Fabulous Na Pali

It’s probably an impossibility for a photographer to come all the way to Kauai and not hike the Kalalau Trail along the famed Na Pali coast. And with good reason. The coast is one of the most spectacular scenics on Earth. I imagine that every adult in North America has seen at least one image of Na Pali.

There are three ways to see the Na Pali coast; helicopter, boat and hiking. Each has its advantages and disadvantages for photographers. Helicopters, for example, are expensive, last a short time and you have to get the right type of bird and sit in the right seat to come home with the bacon. In this case the right seat means that literally. Since the helicopters must fly clockwise around the island, the right-hand seat fares the best. If the weather cooperates, you can snag some spectacular images of Na Pali from the air.

Boats are typically a seasonal thing, with summer weather yielding calmer seas. In winter boats are a chancy bet. You also have to use a fast shutter speed and higher ISO to get crisp, clean shots.

So, for me at least, hiking offers some attractive options. First, it costs next to nothing. You can take a tripod with you and you have a stable platform. The views are restricted, however. And, like any other way to get there, this one is weather dependent. There is also another major drawback. The hike is not an easy one., so be forewarned.

I climbed to a viewpoint at the 7/10 mile mark today. It was a beautiful day, having been dry for the past couple of days. The trail was still slippery in spots. I lugged my LowePro backpack stuffed with my Hasselblad H4D-50, 50-110mm lens, 28mm with HTS 1.5 tilt-shift, Gitzo 3541 tripod with Really Right Stuff BH-55 ballhead and leveling base, and assorted (all too heavy) paraphernalia… and water. That’s not chump change, at least not for me!

The shot here was taken with the 50-110 @ 80mm, ISO 50, 1/5 second, f16. I used a polarizing filter to cut as much of the haze as possible and a 2-stop neutral density filter for part of the sky and to try to accentuate the moon on the far right side. I did take several images at 110mm so the moon was larger in the scene.

Here are some pointers for those of you attempting the hike for the first time. Bring water. Wear hiking shoes (no flip flops, as so many idiots, usually ages 16-25, do). Use a polarizer, as it is usually hazy. Do not go if it is raining; the trail can be dangerously slippery. Wear sunscreen. If you intend to do the 8-mile round trip to the waterfall, leave early. Have fun!

If you have specific questions about the hike, feel free to leave a comment and I’ll respond.


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