Did you know the best time to visit the Na Pali coast in Hawaii is June and July? As one of the wettest places on earth, it gets an average rainfall of 460 inches (1170cm) each year, but the sun comes out in June and July. Just in time for the swell to die down and the waters to clear up. This is something we discussed when we sat down to talk to Aussie photographer Craig Parry about his recent trip to Hawaii.
He stops off at the islands at least once a year and knows the them well, but that doesn't mean he's not up for some new experiences. Teaming up with Flight Centre, this marked his first trip to the Big Island and he tells us all about it along with tales of shark diving, helicopter tours and more.
Have you been to Hawaii before?
I go every year, but I hadn't been to the Big Island. So, this was my first time to the Big Island.
That's fantastic! I've never been to Hawaii, so I'm going to live vicariously through you.
Right, well, you've got to go! I'll try to put you in the mindset. [Laughs]
What were you looking forward to the most?
Just the whole adventure/exploring side of things. Every time I travel, I always like to do something different if I go to the same place. I think exploring the Big Island was exciting because it's one of the newest islands in the Hawaiian archipelago. The volcanic areas and all the type of stuff was something I was really looking forward to.
How much time did you dedicate to planning it all out and preparing yourself for the trip?
Well, it's funny because my style of travel is really, 'fly by the seat of my pants'. I don't plan anything. My girlfriend came on the trip with me and she got really frustrated with that whole side of me. [Laughs] But I find that more unique things happen when I travel like that.
Would you recommend that travel style to novice travellers to Hawaii?
I've travelled a lot as a photographer. If I'm going to do a trip, whether it be by myself or with a friend, I find if you don't plan something it ends up better because you free your time up a bit more.
It's difficult to plan something when I'm not there and I'm not experiencing it. I like to talk to the locals and meeting people. There is no better recommendation than one from a local. I live by that.
What drew you to the activities that you ended up choosing on this trip?
I think it was the whole Jurassic and marine aspect of things. Looking at Hawaii, it has such a Jurassic feel about it. That whole landscape really draws me back every time I go. Hawaii is also really involved in conservation of their marine life, so you'll get there and you'll always see turtles and dolphins and sharks.
You know, I went swimming with sharks while I was there. That was a major thing for me to actually go and swim with sharks ... come to think of it, that's probably the major thing that drew me to Hawaii. [Laughs]. The sharks. Without a cage. Just swimming with them was amazing.
Oh wow! Have you done that before?
No, and I really wanted to. To be able to understand their behaviour. I really wanted to be able to do that.
What kind of sharks were they?
It was a mixture. The majority were sandbar sharks, which would probably be the equivalent to a Bronze Whaler in Australia. They grow to about three metres and they're a schooling shark. They like to hang out together. And we had the occasional Tiger Shark come in. One of the sharks, her name is Curly because her dorsal fin is curled over.
Did you have any nervous moments, or was it all pretty smooth sailing?
[Laughs] When I first jumped in, I could feel my heart and my adrenaline was going crazy. I was putting myself in a position where I felt uncomfortable as you would because it was all really new. When I put my head underwater and I saw their behaviour and I could sort of read them, I felt pretty comfortable.
Were you there by yourself or did you have a guide?
A good friend of mine owns a shark charter that runs a shark tour. It's not just a 'go and swim with sharks' tour. You learn a lot about the conservation of sharks and why they're important to the ocean. They teach you about their behaviours as well as how to act and react around sharks.
It's really interesting to understand how to act around a shark. Obviously they're a wild animal, but they're a bit like a dog. If you don't assert authority, they'll try to assert their authority on to you. It's not a bite. It's not a bite. [Laughs] It's not that type of authority, but it's more or less a bump. They'll bump you. But that doesn't really happen because you're trained, so you know how to act before you get in the water.
Wow! That's pretty cool but I don't know if I'd have the guts to do it.
Well, my girlfriend, she doesn't really swim or surf or anything like that. Before we went out, she was like, "No. Craig. I am not swimming with these sharks. There is no way!" [Laughs]. And we get out there. She was watching me have all the fun so she jumped in! She loved it!
You went to Waikiki as well, is that right?
Yeah. We stayed at the Sheraton at Waikiki and did a lot of exploring around there. We went up to Diamond Head for a hike. The view up there was incredible! We had a day where there was hardly any clouds and the water was really clear. It's amazing to be able to see Waikiki from that vantage point.
Was the hike difficult?
No. It's so much easier than I thought it was going to be. It's for everybody, you know? Everybody was doing it. I saw a woman walking up it in high heels! So there you go. [Laughs].
