Back to the Big Island


We’d been to the Big Island of Hawaii once before but this time the stakes were higher. I’d seen the rocky west coast of the Island and lazed on its breezy beaches, but my wanderlust and growing love of landscape photography spurred me to see what else was out there. Perhaps that’s why I packed a pair of long pants, thermals, and a thick sweatshirt in my bag. More on that in a minute.

What follows are the happy accidents and hopeful explorations born of seven days’ vacation on Hawaii’s Big Island.

A blue wave strikes the rocky shore of Kailua-Kona.
Day one: not exactly sunny, but the surf made up for the gray skies with awesome force.


Long exposure of a wave crashing against a shore of volcanic rock in Kailua-Kona.
My first time experimenting with a neutral density filter on the camera produced some misty, dreamy shots. And a bloody ankle. I fell twice on the slippery rocks.


Long exposure landscape photograph of a wave hitting a rocky Hawaiian shore covered with plant life.
They don’t make water that color back home in Sacramento.


Two boys in superhero pajamas goof around on a bed on vacation.
Day Two: Spider-Man and Batman practiced their moves on mom and dad’s bed.


A young boy in a cap and lifejacket blinks saltwater out of his eyes.
Not even the Spider-Man hat could prevent saltwater in the eyes.


A family on a tropical vacation poses for a family portrait.
Throw a family on a paddleboard and, boom, you got yourself a family portrait.


A volcanic rock sits in focus amondst a grove of tropical trees in Hawaii.
Sunny-side left.


A crosswalk at a Hawaiian resort in Waikoloa terminates into a grove of palm trees.
“Big Sky Country” is already trademarked? Too bad, ’cause the Big Island of Hawaii has no shortage of big skies.


Photograph of the setting sun shining through fuzzy foliage in Hawaii.
I didn’t actually make it down to the beach for many sunsets. That’s okay, because this one gave me the warm fuzzies.


Photograph of steam vents puffing actively along a cliff at Hawaii's Volcanos National Park.
Day Three: A visit to the east side of the island brought us to Volcanoes National Park. The steam vents made for a dramatic first impression of a world on fire.


Photograph of mother and daughter preparing to enter the Nahuku-Thurston Lava Tube in Hawaii.
Auntie and her daughter prepare to enter the mouth of the subterranean Nahuku-Thurston Lava Tube.


Photograph of a couple with flashlights entering the Nahuku-Thurston Lava Tube.
Inside the jaws of the beast.


Portrait photography of a little, smiling girl clutching a pair of binoculars.
As you can see, my niece the intrepid explorer escaped the lava tube alive.


Close up photograph of a little girl holding up a pair of pink binoculars.
She had twice as many lenses as me. Show-off.


A little boy perches on the metal poles of a fence looking into the rainforest.
My youngest son: a little guy in a giant’s world–with shorts that don’t quite stay up. I love this one!


A young man looks out over Kilauea Iki crater at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.
Uncle Phillip takes a look down at Kilauea Iki. 400 feet down and 3000 feet across.


Photograph of a young woman with a camera taking a picture of Kilauea volcano.
Auntie (a budding photographer) rocks her own Nikon camera while peering down toward the churning, steaming lava pool of Kilauea volcano.


A bit of lava spurts out of Kilauea volacno at Hawaii's Volcanoes National Park.
That churning, steaming lava pool? It is just out of sight, though the lava you see here is only visible because it spurted 80 feet above the rest of the lava. I’ll get closer next time.


Photograph of a young boy and girl trying on kids' ranger gear in a National Park gift shop.
And when the tiny bit of lava doesn’t impress, there’s always the visitor center gift shop, right kids? My little guy and his cousin try on the ranger gear.


A landscape photograph of the foothills leading up to Mauna Kea on the Big Island of Hawaii.
While driving home from the volcano, we passed another (sleeping) volcano: Maunakea. Lovely.


An abstract landscape photograph of various types of terrain leading down a hill to Kua Bay.
Day Four: Layer cake, looking out over Kua Bay.


Landscape photograph of the terrain pointing up toward Mauna Loa volcano on Hawaii's Big Island.
Looking the other way, watching the colors change as they lead up to Mauna Loa in the center of the island.


Photograph of a father digging in the sand at a beach while his young daughter walks on by.
Meanwhile, back at Manini’owali beach, these two are hard at play.


A young woman stands at the bow of a snorkeling boat of the coast of Hawaii's Big Island
Day Five: Who better to helm the front of our snorkeling boat than my bride?


