Tag Archives: Hana

Maui’s Kaihalulu Beach (Red Sand Beach): Photo Tips and a Warning…

I’ve done some crazy things to get a good photo:  hung out the open doors of helicopters, snorkeled with sharks, hiked across a 105°F desert…but the most dangerous (ie.stupid) thing I may have ever done was to make the short walk to Kailaulu Beach in Hana.


The ominous nature of this spot really manifests itself in this black and white image. Click anywhere on the shot to see it in full resolution.

Locally known as the “Nude Beach” or ‘Red Sand Beach’, Kaihalulu is a crescent-shaped beach with, yes, red sand.  It is an incredible setting…the beach is actually cut out of the side of the Ka’uiki Head volcanic cinder, the water is an iridescent blue and a wicked line of lava ‘Dragon’s Teeth’ thrust up through the surf across the neck of the cove.  It was one of the “must-photograph” spots I had selected L-O-N-G before my trip to Hawaii last year.

I had read everything I could find about Kaihalulu, checked-out Google Maps and even arrived in Hana the afternoon before so I could walk the path (a short half mile hike) in the daylight.  Okay, so what made this so darn  ‘sketchy’ you might ask ?   Well, first of all, it turned out that I couldn’t scout the trail after all…the area was blocked off because of a baseball tournament.  Not ideal, but no bid deal, right?…so I show up the next morning with my headlamp and find the trail.  Wait a minute, my mistake…I said ‘trail’…do you consider something less than 6″ wide a trail?   And to make it really entertaining, this trail hugs the side of a dirt cliff with nothing to break your fall except insanely sharp lava boulders in the surf about 50-75’ below.  I really should have turned around….I mean…I really should have listened to that little voice inside me…but I was focused on the shot…and I continued.

As I decended the trail to the beach, it was clear that I had at least two more challenges.  First of all, the cloud cover was intense and the sun, which should have already been visible, was MIA.  Second, the photographs that had inspired me to trek to this beach featured the sun rising behind the ‘Dragon’s Teeth’…which make for a dramatic silhouette. However, after moment or two it was clear that the sun was going to rise so far to the east that the side of the cone/cliff would block it from view.  I had make a rookie mistake, I hadn’t checked where the sun would actually rise at the time of the year I was going to visit. (FYI…I was there in November, so I would guess you would need to hit this spot in the summer months in order to have the sun shift enough to the right to place it behind the ‘teeth.’

Maui's Red Sand Beach: Photo Tips

Check out that red sand…and see if you can spot the crescent moon!

Just the same, I was stoked and it was an breathtaking scene.  Then, the cloud cover had pity on me and started to split up so I was able to get to work and capture a few different perspectives.  HDR was very helpful because everything in the cove was shaded by the cone wall between me and the sun.

After too short of a time, the morning color faded away and I started to head back to the car to meet my (very patient) wife who had understandably decided to stay put and enjoy a nice book while I was off on my silly little trek.

Believe it or not, I actually had more trouble making my way back in the sunlight than I had getting to the beach the dark.  Maybe I wasn’t concentrating as much, maybe I was over confident…I don’t know…but I damn near slipped where the trail was at it narrowest point on the side of the cliff.  Boy…that jump-started the old adrenaline again!  I was shaking my head at my stupidity when who did I see waiting just around the bend of the trail?  It was my wife…who was worried about me (god bless that woman)!  She had the good common sense not to go on a slippery, narrow trail hugging the side of a cliff…like she told me later:  at least she would be able to tell the recovery team where to look for my body.


Love those dragon’s teeth…quite the view.

If you decide to photograph this spot, I hope this blog inspires you to be very, very careful.  I would NOT try to make the walk the beach in the dark unless you had made the trip previously in the daylight.  Don’t make this hike alone.  I would also suggest that you try to reach the beach by walking along the shoreline (if it isn’t high tide and the surf isn’t too rough)….as I mentioned, the path further up the slope can get washed out and can be treacherous.

UPDATE: I just read a post by a paramedic who works in Hana.  He mentioned that in just the past year they have had six rescues of tourists who have hurt themselves on this trail…including one broken back.  Use good common sense.

How To Find Kaihalulu Beach:

  • See this link to a Google Maps view of the area.
  •  Park near the end of Uakea Road near the field by the Hana Community Center.  The trail will be on your right (south) at the edge of the grass parking lot.  Sometimes the trail is overgrown…so it might not be easily visible if it hasn’t been recently cleared.
  •  If you end up at the ruins of an old graveyard (the Japanese cemetery) , you’ve gone the wrong way.  Go back and look for a trail that heads down hill.  Again, I’d suggest you stay down near the ocean’s edge as long as you can rather than use the paths that are higher up.


