from Hilo, Hawai'i
Tour 1: Feb 10–16, 2018
Tour 2: Feb 17–23, 2018