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Fine Art Images of Hawaii by Thomas Upton

Big Island Landscape Photography
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  • Thomas Upton

My Top 15 Big Island Must See Places for Great Photos

There are many great spots to visit on the Big Island, but the Island is BIG and visitors are often here for only a short time and have to be selective. Almost any list of great sights will be impossible to cover in a single day. And there are lots of lists out there to pick from! Here, I'll take you from Pololu Valley, Waipi'o Valley, Akaka Falls, and Rainbow Falls, and go all the way down to Green Sand Beach, from north to south.

Since landscape photography is what I do, my list will take you to what I think are the most beautiful and photogenic places on the Island. You'll go home with a great set of shots to show your family or immediately share on Social Media. None of these require hiking (though some involve a walk on paved paths, and #2 and #15 are best enjoyed on a hike).

I've put them on a map for you here so you can pick and choose when you hit the road. In the description that follows, they are ordered north to south, not by popularity.

Map of the Big Island showing Top 15 Photo Locations
My Top 15 Photo Locations on the Big Island of Hawaii

1. Keokea Beach Park.

This park is not so well-known, especially compared to it’s nearby neighbor, Pololu Valley. You’ve probably driven right by it on the way to Pololu. It’s one of the northernmost spots on the Island, and is easy to get to by following signs west of Kapa'au onto Keokea Beach road. Keokea Bay is open to waves from the north and often has massive breakers rolling in like this:

Monstrous waves at Keokea Beach in Hawaii
Monstrous Surf at Keokea Beach Park

The cliffs surrounding the bay are carved from red sedimentary rock, which contrast beautifully with green trees, deep blue bay, and bright blue waves. There are a lot of great photo opps in this small but beautiful park:

Red-orange cliffs and blue waves at Keokea Beach in Hawaii
Keokea Beach Park

It is not a good swimming beach, since it is so exposed, but the park is well-maintained and actively used. You’ll find other photos of this fabulous spot on this website and read a Blog post here about a poor cow stuck in harms way by the massive breakers. Check them out!

2. Pololu Valley

Whether hiker, photographer, or car-based tourist, you will enjoy a visit to the Pololu Valley. The road east from Kapa'au ends at the Pololu Valley lookout, so you literally cannot miss it. For many, the lookout view is enough:

Kohala Coast  in rough weather from Pololu Lookout on the Big Island
Angry Sea from Pololu Lookout

The hike to the valley takes about 20 minutes and is made daily by people literally of all ages. There are several coastal lookouts on the way down that are perfect vista photo opps. One of my very favorite Big Island shots was taken from one of these:

Kohala coast on calm day from the Pololu trail
North Kohala Coastline from Pololu Trail

The reward for the hike is a garden-of-eden valley floor facing a beach with powerful surf and framed by steep hills on either side:

Ironwood forest and sand dunes on Pololu Valley floor
Pololu Valley Ironwood Forest

For many, this is the number one Island attraction. Go early if you can to avoid crowds and enjoy the serenity of the valley more privately. The morning light, and mist from the breakers rolling in is not to be missed:

Misty forest in Pololu Valley
Morning Light in Pololu Valley

3. Kohala Mountain Road

This road connects Hawi in the north with Waimea to the south and runs across elevated flanks of the Kohala volcano, most of which is now ranch land. At the Hawi end, the road mostly passes through forested areas. Heading south, elevation increases and the road opens up to become lined with windbreak trees and vistas downslope to the coast. Gorgeous!

View from Kohala Mountain Road towards the ocean over pastures
Coastal pasture and pu'u from Kohala Mountain Road