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September 30, 2011 / Greg Vaughn

Waterfalls on the Big Island of Hawaii

Nanue Falls

Nanue Falls on the Hamakua Coast of the Big Island.

The Big Island of Hawaii was my home for a number of years and is still one of my favorite destinations. Largest of all the Hawaiian Islands, it contains a full range of environments from arid desert to tropical rainforest. Plentiful rainfall on the Hamakua Coast and in the Hilo area – the northeast side of the island – makes for lush forest and a number of waterfalls that are great subjects for nature photography.

Best of known of the Big Island’s waterfalls is Akaka Falls. A short walk in Akaka Falls State Park on the Hamakua Coast leads to a great view where Kolekole Stream plunges 442 feet to a deep bowl. A few feet further on the trail you can get a look at cascading Kahuna Falls. A couple of small trickling waterfalls and a bamboo forest are also good photo subjects at Akaka Falls State Park.

Akaka Falls

Akaka Falls on the Big Island of Hawaii.

Further north on the Hamakua Coast, near the community of Hakalau, Umauma Stream pours over lava cliffs to form a triple waterfall. Best view of these falls is from World Botanical Gardens, which is also a great place to photograph tropical plants and flowers like bromeliads, orchids and ginger.

waterfalls on Umauma Stream Hawaii

Waterfalls on Umauma Stream, Hamakua Coast, Hawaii

Hawaii Tropical Botanical Gardens, just north of Hilo, is the location for Onomea Falls, and another great place for photography with an extensive collection of exotic flora.

Onomea Falls Hawaii

Onomea Falls in Hawaii Tropical Botanical Garden near Hilo.

Vying with Akaka Falls as the most popular and most visited of the Big Island’s waterfalls is Rainbow Falls, just a short distance from downtown Hilo. Best time to try and catch the rainbow formed when the sun hits the spray of the waterfall is between 9-10 am. I recommend that photographers get there a little earlier, because right about that time busloads of tour groups arrive so it can be difficult to get in position for just the right angle on the falls.

Rainbow Falls Hilo Hawaii

Rainbow Falls, Wailuku River State Park, Hilo, Hawaii.

If you’d like to see more photographs of Hawaii Island, please see my Big Island photo gallery.


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