When you go to the actual park, the national park, they give you a map so you know where to go. There's a cafe down below where you can have a drink and refresh afterwards.
There's a lot of activity around the area. There's always something happening. The restaurants are amazing, and my girlfriend really liked the shopping as well.
What was your favourite part of Oahu?
Geeze ... well, the sharks were fantastic, but the west side of Oahu is a little bit of a secret. Not many people venture over that way. The reason I love it over there is because it reminds me so much of Kauai. You've got the really steep mountains that hit the ocean. The beaches are white sand beaches and it's really nice to just go there with no one around.
After Oahu, you went to the Big Island and Volcano National Park. How was that?
Yeah. We got there in the evening and hired a 4WD. The next morning, we got up really early and, for some reason, I just decided to drive around the island. I didn't realise that the drive would take seven hours. [Laughs]. We went everywhere! We went all around the coast of the island.
Around the northern part of it it's really rainforest-y. Then coming down the east coast, there's a lot of really cute little towns and amazing waterfalls. Then, down along the bottom, is the volcanic area.
It was really difficult because there was a lot of volcanic activity while I was there. They were shutting down towns because of lava going through them. The national park was shutting those places off, so it was really difficult to get access around those areas.
But it turned out great because when we got down to the volcanic side, it was walking through these fields of steam. It was all these little holes in the ground with steam coming out of them and you just walk past them. It was like ... I don't know ... like you were walking in a pressure cooker!
What was your highlight of the Big Island?
I think it would have to be the coastline that ran along the west side. There were really amazing beaches where the sand was pure black. I also visited this beach that was green. Green sand. There's not many around. I think it's like one in seven. It might be less, but something like seven green beaches in the world.
It was a bit of a mission because I didn't realise that it was going to be a bit of an adventurous four wheel drive to get to this green beach, but the green beach and the black beaches were a definite highlight.
Then it was back to Kauai and all the state parks?
Exactly. Yeah. From my last trip up there, I made some really great friends that run charters along the coastline on a boat. So, they took me out twice along the Na Pali coastline. It was incredible! We had the whales next to us. He also knows a lot about the history because he has a lot of history in his blood.
I also did a helicopter ride with Blue Horizon. That was incredible! I've done the Na Pali coast by boat before, but getting up in a helicopter is just next level. It's a next level experience.
Was it just you?
It was me and four other people. They took us to places that are much more accessible by are. They take you to these magic, magic places that are hidden in between huge valleys. The rawness of those places is amazing!
They'd show us these waterfalls and I'd ask them how to get there, like how would I hike there. And he'd say, "You can hike there, but it will take you three days." [Laughs]. It's like in the middle of nowhere, but it really triggered some inspiration to get over there and actually spend some time exploring and hiking through that Na Pali area.
Did you end up doing any hiking at all while you were there, or did you run out of time?
Well, we had a little bit of time that afternoon. We went back to the eastern side of Na Pali. That's where everyone starts their hikes. We hiked for about two hours, but it was a bit overcast and raining.
That's one thing. You need to pick your time right because it is one of the wettest places on earth. They get something like 400 inches of rain each year, which is just incredible. A lot of rain. The optimal time to go is June and July. The swells die off and the water is really clear.
Was it difficult to get around at all?
No. No, not at all. It's pretty much just one road. [Laughs] A local said to me, 'This is the real Hawaii.' It's not too touristy. There's a lot of culture there. It's quite simple when you get there and it's nice.
Did you run into any culturally sensitive areas that aren't necessarily open to tourism?
Well, there are a lot of areas that you need to respect. It's because there's so much history there. You get that on all of the islands, but mainly on Kauai. As long as you respect their culture, you will be fine. They are so hospitable. They are some of the most incredible people I've ever met while travelling as far as being hospitable and caring.
Do you have any tips for first timers to Hawaii?
Hire a car. That's a big one. You've got to do it. Driving can be scary if you're an Australian because you're driving on the other side of the road, but you do get used to it. Having a car is a big plus.
It's worth buying a snorkel and goggles when you get there to snorkel some of the safer areas. By safer I mean less surf. There's some really good snorkelling in Hawaii with a lot of underwater marine life. There are a lot of turtles.
The food vans on the streets of the North Shore! They're great for breakfast and lunch. The supermarkets are really great for lunch too. They have sushi and fresh sandwiches and stuff.
In Waikiki, they don't take reservations at the restaurants, so you have to show up and put your name down. It gets really busy so you end up waiting for about an hour. So, start to plan your meals about an hour before you're hungry. [Laughs]