Thursday, January 30, 2014

Sunrise Photo Tour: Oahu's Southeast Coast

Sunrise and surf at Eternity Beach
Halona Blowhole
  I have been working on learning my new island home here in Oahu since the start of the new year. My plan is to add island photography tours to the agenda so I want to find the best places for differing light throughout the day. For sunrise the East coast of the island is the obvious choice but there are lots of potentially great spots for sunrise photos from Hanauma Bay to Lanikai. I stopped at a few of these today and had a wonderful time.
The woman on the cliff adds some perspective to the blast
  The first stop on the tour was the Halona blowhole. There is a popular scenic overlook here but I am always looking for new and different angles. Heidi and I found out about a secret beach down under the scenic overlook called Eternity Beach that is a great scuba dive spot so I headed down to the beach. The sun came up right in the middle of the channel heading out between the cliffs. That was what I was hoping for. After a couple shots there I hurried across the rocks to the blowhole around the corner. The swells were coming in and funneling into a submerged cave getting compressed and blown up and out in a geyser of white wash. These blowhole formations can be deadly for unsuspecting people getting too close and falling in. One lady was close but stayed safe and dry, until she ventured to the ledge where a huge wave crashed over her. Still safe but not dry at all.

   After the blowhole I continued down the coastline and stopped at one of my favorite beaches, Makapu'u. This is a popular body surfing beach but today the waves were pretty massive. The swell has some east in it so it is hitting this east facing shore pretty hard. A couple surfers were out but what really caught my eye was the silhouetted lighthouse on the cliff facing these beautiful backlit waves.

View towards Sandy's
Water rushing back down the blowhole
  I figured I would hit all the hot spots this morning so I continued on to Lanikai after a quick stop at Waimanolo beach park where I had helped with a photo shoot last weekend. Lanikai is an upscale neighborhood with beautiful clear water and a couple of offshore islands that people love to kayak out to. I have been here for sunrise before and it is always gorgeous. Today was no different. I just love the color of the water here, so tropical and blue.

  Heading back through the Ko'olau Mountain range to Honolulu I made one last stop at the Pali overlook. I had heard about a steep hike heading up from this popular overlook to a hole in the rocks. I was a little unprepared with my slippers (sandals) on but I made it about 3/4 of the way up before having to turn around due to muddy, steep, slippery conditions. And the fact that one side of the trail was a 500ft sheer dropoff raised the stakes a bit as well. I'll save it for another, dryer, day.

Big Waves at Makapu'u
Makapu'u Lighthouse

Footprints in the sand
Beautiful water of Lanikai

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Makapu'u Lighthouse Hike

Skinny trail to the Lighthouse
  One of my new favorite hikes is the Makapu'u Lighthouse hike on the southeast side of Oahu. There is a parking lot for this trail shortly after Sandy's beach but before you get to Makapu'u beach. The trail is nice and paved, although quite steep in some sections and no shade at all along the trail. A few offshoots of the main paved trail lead around to the lighthouse itself and down to some incredible tide pools at the bottom of the cliff. The tidepools are big enough and deep enough to snorkel in.

Beautiful East Coast of Oahu
There is foliage in every shade of green along the trail but the magnificent colors here belong to the ocean. From here the turquoise tropical waters are breathtaking. If you stop and scan the ocean for awhile during the winter it is also a great place to spot migrating humpback whales. Once you are at the top of the trail you are awarded with a majestic view of the coastline heading North as well as a few offshore islets. The hike can be done in under an hour but it would be easy to spend half a day exploring all that Makapu'u Point has to offer.

Built in 1909
Looking down on the tidepools and people

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Hiking Diamond Head and the Honolulu Zoo

Start of the Hike
  The bustling district of Waikiki can easily overwhelm the senses with all of its high rise resorts, fancy eateries, and expensive shops. Luckily a quiet piece of nature sits just beyond the concrete jungle. Diamond Head crater has always been a famous backdrop for Waikiki pictures but the crater is worth exploring up close.

   Being so close to the city, the trail that winds its way up the crater rim to the summit of Diamond Head is one of the most well trodden paths in Hawaii. However, once you pass through the tunnel to the inside of the crater all the noise of the city is gone and a huge green field replaces buildings. When it rains a lot there can even be a beautiful little pond inside the crater depression.
Diamond Head Lighthouse
The Royal Hawaiian in Pink


       The path heads up in a switchback style before going through a dimly lit tunnel. Here you have a choice of climbing some very steep stairs to an old military lookout post or taking your left which is another switchback up to several view points. Eventually the two paths connect in a big circle.

Military Lookout Post with a View
  The view from the top is quite amazing. Waikiki and greater Honolulu look almost peaceful. Waves that wrap into the beach are dotted with surfers. And all kinds of boats cruise the darker blue water offshore. I do like the one random pink hotel sticking out and resisting change on the main drag.

