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.
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 big 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 descended 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 a 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 made 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.’
Just the same, I was stoked and it was a 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 in the dark. Maybe I wasn’t concentrating as much, maybe I was overconfident…I don’t know…but I damn near slipped where the trail was at its 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… as she told me later: at least she would be able to tell the recovery team where to look for my body.
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 to 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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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
- Kōkī Beach Park is only about ten minutes away and you can get great shots that incorporate Alau island which is right off shore
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!