Photograph of the wake of a ship sailing through the pacific ocean of the coast of Hawaii.
There’s something hypnotic about the wake of a ship sending little waves out against the currents heading to shore.


A family poses for a silly family photo while riding a snorkeling boat.
And now for a photo of my family with a healthy dose of class. And why, yes, my sunscreen is SPF 375.


A sunset landscape photo during a rainy evening on the shoreline of Kailua-Kona on the Big Island of Hawaii.
My only attempt at a shoreline sunset on this trip. That it was raining only made it a more dramatic and memorable experience. Falling again also made it memorable.


A long exposure landscape photograph of waves washing up against rocky shoals in Kailua-Kona.
Probably my favorite shoreline shot of the trip.


Landscape photo of a seascape along Kailua-Kona on Hawaii's Big Island
Seeing as this is the second time I photographed this spot, I’m thinking that I couldn’t get enough of it.


Long-exposure photograph of stars produced by spinning a camera on a tripod.
What happens when you point your camera toward the stars and spin your camera around the tripod. Or more accurately, what happens when I pick a rather uninteresting night to photograph stars.


A photograph of a grandfather helping a surprised little grandson stand up after being hit by a wave.
Day Six: Grandpa’s on hand to bail my little guy out when he bites off more wave than he can chew.


A black and white landscape photograph of the land near the top of Mauna Kea.
It was finally time for me to put on my extra layers to brave the high altitude cold (40 degrees Fahrenheit) of Maunakea for an epic sunset. But when I got there, all I had was thick cloud cover and spooky landscape. Okay, it wasn’t actually black and white.


Photograph of a downed tree near the top of Mauna Kea on the Big Island of Hawaii.


Moody self-portrait time. More cloud cover is what I saw after climbing to the top of a cinder cone on the side of Maunakea. Cloud cover. After making a two-hour trek to get here, I was getting nervous that the weather wouldn’t cooperate. Oh, and somewhere around here, my ND lens filter fell out of my bag. D’oh!


Landscape photograph of a sunset captured high up the slopes of Mauna Kea.
And just in time for me to catch some final rays of light, the clouds sank down beneath me to reveal a sunset at 10,000 feet.


Landscape sunset photograph taken from the top of a Mauna Kea cinder cone toward Mauna Loa.
Peering across a canyon of clouds to gigantic Mauna Loa. Surreal.


A panoramic landscape photograph of sunset near the top of Maunakea.
A five-photo stitched panorama of the sunset from the heights of Maunakea. I love the tsunami of clouds trying in vain to climb up to the 14000′ summit of Maunakea. The Maunakea Visitor Information Station is perched at 9500′ at the right of the image.


A starscape featuring the milkyway as captured near the Maunakea Visitor Information Station.
By the time I made it back to my car, the nighttime chill made me want to race back down to the warm breezes of the coast. But the high altitude and clean air made for a once-in-a-lifetime starscape. Time for another panorama.


A portrait photograph of a husband and wife standing in a garden in Hawaii.
Day Seven: Our Big Island trip had reached its end. Many thanks to Nana and Papa for making it possible for us all to come along.


A portrait of a family of five taken in a garden in Hawaii.
Another family photo, this time with more class and less sunscreen. Exploring, adventuring and resting with this crew is a blessing like no other. Click credit: @michelebrooke1

And there you have it. We came to Hawaii’s Big Island with an appetite for joy and it filled us up.

Though I must confess that there’s no way I’d get to pursue my passion for photography without the support and blessing of my wife. These images and memories exist because of you and your patience, Erica. Thank you for adding richness in my life in so very many ways!

What are your favorite spots to visit on Hawaii’s Big Island? Share with us in the comments below!


  • Pat Lashbrook 07-18-2017

    Thanks PJ for the trip. You braved some spots that I wouldn’t have gone. Across all these miles it’s great to see your families as they are growing up. I’m a fan and would love to see more. Bless all your families in California.

    • P.J. Oswald 07-18-2017

      I appreciate you following along from afar, Pat. Thanks for the encouragement, and I’ll try to keep the stories coming!

  • Stephen Hadeen 07-18-2017

    Looked like fun! Your “layer cake” photo is a fun one. Thanks for continuing to share your frames.

    • P.J. Oswald 07-18-2017

      Yeah, I liked that one a lot as well. The colors, the colors! Thank you for following along, brother!

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