Autumn’s Photography Guide to Visiting Maui!
In February, I traveled to the west side of Maui to explore, capture, photograph the area, and help film a documentary that I am co-producing. I wanted to share some of my favorite places to photograph. So, if you are planning to visit there, you can use this guide to help you plan your trip!
VIEW OF COASTLINE AT LAHAINA FROM THE WATER:
Winter in Maui, specifically late January and early February, is peak season for breeding humpback whales. I’ve been whale watching in Alaska and Cape Cod, but was not prepared for the sheer number of whales we would see in the basin off the west coast of Maui. Do not skip out on seeing this once in a lifetime experience. My recommendation for a whale watching company would be Ultimate Whale Watch; they are eco friendly, respect the rules and regulations of the whale reserve, and are affordable. If you have the funds to spend a little more, I highly recommend scheduling a private boat tour for 3 hours with them. It is worth every penny and much better than fighting to get a glimpse on a boat with 25 others. The private boat is the same vessel they use to film shows and research/rescue whales. They provide meals and incredible service for an experience that is unmatched.
Whoever you plan to tour with, be sure to ask them if they have a hydrophone so that you can listen to the singing whales.
*Photography tip: have a zoom lens on your camera, because unless the whales choose to come toward the boat on their own, the boats can not approach the whales closer then 100 yards.
PHOTO OF BILL RECORDING A BREECH:
THE SIZE OF THE RAFT BOATS THRU ULTIMATE WHALE WATCH, LIKE YOU SEE BELOW, MAKE IT EASY TO SEE WHALES OVER & UNDER WATER:
A little more about whales before I move on to the rest of my blog about Maui…
In the Maui Nui Basin, there is more than half of the humpback whale population who will migrate for breeding and birthing their calves. This was the third whale trip with my husband Bill as part of his efforts to record their singing and communication. We started several years ago in Alaska, then tried some more in Cape Cod and completed the multi-year process in Hawaii. Bill's project is called Earthtones - an amazing creative blend of earth sound, music & visuals. Several years ago, we started filming the process of how he creates his music through the recording of sounds in nature. Most of this documentary we are producing was self filmed by Bill, himself, while hiking the areas he records, but I've also been a part of the filming process in many locations. Can't wait to share when the project is complete!
I would estimate that we had over 80 whale sightings total (not sure how many were the same exact whale). We had a variation of private boat tours with expert whale guides as well as some group public boats as well. Here are some fun facts about the humpback songs that I've learned!
- Males are the singers, although the females can and do communicate, only the males sing their "song". Researchers do not know why they sing. It was originally thought it was for mating purposes because they only do it in mating season, however when they sing it only attracts the other males and not the females. Many theories exist as to why this happens - one is that they are teaching the family song to the others to pass it on (I like to think its their family history being passed down through stories). Some believe that it is when a whale is lonely and the other whales come to sing with it perhaps for a sense of community. One of the top researchers in Maui says that after 40 years of studying the whale song, he knows less now than he did when he started. That makes me realize that whales are so much more intelligent than we realize.
- The song they sing is specific to those whales and they all sing the exact same song within that whale group. For example, the whales in Mexico do not sing the same song as the whales in Maui (who migrate to Alaska for feeding in summer, then return in winter for breeding).
- The song they sing is in a chorus like an orchestra with many parts. They sing it in round, repeating certain parts and coming in and out like a symphony with movements - all in tune with each other. It is a song repeated exactly the same all year long, then it changes slightly the next year.
- Each year they add and/or remove one part of the song. It is the same symphony with just a slight change. I was told that this year the part added sounds like a microphone feeding back (very high pitched). The different parts can sound like a screech, a low bellow, a growl, a creaky door, an opera singer, a clicking, and much much more.
If you plan to be in Maui, Alaska or Cape Cod and would like a referral of a trusted company to hire for sight seeing (public or private), please reach out to Bill and I anytime. We would love to connect you to any of our amazing guides. A special thank you to Derek and Meaghan, our Hawaii guides who gave us the best experience and taught us so much (they will also be in Seward, AK in summer!)
Lahaina is where we made our home for several weeks while in Hawaii. I suggest staying here for accessing most of the island that I have listed here in this article, as well as getting on the boat to visit the whales. Not to mention, you can see whales spouting and breeching from the beach and shore anyday, anytime. We spotted many just driving along the coast. If you are like me, I like to have a home away from home with bedrooms and a kitchen etc. So I always book a VRBO or Airbnb, which is what we did for this trip. We had an apartment and lived with the locals in a real neighborhood which was lovely. I am sure a resort would offer an amazing experience as well, so whatever type of travel you are looking for, you’ll surely find options there. But keep in mind, accommodations book up very quickly and there are more travlers than places to stay in Maui!
You’ll hear a lot of buzz about driving the Road to Hana. But if you don’t have the time to do so (it takes all day), another wonderful day trip by car is the Road to Kahakuloa. I personally found this drive to be more beautiful in certain ways than the Road to Hana. You can make so many stops at overlooks while adding stops at the Nakalele Blow Hole, Karen Lei’s Gallery, and the Waihee Ridge Trail. The way we did this daytrip was to take the southern route from Lahaina to Waihee Ridge along Rt 30. We arrived in morning and did the trail until about noon (I loved this trail! It was challenging but not difficult at all, my 4 year old even managed the entire way to the top!). We then drove back to Lahaina via the northern route which is the road I referenced at the beginning of this paragraph, through Kahakuloa - stopping at the gallery and blow hole I mentioned on the way. Keep in mind the gallery was literally the only public place we found to stop and use a restroom or purchase a drink. There is no gas or food along this route (as is the same with many roads in Maui so be prepared always!) Try to time it you so that you leave the blow hole as your last stop approximately 1 hr before sunset, because the drive along the west coast from the blow hole to Lahaina at sunset is very magical! Be aware that the drive from the Waihee Ridge Trail to around where the blow hole is can be difficult for some who do not like winding roads, steep cliffs or narrow roads where barely 2 cars can squeeze past one another! However the adventure of that road was quite exciting!
