Anyone visiting the Hawaiian Island of Oahu will certainly want to photograph all the postcard scenes like Diamond Head, the Arizona Memorial in Pearl Harbor, Iolani Palace, and cultural attractions like Byodo-In and the Polynesian Cultural Center on the windward side of the island. For those with a real interest in nature photography, there is a lot more to Oahu than just busy Waikiki and the historic sites of Honolulu.
Oahu is also an island of great natural beauty and there are plenty of opportunities for nature and landscape photography. Here are my favorites — places that I photographed repeatedly when I lived in Hawaii, and that I revisit whenever I return to Oahu.
1. Lanikai Beach. One of the most beautiful beaches in the world is a fabulous place to just kick back, maybe do a little kayaking, but its biggest draw for me is watching the sun rise over the Mokulua Islands (photo above). Take the loop road through Lanikai and about halfway back on Mokulua Drive, look for one of the public beach accesses between houses. With the help of The Photographer’s Ephemeris, you can position yourself to capture the sun coming up between the two islands.
2. Kualoa Point. This is another great spot for sunrise photos, located about halfway up the windward coast at the north end of Kaneohe Bay. Mokoli’i Island, also known as Chinaman’s Hat, sits just offshore from Kualoa Beach Park. Just after sunrise, turn and point your camera to the vertically-eroded ridges of the Ko’olau Mountains. The park includes a campground and the gate is closed at night so you’ll have to park along the highway and walk a few hundred yards to get the best view of Mokoli’i Island if you’re there for sunrise.
3. Punalu’u Beach Park. Further up the windward side, this is another of my favorites for sunrise and early morning photography. Depending on the tide and recent storms, the beach can be practically non-existent, or littered with flotsam-jetsom, but this is one of the (surprisingly) very few places in Hawaii with mature coconut trees right on a sandy beach.
4. Keaiwa Heiau State Park. You likely won’t find grand landscape photo compositions here, but the historic heiau (temple) site is very interesting and Aiea Loop Trail is a very enjoyable hike with opportunities for photographing the native and exotic flora of the Koolau Mountains. The further up the trail you go, the more you’ll be into native koa and ohia rainforest. Hawaii State Parks.
5.Waimea Valley. Years ago this historic valley was controlled by a private company that tried to develop it as a major tourist attraction. It is now owned by the Office of Hawaiian Affairs, and while it is still a paid-admission park, the purpose is now much more aligned with cultural education. Of major interest for nature photographers is the 150-acre botanical garden which contains more than 5,000 kinds of tropical and subtropical plants, including native and endangered Hawaiian species. One of the prettiest accessible waterfalls on Oahu is located here. www.waimeavalley.net
6. Foster Botanical Garden. Just blocks from the highrises of bustling downtown Honolulu, this city garden is a special treat. Different sections of the garden feature orchids, bromeliads, cycads, palms, as well as many species of flowering tropical plants and trees. FBG is one of five botanical gardens in the City & County of Honolulu park system, all of which are well worth exploring. Honolulu Botanical Gardens
7. Moleka Trail. This is one of a network of trails in the Makiki-Mount Tantalus-Puu Ualakaa State Park area just mauka (towards the mountains) of the urban core of Honolulu. I particularly like Moleka Trail because it passes through a lovely bamboo forest. Check this link for additional trails in the area: Honolulu Mauka Trail System.
8. Koko Head and Koko Crater. The landscape and flora of these two ancient volcanoes at the east end of Oahu are much different from the rest of the island – much more arid, and where the slopes of Koko Crater meet the sea, the lava flow has eroded in shapes that are reminiscent of the sandstone formations in the southwest USA. Check out the famous Blowhole, and look for the little sandy coves just west of Sandy Beach.
9. Makapu’u Point. The view from the pullout on Kalanianaole Highway just as it crests Makapu’u Point never fails to enthrall me. Black lava cliff falls into the incredible blue waters of Makapu’u Beach, with an amazing vista of the Ko’olau Mountains and the Windward Oahu coast. Manana Island (also known as Rabbit Island), an important seabird sanctuary, sits just offshore.
10. Waimanalo Beach. If you haven’t guessed already, I love sunrises on the windward side of Oahu. This is another great location for capturing the morning magic. I wish there were palm trees instead of ironwoods lining the coast here but the views north towards Kaneohe or south to Makapu’u Point from this long stretch of sandy beach are beautiful.
One more spot if you’re visiting Oahu in the winter: check the surf reports and if there is a great swell, head to the North Shore to capture the immense power and beauty of the big waves.
Be sure to check out my similar posts for the other islands of Hawaii:
Top 10 Locations on Kauai for Nature Photography
Top 10 Places on Maui for Nature and Landscape Photography
Top 10 Places on the Big Island for Nature Photography