Sunset Cruise with Na Pali Coast Hanalei Tours

For something different, I thought I would post a review of a sunset cruise I recently took in Kauai with Na Pali Coast Hanalei Tours and illustrate it with some of the images that will be finding their way onto stock agency sites in the near future! I’ve been to Kauai quite a few times but always in the winter and then the boats along the Na Pali coast leave from Port Allen in the south of the island and don’t get very far down the coast before they turn back. And, of course, the sea is pretty rough off that coast in the depths of winter! This time we were lucky to go in May and so boats leave from Hanalei on the north, and are able to spend much more time along the interesting bits of the coast. The seas, at least when we were there, were still pretty rough!

Leaving from Hanalei Bay

The first day we arrived was a gorgeous day and the forecast for the evening was similar and so we searched around for a tour company that had space for two that evening. Na Pali Coast Hanalei Tours fitted the bill and they were very friendly on the phone as I booked. They have a relatively small

boat (pity I didn’t photograph it!) that holds about 20 people with two friendly crew and provide a decent sized waterproof bag for your camera. A definite plus as I found out!

My research suggested that the left hand side of the boat was best for photography (as it was a bit too rough to stand up) and the nice lady on the desk suggested that the seats at the back would be less bumpy as the boat crested the waves. True enough, but what I also found that when traveling at speed I was almost constantly in spray and I looked with envy at the people a little further forward. The waterproof bag did the trick with the camera though and we stopped pretty frequently at interesting points to give everyone time to take photos and hear about the location.

Ke’e Beach

First stop was Ke’e Beach, which is as far as you can get by car on Kauai – and a great spot for sunsets. The famous Kalalau trail leaves from here and is an 11 grueling mile trail up and down the heavily sloping coastline until you can camp and then hike back! The first headland that the trail traverses shows the spectacular views to come:

Headland past Ke’e Beach

A few words about camera technique. Although this is a sunset tour, it leaves around 2 hours before sunset and so the early part is in pretty bright sun (sunscreen alert!) although with the sun being quite low, you do get dramatic shadows on the mountains. I had a polarizer and a 16-35mm lens on my Sony A7R and set the ISO to 400 and aperture to F7.1 (could have opened up a bit as there was little that was close to the camera) so my shutter speeds were generally around 1/200th – 1/320th second. That seemed to be fine as the boat was only bobbing about when we stopped. I did find that even with the waterproof bag, spray still seemed to have appeared on the filter and although I had a microfiber cloth, I wished I had a few lens cleaning tissues as well as salt seems to smear nicely across the filter!

Waterfall with rainbow

We reversed into this cave (which perhaps explains the spray on the lens!) but in the afternoon you have a good chance of a rainbow.

The boat speeds along between the stops, so getting your camera safely back in the bag before the “off” definitely helps. Of course, my hands were usually wet which transferred across to the camera. No harm came of that though! Here is the view from a little more distance:

We also reversed into this much larger sea cavern with a great little waterfall from the hills above. Everyone got a chance to have a portrait with this background if they wanted.

The end of the hike on the Kalalau Trail – this is where the hikers get to camp for a few days if they wish at the end of their difficult walk. Lovely little beach and on the original you can make out some tents and people sunning themselves.

Much of the time I would take a wide angle shot of the scene – we were generally far enough off the coast for the 16mm to capture most scenes, but then I would immediately follow with a series of vertical shots taken in a panorama. Although the boat was bobbing about, these multiple images stitched perfectly in Lightroom to create 12000 x 7000 pixel images – obviously fantastic for enormous prints, but equally good for cropping in to interesting sections of the image.

The end of the Kalalau Trail Hike

As in this view of the fluted edges of the mountains (which are about 5000 feet high) and fall straight to sea level with the most dramatic contours:

Kalalau Valley

This crop is 5000 x 3400 pixels and perfectly sharp at 1/400th of a second. We reached the end of the tour at Honopu Beach which is only accessible if you swim to it – although the makers of the Pirates of the Caribbean film probably got a license to use a boat or helicopter I suspect! A great location to see although the sun was getting low in the sky at this point:

Honopu Beach – used in Pirates of the Caribbean

Only able to get 1/60th of a second at this point, but the camera stabilization worked well. As we were told to expect a speedy ride back, I put my waterproof coat on for the return journey. You would have thought that as I was now on the opposite side to the waves and the wind, it would have been better, but no – spray continued to warm me with seawater! I can’t complain though – the water was warm, the boat was speedy and we were back in Hanalei bay just as the sun was setting on the horizon. An advantage of the back of the boat is that you can turn round and get scenes that others would have struggled with, and so I am not sure I would have changed my mind about the position, but bear the spray in mind if you take the same tour!

Overall, a great experience and one I would heartily recommend. Now I need to sell these images to make back the $145 cost!


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