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New Photography: Kauai Beaches & Kokee State Park

Opaekaa Falls, KauaiOpaekaa Falls, Kauai
Mamiya RZ67, Fuji Velvia Film
Click Any Image for Larger View

I don't get to travel as much as I'd like to. Being self-employed means a lot of freedoms, but paid vacations isn't one of them. If I'm not in my Orange County office delivering private photography lessons or photography classes, then I'm not paying bills. But thankfully, the geographic flexibility of delivering my online photography courses recently helped make it possible for me to take a much-anticipated trip to Kauai, Hawaii this past month.

I've been dying to visit Kauai for years. All the pictures I'd seen previously made it look like a photographer's paradise. So with my Mamiya RZ67 medium format camera and a bag full of Fuji Velvia film, my lovely lady and I set out to see the sights of this beautiful island.

Now I'll be honest, Kauai was not what I expected. I went in to this trip thinking it'll be a "drinking Mai-Tai's on white sand beaches and taking dips in the warm, calm waters of the Pacific" kind of a trip. Well, it wasn't. To be honest, I found Kauai beaches, although beautiful, to be a little bit of a letdown. But again, they're gorgeous, but they didn't seem to be real conducive to swimming and snorkeling. Sure, there's the beach at Poipu, but I can visit over-crowded, over-developed beaches here in Orange County.

The bottom line is that every beach we visited in Kauai was either pummeled with winds, plagued with riptides, or the waves were just way too powerful. Also, the water really wasn't that warm.

But again, don't get me wrong. The beaches were gorgeous. Just not the kind of Maui-sippin'-tropical-drinks kind of beaches we were looking for. I went in with the wrong expectations, that's all. And of course, upon our return, we had people telling us "oh well none of those beaches are good for swimming, but you didn't check out [insert some Kauai beach]!" Yeah, yeah...

Kauai is excellent for scenery, river kayaking, sightseeing and kayaking (all of which we did). The Napali coast alone should be on your bucket list. The waterfalls, Waimea Canyon, the lush north end of the island, the rivers...Kauai has stunning scenery. But my favorite aspect of the island was the weather. I love scattered cumulous clouds and I love rain. Kauai delivered both with gusto. Especially the clouds. Man-oh-man do I love the clouds in Kauai. You get tons of fair weather cumulous clouds. Those are those picturesque low-altitude puffy white clouds scattered throughout the deep blue sky. Just stunning for photographs - especially at sunrise and sunset.

The pictures here comprise the first couple days of our trip. I took the vast majority of my shots on the beach right outside our hotel on the eastern side of the island. Why? Well, because it was a 2-minute walk from my bed. No, but really...I didn't take too many photos on the north end or the south end because sunrise and sunset wouldn't work too well in those directions. Would have loved to shoot sunset on the west side of the island, but that's the Napali coast, which seemed all but inaccessible to us.

Every beach photo you see here is at sunrise. Truthfully, I don't feel that I'm breaking any ground with these compositions. Many of them are similar to each other and they certainly aren't anything unique from my previous beach work. But the skies and sand were simply too beautiful to not do these classic compositions.

Kauai Beaches at sunriseKauai Beaches, Eastern Shore, Sunrise

Kauai Beaches at sunrise

Kauai Beaches at sunrise

Sunrise in Kauai

B&W Beach at Sunrise

Kauai Beaches at Sunrise

But my favorite shots from the trip came at Kokee State Park on the western side of Kauai. We found a great little cascade pouring through the vibrant red-colored rock that reminded me of southern Utah. And at the very end of the road is an overlook that absolutely blew my mind. It's called Pu'u o Kila Lookout and it has a view overlooking Kalalau Valley that will take your breath away. Steep cliffs tower over the shores below like green skyscrapers. And this happens to be near one of the wettest spots on earth, Wai'ale'ale.

It was a real treat to photograph this valley in the light of the western sun.

Kalalau Valley from Pu'u o Kila Lookout, Kokee State Park, Kauai

Kalalau Valley from Pu'u o Kila Lookout, Kokee State Park, Kauai

Kalalau Valley from Pu'u o Kila Lookout, Kokee State Park, Kauai

Kalalau Valley from Pu'u o Kila Lookout, Kokee State Park, Kauai Sheets of rain over Kalalau Valley

Kokee State Park, Kauai

Waterfall in Kauai

Stay tuned for part 2 of this trip with more pictures from Kauai beaches!