NAKALELE BLOW HOLE:
OVERLOOK ALONG THE ROAD TO BLOW HOLE FROM LAHAINA (ROAD TO KAHAKULOA)
OVERLOOK ALONG THE ROAD JUST A FEW MINS NORTH OF DRAGON'S TEETH
Every beach is simply amazing! They are all SO different. Baby beach was loaded with sea turtles! Slaughterhouse Beach was simply gorgeous and very natural. Kaanapali Beach was beautiful too! There are many beaches, so I suggest you google them all and hit up as many different ones as you can, even if its just for a walk at sunset. Some beaches are pebbles or rocks and some are soft warm sand. There are some black sand beaches, but that is at the end of the Road to Hana and does require timed entry/registration.
Photography tip: bring an underwater go pro to capture the turtles, but remember to not get too close or touch them. Always respect their space and natural environment under the sea.
There are many MANY chickens and roosters all over the island! You'll see them walk under your car as you pump gas, hang out on the beach, and cross the trail in front of you on the way to a beautiful waterfall! They're very friendly (and so cute!!), but as with any wildlife... don't touch or feed them!
The Road to Hana is amazing! But it is quite long and takes time just to get to the start of the road from Lahaina. If you plan to do this, beware that you should start your day at sunrise and expect it to take until sunset. If you don’t want to travel the entire road, consider just doing the first 15 miles or so. You can see some great places in the first 15 miles and then turn around and return to Lahaina! Here is a short list of a few great spots in that beginning stretch: Twin Falls, Garden of Eden Arboretum, Waikamoi Nature Trail, and the Eucalyptus Rainbow Trees. I would estimate even just the first 15 miles with these stops is at least a half day if not more.
Photography tip: stroll through Garden of Eden with a camera to capture every flower and plant you can imagine that Hawaii has to offer. Practice slow exposures on the many waterfalls on this road to get that soft streaming look of the rushing water
Hit up Mama’s Fish House on the way home from the Road to Hana - but be aware you need to make reservations months in advance.
GARDEN OF EDEN ARBORETUM:
ROAD TO HANA:
A few things that are close to Lahaina you will also want to check out are Dragon’s Teeth, Kapalua Coastal Trail, the Honoapiilani Food Truck Park and the amazing jungle trees at the Honolua Bay Access Trail. You could hit up these four suggestions as well as Slaughterhouse Beach in one day. Photography tip: Get to Dragon’s Teeth 15 mins before sunrise and capture the golden light hitting the waves.
HONOLUA BAY ACCESS TRAIL:
SUNSET AT DRAGON'S TEETH:
KAPAULA COASTAL TRAIL:
The last location I would highlight is Haleakalā National Park. I almost did not take the trip there but couldn’t be happier that I did. I felt the magic of watching the sunset from on top of this volcano. It's something you will never forget. I suggest leaving Lahaina around noon or 1pm for this trip. It will take you a few hours to drive from Lahaina to the top of the volcano. The switchback drive to the top was not too bad in terms of car sickness or steep sides and cliffs! Very easy to drive and wide enough for two cars to pass each other! You’ll want to arrive at the top at least 1 hr before sunset, if not earlier if you want to park at the summit and/or walk around to explore a bit. Once you reach the top there are two areas for parking. If you arrive close to sunset, the top parking lot (actual summit of the volcano) will likely be full, so you can park in the lower lot near the bathrooms and walk to the summit. There is also a trail we discovered that went to a very similar high point from that lower parking area, which we chose to take instead of fighting the crowd at the actual peak since it was packed full. Capture the sunset from this point, you’ll be above the clouds and watch the most magnificent display you can imagine. Be sure to bring WINTER clothing - coat, hat, gloves, etc. It is extremely cold at the top especially after the sun goes down. After the sun has set, make your way back to your car and take a rest for a few minutes. Let the other cars rushing off the peak go ahead of you and enjoy the ride down without traffic. This gives you a chance to let the stars come out. About halfway down the switchbacks you’ll begin to think that someone speckled your windshield with magical white dust until you realize it is the most dense display of stars you’ve ever seen. Plan to pull over at an overlook and get out of the car to take it all in. We took our time coming down that volcano and still made it back to Lahaina by 11pm. Photography tip: get there early for sunset, bring a tripod if you like star photography!
If you plan to go there for sunrise you must get a timed entry ticket, or book a tour!
Before going to Hawaii, it is important that you do some research on best ways to respect the culture, locals, and rich history. The Hawaii Vacation Guide is a wonderful site written by a married couple who lives there and not only do they have the best guides on what to do, they also have great tips on respect for Hawaiian culture. https://
Lastly, I suggest supporting the local photographers who live there (Or bring me along with you, wink wink) to have a family photo session scheduled while you are there!
PHOTO CREDIT BELOW: SEA LEVEL PHOTOGRAPHY, MAUI
LAST PHOTOGRAPHY TIP...
Always always have a camera ready to go! This shot below in the rain happened because we had a tripod set up for a family photo in the sunset lighting, and as we pushed the shutter and ran back to the spot it suddenly began to rain and this was truly the most magical photo I could have imagined! sometimes you gotta take those lemons in life and make some sweet lemonade :)
If you are going to Maui... Have a wonderful time! I hope this guide will help you plan. Remember, be courteous to the locals and culture in Hawaii... we are guests there and must treat it as so!
I hope you enjoyed this virtual tour of my trip to a very special little island in the Pacific :)