Kailua-Kona Sunset Challenge


We sat down to dinner on our condominium balcony, eager to enjoy a big meal after a fun-filled day on the sunny beaches of Hawaii. But within another ten minutes, my camera and I would find ourselves on a rocky beach in front of a stunning sunset.

Had it been up to me, I would have missed it all. Call me Mr. Oblivious.

My family had traveled to the Big Island of Hawaii for a tropical vacation with my in-laws. When you get all of us together you can expect a few constants: plenty of time on the beach, snorkels sticking out from the Pacific waves, and good eats. By the end of our first day on the island we could already check several of those off the list.

The good eats in question on this Monday evening were sumptuous slices of barbecued tri-tip: one of my father-in-law’s specialties. As I ate, I sat with my back to the same Kona coastline which hypnotized the rest of the family. I should have clued in a little sooner that something worth watching was happening behind me when others at the table zoned out to gaze at the sunset in progress. I just figured they were in food coma.

But it was when my sister-in-law Michele leaned over to show me a sunset snapshot she had recently taken with her phone on the nearby beach, it clicked. The light around me had faded to that golden orange color that you get at no other time of the day. And despite having spent several hours the previous week reading articles on the web about how to capture sunset photos, I failed to realize just what time of the day it was. At this point there were about five minutes until our closest star would sink past the horizon, and my chance would be gone. The challenge was on!

I excused myself from the table, snatched up my camera bag, and darted for the closest beach I could find. The only problem was that I didn’t quite know how to find the beach.

With the countdown noise from 24 ticking in my mind, I raced down the labyrinthine landings of the condo building. I ignored the vivid colors of the arboretum planted in the central walkway, but followed it along all the same in hopes that it would lead me toward the ocean. I could see calm water and deep purple skies beyond the roof lines, but I couldn’t find the rocky shores themselves.

After a few wrong turns and dead ends, I found my way down to a fence that read “Enter at your own risk”; the volcanic black rock of the beach spread out on the other side. The sun had what looked like just a few more centimeters to travel until it would be gone for the day. I swiped the sweat off my brow, laughing at myself as I fumbled my camera and fully extended tripod over the top of that fence — at my own risk. I navigated my way down the jagged edges of the rock to a spot that looked like it wouldn’t cause the camera to crash down into a hundred pieces.

With my remaining seconds, I took a few bracketed shots and a few underexposed shots to compensate for the shiny disk in my frame. Well, I also took a few “Hail Mary” shots for good measure. The sun was soon gone, as were my chances to take any other photographs. I just hoped that one of my images would fit the bill, catching the beauty of what I saw there in Kailua-Kona while I caught my breath.

By the time I got back to my family, the sun was down and my heart had slowed a bit. I took my seat as though I hadn’t been winded just a few minutes before. They wondered if I had gotten any good sunset shots in the end. I did too.

So did I pass the test? If so, I’d love it if you could share this post with your friends!

Hang this photo on your wall

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The sunsets in Kailua-Kona are top-notch. What are some of the places you love to go to soak up a sunset? Tell us in the comments below!