A few suggestions:

  1. Plan to spend a night in Hana.  Nearly all the hotels on Maui are on the other side of the island and the famous ‘Road to Hana’ is not something you want to drive in the dark.
  2. There is only a single ‘traditional’ hotel in Hana, the Travaasa Hana…but it is not cheap.  However, if you look on Trip Advisor under ‘specialty housing’ you can find accomodations for less than half the price of the Travaasa.  In most cases, these are small bungalos rented out by local residents, so they are not the spic and span hotel rooms you might be used to…but you can save a bundle.
  3. There are two other great sunrise locations in Hana and they are so close together, you can easily cover at least one of them after getting your shotatKaihalulu:
    • Hana Beach Park is only a few minutes away from Kaihalulu
    20130901_Hawaii_0058-0068 crop skew_HDR

    Hana Beach Park…you can drive right up to this spot…

    •  Kōkī Beach Park is only about ten minutes away and you can get great shotsthatincorporateAlau island which is right off shore


      Alau island makes a wonderful focal point at this spot.

  4. After you get your morning shot, head down the road to Haleakala National Park.  There is fantastic photography available there.  The famous Ohe’o Gulch, the Pipiwai Trail that runs though the photogenic Bamboo Forest and the incredible falls at Waimoku .  The park can get crowded, but most of the tourists don’t show up until mid-day (because they have to drive from the other side of the island), so you will have the place to yourself most of the morning.

There you have it.  Hana is a ‘target-rich environment’ for any photographer.  Take my advice and spend at least a full day or two here, there is a wealth of photo ops nearby.

PS:  Yup, Kaihalulu really is a nude beach.  Funny, I didn’t see anyone there at dawn, but if you show up a bit later the scenery might be more exciting than you bargained for!


Maui’s Kaihalulu Beach (Red Sand Beach):  Photo Tips and a Warning…

Posted in Hawaii, Landscape Photography Also tagged , , , |

Little Surprises: Little Wailua Falls…Maui’s Subtle Hidden Treasure

One of the lessons I’ve (painfully) learned over the years, is to be open to the unexpected and unplanned.  Honestly, it isn’t an easy lesson for me.  By nature, I’m a planner..perhaps excessively so (at least my wife THINKS so!).   My perspective has always been:  This might be a once-in-a-lifetime trip…what if there is a killer photo op two miles away but I don’t know about it!  So often I leave on a trip with a twenty page itinerary complete with maps, notes, GPS coordinates and more.

On the other hand, I honestly have to admit that much of my best work has been the result of an unplanned opportunity (or flat-out, total mistakes).  Like this shot below:

Little Surprises:  Little Wailua Falls...Maui's Subtle Hidden Treasure

To see this shot in full resolution, just click on it with your mouse.

I love this photograph.  Of the dozens or so huge, magnificent, incredible waterfalls I photographed on a recent trip to Hawaii, this quiet, secluded, almost miniature cascade is by far my favorite.

It happened like this:  My wife and I had stayed overnight in Hana so I could get some sunrise shots.  I had planned to photograph Wailua Falls (about 7 1/2 miles south of Hana) since it was right on our the way to the trailhead for a hike we were making later that morning to Waimoku Falls (another 400′ tropical wonder). When we got to Wailua Falls (here is a link to a map on Google Earth) it was obvious that over 99% of the photographs falls are taken from the bridge which runs right in front of it.   So I decided to hike down to the base of the falls and get a shot with a different perspective…but I made a mistake.  I knew from my pre-trip research that there was trail from the bridge to the falls but I didn’t know where it started.  I looked around and spotted one just past the bridge (west) on the ocean side (south) of the road.  After ten minutes of slipping and sliding down a wet and muddy slope, I had worked my way back to the bridge…which is where I found this delightful little pool.  As it turns out, I couldn’t get any closer to the big falls from this trail (apparently, the correct trail is on the other (north) side of the road).

Little Surprises:  Little Wailua Falls...Maui's Subtle Hidden Treasure

View from the other side of the pool

And here is where I got my second unplanned gift.  The best thing (to me) about this shot are the streaks caused by the the swirling leaves in the pool.  I had seen this before in work done by other photographers, but I hadn’t ever done it myself.  Honestly, I didn’t even notice at the time that the leaves were moving. But since the spot was very dark, I took a series of seven bracketed shots hoping that HDR would be able to capture what little light there was.  A couple weeks later when I processed the shot with HDR , I was shocked to see that the slowly moving leaves were now wonderful looping swirls of color.  In retrospect, it makes perfect sense that that seven shots, taken over a two or three minute timeframe, would transform the languidly moving leaves into mesmorizing streaks of color.

So there.  I didn’t know this little falls even existed and I had no idea that the HDR would result in the beautiful leaf swirls.  Despite that, the result was far better than my hundreds of well-planned shots of other, more impressive and well-known waterfalls.

The moral of the story?  Planning is vital and it will dramatically increase your chances of great captures, but don’t be a slave to your plans or ‘pre-visualized’ shots.  Keep one eye open for the unexpected…and see what happens!

Have a great Holiday and may all your surprises be happy ones!

PS: Here is a shot of Waimoku Falls from later that same morning.  It is an incredible vista (yes, that little green dot at the base of the falls is my long-suffering wife Anita waving at me)!

Little Surprises:  Little Wailua Falls...Maui's Subtle Hidden Treasure

A human figure sure helps you get a sense of scale! Click on the photo to see it in FULL resolution!

 Little Surprises:  Little Wailua Falls…Maui’s Subtle Hidden Treasure


Posted in Hawaii, Landscape Photography, Waterfalls Also tagged , , |