Family and work travel can be unproductive for many photographers. Fast-paced itineraries and going with the flow of a group make it tougher to spend time crafting the ideal image with perfect light and composition. So we take on a different kind of challenge – making something beautiful with a speedy snap. Managed expectations and creative limitations can make us quite clever and resourceful. We go on high alert, paying attention to every detail and unexpected moment to find shots on the run. I hope some of the images here manage to accomplish just that.
On this September family trip, we embarked on a journey around O’ahu, Hawaii, a destination where nature’s wonders unfold in every corner. This collection of images captures only a few of Oahu’s breathtaking landscapes, tropical flora, and unique fauna. I am already plotting my return to go deeper into this mystical volcanic chain of islands.
Nu’uanu Pali Lookout
The stunning Pali Lookout has nearly panoramic views of O’ahu’s windward coast. The wind was whipping wildly and I braced myself against boulders and rails to photograph, until the rain pelted me into submission and I raced back to the car.
The cliff is the site of the Battle of Nu’uanu, which led to the conquering and unification of O’ahu under King Kamehameha’s reign. The 1,000-foot precipice where torrential rain and wind threatened to blow me over is the very same where more than 700 soldiers’ skulls were discovered at the foot at the end of the 19th century.
Waimea Botanical Garden
Waimea Arboretum & Botanical Garden in Oahu is celebrated for its picturesque scenery and diverse Hawaiian vegetation, offering peaceful, leisurely walks through gardens leading to a waterfall. We explored the beauty of the garden on numerous connected trails. Late September is a sleepier time for colorful blooms in the botanical garden, and yet still no shortage of tropical beauty to appreciate and photograph.
Kuli’ou’ou Ridge Trail
An alternative to the Diamond Head Crater hike, which requires ticketed and timed entry, the Kuli’ou’ou Ridge Trail hike is a challenging yet rewarding hiking experience. The trail features steep, root-covered sections and hundreds of stairs leading to what I’m told is a spectacular view at the top (we did not do the whole trail). There were many fall season textures and symmetries to appreciate, and many beautiful, misty panoramic views.
Diamond Head Crater & Lighthouse
The Diamond Head Crater hike offers a fun, short hike that rewards visitors with beautiful views of the Honolulu seafront, including the iconic lighthouse, from the summit. This historic trail is set against the crater’s geological and coastal defense backdrop. The crater was formed about 300,000 years ago from a volcanic eruption, which spewed ash and particles to form the cemented tuff that makes up the ring. Early sailors thought they saw diamonds in the rocks, which ended up being clear calcite crystals. The less than one-mile trail results in a stunning panoramic vista, making the experience worthwhile even in the company of a throng of fellow tourists.
Perched on the southern cliffs of Oahu, the Diamond Head Lighthouse has been a steadfast guardian for mariners for over a century, with its beam visible from over 19 miles away at sea. This iconic lighthouse, standing tall against the volcanic slopes of Diamond Head holds a rich history, guiding early sailors on their approach to the harbor at Honolulu from the Western U.S.
Lānaʻi Lookout & Halona Blowhole
This short stop offers a chance to witness dramatic spouts of seawater and panoramic views of the picturesque Halona Cove and Lanai Lookout. In winter, you may even see migrating whales at these spots.
Perched on Oahu’s rugged coastline, the Halona Blowhole is a striking testament to the island’s volcanic past, where the power of the ocean meets ancient lava tubes to create spectacular water displays.
Hanauma Bay Nature Preserve
Nestled within a volcanic cone on Oahu’s southeastern shore lies Hanauma Bay Nature Preserve, a true gem of coral and ocean life. This bay, once burdened by the impacts of tourism, has undergone a remarkable transformation, thanks to rigorous conservation efforts and educational initiatives that began in the 1990s.
The journey starts with an enlightening short video, which not only educates visitors on the bay’s ecological importance but also underscores the responsibility we all share in preserving this underwater wonderland. Hanauma Bay is a testament to the power of conservation, offering both awe-inspiring beauty and a poignant reminder of our role as stewards of nature.
Today, Hanauma Bay is not just a beach but a sanctuary for marine life, where the calm, crystal-clear waters make for good snorkeling. With help from a patient and thoughtful father-in-law, I fumbled my way through the “snorkel mask isn’t working right” panic I experience every time, and clumsily waddled into the gentle waves in flippers. Once moving more fluidly, I took my GoPro Hero 11 on a bumpy maiden voyage, chasing any fish I could find.
Haleiwa Joe’s & Haiku Gardens
Haleiwa Joe’s at Haiku Gardens is a restaurant located amidst the serene settings of Kaneohe’s Haiku Gardens on Oahu. The restaurant can accommodate large groups with its seafood-focused menu, but does not allow reservations. Visitors can enjoy appetizers and drinks in the bar while they wait, or take a walk on the beautiful loop through their lush tropical garden to a tranquil pond. One may even spot a mother hen scratching the ground to unearth bugs for her chicks.
We stayed at the Hale Koa Hotel for military personnel and veterans in Waīkīkī. Waīkīkī is certainly the center of tourism and shopping on O’ahu, but more interesting to me were sunrise and sunset walks on the beach only minutes from our doorstep.
Iconic Waīkīkī is a picturesque paradise that’s generous with photo opportunities, whether watching for thin-shelled rock crabs to soak up the sun on the pier, or trying to snag the perfect sailboat or surfer sunset shots. For several mornings, a female monk seal – one of only 1,600 left in the wild – rested at the edge of the water, as visitors looked on from outside a roped area to prevent disturbing her.
I’m told that each Hawaiian island is unique in its characteristics, landscape, and wildlife to enjoy. We covered a lot of ground on O’ahu on this trip, and I’d love to return and hop to the other islands on our next visit, and perhaps even continue to Australia or Japan.
Until next time, aloha, Hawaii!