Wild Hawai'i

The Big Island

View Full SlideshowView Full Slideshow

Ask A Question
Download Trip Details
Get Our eNewsletter

Largest of the Hawai’ian Islands, the Big Island of Hawai’i is a land mass of 4,000 square miles—yet nearly twice the size and with a lower population density of all the other major Hawai’ian Islands. Far smaller than the state of Connecticut, the Big Island offers a spectacular wealth of photography opportunities in some of the most unique, diverse and unspoiled landscapes in the US—as well as most of the 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)."
- B. Latson
The variety of photogenic landscapes, from ocean-washed black sand beaches 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 raw 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.
Our first day starts early, photographing the jagged, ocean-sprayed coast south of Hilo, and ends with a sunset shoot on the cinder-covered summit of Mauna Kea, as conditions permit. Sunset photography here is very different than at sea level as we typically shoot above the cloud layer where the billows appear more three dimensional. We are surrounded by some of the world’s most advanced astronomy arrays as we capture the setting sun.

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 with some regularity since 1983. In Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park we photograph the landscapes of the Kilauea caldera, including steaming bluffs, the Halema'uma'u Crater, 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 and unobstructed aerial views of the volcanic landscapes—currently public access is limited on the ground. Our special charter flight departs at daybreak in order to capture beautiful morning light in more favorable wind and weather conditions.

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. Female humpback whales, calves and escort whales are regularly observed near the coastline. Heat runs—where males vie for female attention—result in exciting displays of lob tailing, tail slapping and breaching behaviors.

Waterfall HawaiiWe photograph lush Hawai’ian landscapes where towering waterfalls plunge into green tropical ravines, “shoot” sea turtles basking on black sand beaches, and capture images of some of 2,000 species of exotic plants and flowers that flourish wildly along the boardwalks and trails of Hawaii Botanical Garden, as well as lava caves formed during the island’s massive eruptions.

From the luxuriant greens and brilliant bloom of rain forests, the gossamer streams of secluded waterfalls, seductive black sand beaches, to raw otherworldly volcanic landscapes, the Big Island offers an abundance of diverse photography that, amazingly, can be 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 exciting encounters with humpback whales, and, if circumstances arise, capture dramatic images of the fiery flow of molten lava. Join Todd Pierce on the Big Island of Wild Hawai’i—an extraordinary, yet often overlooked, resource for great nature photography.


Check out Todd Pierce's trip report from our 2019 Hawaii photo tour

Tour Itinerary

Day 1 (Feb 6)
Participants arrive in Hilo, Hawai’i, and transfer by taxi to our hotel. We meet for introductions and dinner.  (D)
Day 2 
We depart early to capture sunrise along a rugged shoreline where backlit waves crash dramatically over the jagged black lava rocks.
Rocky beach HawaiiIn the afternoon, we drive up to the Mauna Kea to the visitor center located at 9,200 feet. With weather and other conditions permitting, here we acclimate to the higher altitude, have an early dinner and don our warm parkas before continuing to the summit where the giant research telescopes are located. Winter storms at this time of the year may cloak the summit with snow, but hopefully it will not hinder our drive to the top! We should have an opportunity to shoot down on the cloud layer during the colorful transition from daylight to darkness in the pure clear air. We make our way down the mountain and return to Hilo for dinner.  (BLD)
Day 3
Our special early morning charter of three helicopters (with doors removed) allows us the opportunity for aerial photography of the graphic volcanic landscapes around Kilauea, one of the most active volcanoes in the world. After this thrilling aerial photo session we explore some of the waterfalls and creeks tucked into the valleys around Hilo, as well as the diverse native plants of Hawaii Tropical Botanical Garden. Later we transfer to Volcano House, our hotel base within Volcanoes National Park.  As the light fades to night we finish our day by photographing sunset as well as possible photography of the starry night sky after dinner as weather conditions permit. (BLD)

Day 4
Helicopter over volcano in HawaiiAfter breakfast overlooking Kilauea, we explore the wonderfully diverse landscapes and features of the national park photographing that include endemic plants, flowers and convoluted geological formations along the Sulphur Banks Trail.
In the afternoon, we make our way down the Chain of Craters Road, stopping at various points of interest where abstract lava formations offer dramatic foregrounds 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 foreground lava formations with the Pacific Ocean nearly 2,000 feet below, followed by the setting sun over the shoulder of Mauna Loa.  (BLD)
Day 5
Our morning photo shoot captures first light on Mauna Loa and steam vents glowing in the morning sun, we have a quick breakfast before departing for the Kohala Coast. Along the way, we stop at Punalu’u Beach to look for sea turtles basking on the black sand beach among the tidal pools.
Humpback surfacing in Pacific OceanWe check into our accommodations in the small town of Waimea.  Our day is topped off by a private ocean cruise on a 46-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.  (BLD)
Day 6 
Following breakfast at a local coffee shop in Waimea, we explore the verdant rolling ranchlands near Waimea.  After lunch we drive to the northwestern part of the island to capture the steep Hamakua Coast cliffs and the deep cut of the Waipi’o Valley, as well as the triple-tiered Umauma Falls and the dramatic 400-foot-high Akaka Falls as we make our way to Hilo.  (BLD)

Day 7 (Feb 12)
We depart from the Hilo airport for flights home.