Another prominent feature you notice from the summit is a large green area between Diamond Head and the buildings of Waikiki. This is where the Honolulu Zoo is located. Luckily I was hiking with Morgan and Josh from Maui and we all had a mutual friend who just started as an animal keeper at the zoo. So after our hike we drove a couple miles to meet her for a backstage tour.
  The Honolulu Zoo may seem a little compact at first but on second glance it was quite expansive. Going to zoos always takes me back to my wildlife encounters across the world from Africa to India to Central America. I watched the chimps for a long time, always amazed at how human they can seem. I will always remember seeing a full grown male chimp walking through the forest in Uganda looking just like one of the bigfoot films you see on TV. The lemur exhibit made me miss having them crowd all over the truck and jump on my head back on St. Catherines Island where my dad was a zoologist while I was growing up. And seeing the tigers almost made me want to go back to India to try and track them again. With a modest local entry price of $8 I think I will be heading back to the Honolulu again soon.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

The Big One: Waimea, North Shore 1-23-14

  The biggest swell of the winter has been pounding our north facing shores in Hawaii for the past two days. High winds yesterday made the surfing here in Oahu basically unsurfable, although I did get some reports that Jaws (Peahi) on Maui was going off. Seems like Laird Hamilton was back in action being towed into some giant waves at Jaws. The word is that he was being filmed as part of a movie in production...Point Break 2!

  Heidi and I tried to drive to the North Shore yesterday afternoon but the the entire island must have had the same idea. The traffic was so slow that we couldn't make it to Waimea before sunset. Not to lose hope I woke up at 5am this morning and drove back to the North Shore to bring in the dawn with massive waves at Waimea Bay. I had my camera, tripod, and a mug of coffee on a nice cliff spot overlooking the surf.

Who said four is a crowd?
The church overlooking Waimea
Dream Waves
  The winds had died down a lot since the day before and were slowly shifting back to their usual offshore direction. It didn't take long after sunrise for the first brave surfers to appear on the beach with their huge boards and head out to see who could grab the first wave.

The waves were so big that every once in a while the entire bay would close out in a whirlpool of whitewater. The biggest waves I saw looked to be around 30ft high. Unlike Jaws, everyone here was paddling into the waves, no jet skis around.
These guys are pumped!
This surfer is a bit more cautious
  I had all morning to take pictures so I really explored the surrounding area and found some secret spots to get closer to the waves. I tried to throw together some pictures from each of the different angles I shot from this morning. From high on a cliff, to on the beach, to out on the rocks with waves crashing nearby. The surfers were catching waves pretty consistently this morning but when there was a lull I would turn my attention to the shore break. The waves here in shore jack up into crazy barrel formations that make for some great still photos.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Huge Surf- Waimea Big Wave Riders

See the tiny surfer?
Cleanup Set at Waimea
  Right now there is a size where if the waves exceed it I feel very comfortable taking pictures from the shore. Being winter time in Oahu the waves on the North shore exceed my limit quite often. When people ask what my limit is I often respond with 'double overhead'. So if the wave is more than twice my height I wouldn't paddle out. We'll see how long that holds. But for now I have been enjoying taking pictures of these crazy big wave chargers at places like Waimea Bay, Pipeline, and Sunset Beach.

Party Wave at Waimea Bay
Beauty in every wave
These pictures are from the swell a few days ago which was dwarfed by the swell we are having now. Unfortunately, high winds have made most breaks unsurfable. I can't wait to see what tomorrow will bring.

Monarch butterfly caterpillars near Waimea

A lone surfer high on the wave at Bonzai Pipeline

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Halona Blowhole Shore Dive, Oahu

  Shore diving is not the usual method of diving here on Oahu. Most of the nearshore reefs are very shallow and not very colorful. It is almost certainly related to the amount of people visiting, building, and living here. However once you get off the beaten path there may be a few surprises in store for the Oahu shore diver. One such place I have been hearing a lot about is a dive called the Halona Blowhole.
   The blowhole is a popular tourist stop right along the highway a few miles past Hanauma Bay. Being on the southeast corner of the island it is a great spot for sunrises as well as the most popular whale watching spot on the island. Winds and waves have created layered rock formations along the cliffs. These cliffs also make it a risky spot to scuba dive. If the conditions are bad or if there is a strong current, finding a different spot to get out can be very hard.
  A steep rock path winds its way down to a secret beach just next to the Halona Blowhole overlook parking lot. A small beach call Eternity Beach is a beautiful departure point for the dive. There is a narrow strip of shallow water that leads from the beach out past the cliffs. This area can be very wavy and surgy. If there are waves crashing here then it will be a very advanced dive. Luckily on this day it was flat calm with great visibility.

  Even on a calm day such as this you still have to be wary of the currents. Of all the dangers of diving this area a strong current could be the biggest risk. If the current is heading north the next swim out is the back breaking shore break at Sandy beach. If the current takes you south then the helicopter or whale watching boat might pick you up before you reach the protection of Hanauma Bay. Knowing the dangers of the swift moving current at this spot we made sure to dive right at low tide when the current should be slack.

Heidi's Black Frogfish with white speckles
See it?
  Once we were down the trail and in the water we put our trained eyes to use. Wild rock formations continued under the water and we soon found one rock with multiple spirals of nudibranch eggs on it. Turns out these were the eggs of white margin nudibranchs, although we also found imperial, snow goddess, and blue dragon nudibranchs. Different butterflyfish, surgeonfish, and schools of goatfish cruised the cliff faces. A couple of turtles swam around the entry/exit channel, but the big find of the dive was a black frogfish. I still don't know how Heidi saw it. Frogfish have an amazing ability to camouflage in with the reef. They have modified fins that they use to wedge themselves into the reef, remaining motionless until ambushing their prey. These same fins were used by this black frogfish to grab onto Heidi's finger. On the way back 'hawk eyes' Heidi found another tiny, bright yellow frogfish. All in all a pretty fun dive in perfect conditions. Just like surfing a new spot, diving a new spot always gives me a great feeling of accomplishment.