Sunset Hike along the Nualolo Trail to the Napali Coast

July 03, 2015  •  2 Comments

the nualolo, f/6.3, 1/60sec, iso 100, 24mm ts-e, 5d3

I have thought about hiking The Nualolo Trail at sunset for a while now and finally decided to do it. I've written about The Nualolo Trail before so I won't go into a lot of detail about the hike itself here, but rather about the the experience of hiking in for sunset and then hiking out in the dark. And like always I'll also include a few pics. :-)

I'd been researching on TPE for a couple of months, trying to find a time when the sun may shine into the Nualolo Valley. I felt that anytime around the summer solstice to July 10th or so would give a good opportunity, but I really couldn't tell for sure. I looked at maps and satellite images on TPE and tried to decipher if the sun would make through the pali, but I just wasn't sure. To be totally honest I kinda doubted that the sun would ever set far enough north to shine into the various valleys of the Napali Coast from the angle of the Lolo Vista. But hey, we are photographers and explorers. Adventures. Kings and Queens of "You never know" what you'll see. You never know what you will feel. Some would say, "That's why you take the camera." I say, "That's why you go (you always take the camera!)."

don't look down, f/7.1, 1/40sec, iso 100, 24mm ts-e, 5d3

So with mind made up I met up with a  friend and decided to give it a go. We planned our hike with the full moon. That way we would have a little light in the sky to help us find our back if either one of our headlamps failed. I also thought I may take a picture of the full moon on the way back, which proved to be a silly idea (I was way too tired to take any pics on the back!). We did see a small moonbow on the hike back, but we just took it in with our eyes and let it please the soul. Just experience it. Sometimes theres on need to keep it.

slippery slope to blue, f/9, 1/40sec, iso 100, 24mm ts-e, 5d3

We arrived at Koke'e state park around 2.30 pm and started on the hike about 15 to 3. I don't know how we did it, but we flew down the trail and arrived at the  Lolo Vista at around 4.30-- three hours before sunset. We planned to just chill in the shade of a tree, but once there we immediately began scouting and composing. We actually ended up going well beyond the "End of Trail" marker at the Lolo Vista as we thought it would give a better perspective, showing the length of coastline and, later, more direct low light of the Napali Coast (and perhaps even the cathedrals of Kalalau). 


no need to race, f/14, 1/15sec, iso 100, 24mm ts-e, 5d3

Initially, the cloud cover over the mountainous coastline was quite heavy. But as the evening progressed the clouds diminished and began to match the near cloudless horizon over our shoulders. Our hopes of golden light being reflected off strawberry blonde clouds slowly began to vanish above while shadows began creeping into the valleys below. Pretty much as I expected, the sunlight wasn't going to make into the Nualolo, but what about the other valleys further down the Napali Coast? We would just have to wait and see.


how close is too close?

The shadows were really beginning to creep into the canyon and valleys by this point in the evening, so I decided to switch lenses and scope down the Napali Coast as the sun began to lower and the air began to cool. I brought two lenses on the hike-- a 24mm TSE prime. It is a manual focus only lens and has tilt/shift capabilities. The other lens that I carried with me proved to be the most useful-- a 70-200mm zoom.  Any zoom is a heavy lens on any hike, but I definitely think it is worth the extra effort. It's got an extremely convenient range, image stabilization and actually when connected to a camera fits snugly and carries quite nicely in my pack. If you are on a long hike or an especially demanding one, I would recommend pairing with camera for the hike. I definitely find it easier to carry this way. Of course, I also carried a tripod, as well as a remote shutter release (which I used) and nd filters (which I did not). Extra shirt, towel, toilet paper, extra batteries (for camera and headlamp), extra memory cards, first aid kit, rain jacket, camera strap, head lamp and hiking poles. You may notice, missing from this list is WATER! Can you believe it!? I forgot my water. I left it in the cooler in my friend's truck. Luckily my friend-- he of the "Let's set up the tripod on a 2,000 foot crumbly dirt ledge!"-- had three liters of water with him so my life was saved! :-) Thank you Ken!

shadows fill in as the green coast extends, f/7.1, 1/50sec, iso 100, [email protected], 5d3

The Napali Coast at SunsetThe Na Pali Coast at Sunset Seen from the NualoloA four mile long sunset hike along the Nualolo Trail led me to this magnificent view of Kauai's famed Na Pali Coast. I hiked back in the light of the full moon and headlamp with my mind and body full of nature's mana or power.
Koke'e State Park, Kauai, Hawaii
the napali coast at sunset, f/16, .5sec, iso 100, [email protected], 5d3

Pretty much after I took the shot above, the entire coastline turned to shade. We figure that the angle of the extremely low sun just didn't allow it to penetrate through or around the pails of the Nualolo, Awaawapuhi, Honopu, Kalalau, et al. It was really surprising, but as adventures of the unknown you never know until you do. 

lehua and niihau from the lolo vista, f/6.3, 1/30sec, iso 100, [email protected], 5d3

Before walking out onto the Lolo vista we agreed that we would not wait on the ledge beyond golden hour. No matter how much we wanted to to shoot blue hour on the coast, we both felt that we needed to get off the "dangerous" portion of trail before complete darkness fell. There was one tricky section that we both felt more comfortable navigating with a little ambient light so with a final click we turned to go. The way out took a little longer than the way in. Our headlamps worked brilliantly and we got back to the truck, tired and thirsty (oops!) just before 10pm. It was a good hike. Seven Hours and seven minutes from start to finish. It was a good experience, and I'm glad I did it. Mahalo mama Kauai!

sunset from the nualolo, f/16, 1/15sec, iso 100, [email protected], 5d3





Light Source Photography by Lee Scott
Mahalo Mary. Yeah, we had a great time. I've hiked this trail 3 times before this trip, and like I mentioned in the post I had been thinking about a sunset/night hike for a long time. Even though the sun didn't really shine into the canyon like I was hoping, it was still a great experience. Ken and I were laughing on the way out about all the people who ask, "Is it worth it?" Or they say, "It better be worth it!" To all of those people I want to say, "Is it worth getting out of bed in the morning?" Just be here now! Enjoy what you can and endure what you can't enjoy. But those of us who know our Faulkner and Nobel Prize acceptance speeches-- mankind will not only endure, he will prevail. Prevail to what is a fair question though!
Mary Williams(non-registered)
What an amazing journey and fantastic photographs!
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