PLEASE NOTE: Reasonable good health is required for this diverse trip with many different components, including dramatic changes in altitude between sea level and 13,800 feet at the summit of Mauna Kea as conditions permit, choppy boat rides, a helicopter flight with doors off, and walking on uneven terrain of hardened lava. Our visit to the summit of Mauna Kea is not recommended for persons with serious heart or lung issues. Due to the variable and unpredictable weather conditions on the Big Island, tour activities may be subject to change at any time.


Print this Page

Joseph Van Os Photo Safaris Enrollment Information

Wild Hawai'i

Feb 06, 2021 - Feb 12, 2021


A deposit and completed and signed Registration Form are required to reserve a place for you on a Joseph Van Os Photo Safari.


All prices are quoted in US dollars and all payments must be paid in US dollars. For deposits only, we accept Visa, MasterCard or American Express. Final payment of the trip fee is due 120 days priors to departure and must be paid by check or bank transfer. Trip deposits are non-refundable and non-transferable.

We must receive written notice of your cancellation, at which time cancellation fees in the following amounts apply:

If Written Cancellation is Received:
90 days or prior:
89 to 61 days prior:
60 or fewer days:
Cancellation Fee:
100% of deposit
50% of entire trip fee
100% of entire trip fee

No partial refunds are made for unused portions or services of a trip for any reason whatsoever. Trips are sold as a package only. This policy also applies to tour extensions and independent travel arrangements. Cancellation fees are not transferable.

Protect your travel investment and purchase a trip insurance policy that includes emergency evacuation coverage. A trip insurance brochure will be sent with your enrollment confirmation. A CANCEL FOR ANY REASON policy is available.

Joseph Van Os Photo Safaris are within the capabilities of average people in good health. Some of these trips require the capability of walking for several miles over uneven trails, stepping from a small boat to a wave-washed rocky beach, flying in small planes and helicopters, and occasionally hiking at high elevations—all while carrying an assortment of camera equipment. If you have concerns about your own capabilities and/or fitness as it relates to a trip, please inquire with our office before reserving a space. By forwarding a signed Registration Form and trip deposit, you certify that you do not knowingly have any physical or other conditions of disability that would create a risk for you or other trip participants and you agree to inform our office in writing if changes in your health occur any time prior to the tour. We reserve the right to request a doctor's statement of good health. The company's or trip leader's judgment shall provide the ultimate determination of an individual's ability to embark upon or to continue a trip. Once a trip has been confirmed, medical circumstances will not be considered as exceptions to our cancellation policy. We assume no responsibility for medical care or for special dietary requirements. “Meatless” meals are normally available at most locations. Due to the remote nature of many photo locations, and the growing diversity of today’s dietary trends, participants requiring special food items are encouraged to bring their own.

Tour members are asked to refrain from smoking with or near the group.

Participants will receive three emails before the trip departs: 1. Initial Tour Information sheet confirms the deposit and provides pre-departure information. 2. Invoice/Practical Information provides clothing and photo gear recommendations, climate data, applicable health advisories and reading list. Visa information will also be included (if applicable). 3. Final Tour Information includes arrival instructions, itinerary revisions (if any), hotel addresses, trip telephone contact information and participant list. We provide the trip leader's telephone number(s) and/or e-mail address with final documents so you can inquire about special photographic questions you may have regarding your trip. We welcome your calls or e-mail messages to info@photosafaris.com.

Information supplied upon enrollment describes the specific costs that are included in your trip fee. Generally these costs include lodging in double room occupancy, all meals (specified in the itinerary as BLD denoting breakfast, lunch or dinner), ground transportation during the trip in vans or small busses, air transportation as specified, meal and baggage tipping, and guide services provided by the trip leaders. Not included are airfare or other transportation from your home to the trip staging location, airport departure taxes, insurance, alcoholic beverages and bar expenses (plus bottled water and soft drink expenses on international tours outside of North America), tips and gratuities to local guides abroad, phone calls, passport or visa expenses, laundry or items of a personal nature. Gratuities to Joseph Van Os Photo Safaris trip leaders are optional and always appreciated. Rates are based on group tariffs; if the trip does not have sufficient registration, a small party supplement may be charged.

Single accommodations are available for a supplemental cost in many locations; see the pre-departure trip information or call our office for details. You will be charged the single supplement fee if you desire single accommodations or if you wish to have a roommate, but one is not available. In some remote locations, clients with single rooms are infrequently compelled to share a room due to circumstances beyond our control. In such cases, appropriate per diem refunds will be made reflecting the direct cost of the single room at the facility where clients are required to share. There is no additional single supplement fee on ship-based cruises, if you request a roommate and one is not available.

Cost increases may occur unexpectedly due to rising costs of airfares, ground transport, fuel surcharges, accommodations and currency fluctuations, among others. Joseph Van Os Photo Safaris, Inc. may be compelled to amend prices, and we reserve the right to do so without prior notice. An increase in trip prices shall not be sufficient grounds for any refund of funds paid for the trip other than as determined by the terms of our cancellation policy.

Whenever possible, our trip participants are lodged in comfortable, modern hotels. We select among the best available accommodations, but refrain from extravagance. Some interesting photographic destinations are far removed from modern amenities, however, and where necessary we will be accommodated in rustic country inns, cabins or tented camps.

Meals are always a special part of our trips for the camaraderie they engender and the opportunity they provide to try new foods from different areas. Depending on the trip and specific locale, participants order restaurant meals from the full menu or, less frequently, table d'hôte. Some trips include picnic lunches in the field. Fruit juice for breakfast and coffee or tea are included with the meals. Soft drinks are included with meals on tours within North America. Participants are responsible for their own bar tab (including bottled water, soft drinks and alcoholic beverages on tours outside of North America) at restaurant lunches and dinners.

Our itineraries are intended as examples only. Participants should allow for flexibility due to changes in weather, natural history or cultural events, or other logistical arrangements deemed necessary by Joseph Van Os Photo Safaris, Inc. or our leaders.

The second tour leader (and any subsequent additional leaders) listed for each trip on the website will be added as the group size warrants. If only one space remains on a trip, and logistics permit, we accept two persons traveling together, even if it exceeds the trip maximum.

Joseph Van Os Photo Safaris, Inc. and/or their Agents act only as agents for the passenger (trip participant) in regard to travel including, but not limited to, sightseeing, meals, lodging, transportation, and all other services whether by railroad, motorcar, motor coach, boat, ship or aircraft or other conveyance, and they assume no liability for injury, damage, loss, accident, delay or irregularity which may be occasioned either by reason of defect in any vehicle or for any reason whatsoever, or through the acts, bankruptcy or default of any company or person engaged in conveying the passenger or in carrying out the arrangements of the trip.

They can accept no responsibility for losses or additional expenses due to delay, cancellations or changes in flights or other tour services, and by force majeure including sickness, weather, strike, war, volcanic eruption, terrorist acts, political unrest, quarantine, epidemics and outbreaks, or other causes.  All such losses or expenses will have to be borne by the passenger, as trip fees provide for arrangements only for the times and locations stated. Baggage is at the owner's risk entirely.

The right is reserved to 1) substitute hotels of similar category for those indicated and to make any changes in the itinerary or transport where deemed necessary, or caused by changes in flight schedules or equipment substitution; 2) cancel any trip prior to departure due to low enrollment, in which case full refund of the paid trip funds will be given, but Joseph Van Os Photo Safaris, Inc. is not responsible for any other trip preparation expenses such as penalized or non-refundable air tickets, visa fees and medical related expenses; 3) At the company’s sole discretion, suspend or postpone any trip due to force majeure in which case the trip may be rescheduled, or a refund issued less any non-refundable deposits paid to tour component providers on behalf of the passenger, or a travel credit given, but Joseph Van Os Photo Safaris, Inc. is not responsible for any other trip preparation expenses such as penalized or non-refundable air tickets, visa fees and medical related expenses; 4) substitute trip leader(s) for the leader(s) originally specified, in which case the substitution is not a basis for participant cancellation or refund other than provided by our normal cancellation policy; or 5) accept or retain any person as a member of any trip.

Trip prices are based on tariffs and exchange rates in effect at the time of publication and are subject to adjustment in the event of any change therein.

A Registration Form including the Enrollment Conditions and Release and Assumption of Risk sections must be signed by each participant prior to the commencement of the trip. Participation by any trip member will be declined in the absence of the signed Registration Form including the Release and Assumption of Risk section, with no trip fee refund. No modification to the Registration Form including the Release and Assumption of Risk section will be accepted.

Should Joseph Van Os Photo Safaris, Inc., or anyone acting on their behalf be required to incur attorney's fees and costs to enforce this agreement, the enrolling trip participant(s) agree(s) to indemnify and hold them harmless for all such fees and costs. In the event a lawsuit is filed, the enrolling participant(s) agree(s) to do so solely in the County of Lewis in the State of Washington. Certain ship owners require the use of pre-printed ticket forms that limit the ship owner's and operator's liability. When such tickets are used, the passenger is bound by the terms of these tickets with respect to the passenger's legal relationship to the owners and operators of the ship, their agents (Joseph Van Os Photo Safaris, Inc.), and the ship's crew.

Wild Hawai'i: Easy Activity Level

Van and boat travel.  Shooting is done within easy walking distance from the van or on national park trails and walking on uneven terrain of hardened lava.  Expect dramatic changes in altitude between sea level and 13,800 feet at the summit of Mauna Kea, possible choppy ocean boat rides and a helicopter flight with doors off.  Our visit to the summit of Mauna Kea is not recommended for persons with serious heart or lung issues.  Possible snow at the summit.
Trip Details
Feb 06 - Feb 12, 2021
Fee: $6,495 from Hilo, Hawai'i
Deposit: $500
Limit: 7 participants
Activity Level: EasyEasy

  • Photograph volcanic landscapes and the rugged Hawai’ian coastline 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 
Tour Leaders
Todd W. Pierce

Todd W. Pierce