Tag Archives: hawaii

Fun on the Big Island


I know I’ve let the first few months of 2013 whiz by without a blog post. It makes me cringe to think of how long it’s been. The past few months have been very busy, not so much with travel, but with work. I promise I’ll get caught up! In my last post, I talked about our magical wedding day. In this post, I want to re-live our stay on the Big Island.

Writing this post makes me long to be back on the beautiful Big Island of Hawaii. Ben and I are back up in the Portland area, and I’m pretty bummed that flip flops are no longer part of my daily attire. But back to Hawaii… After our beautiful wedding day on Jan. 4th, we spent a few more days relaxing at our resort and spending quality time with close family and friends. It was wonderful being on vacation with the people closest to us. Seeing everyone at home is great in itself, but being able to share a sunset happy hour in paradise, over looking the Pacific Ocean? That’s priceless. Those are memories I’ll be clinging on to forever.

As I may have mentioned in my last post, we stayed at the beautiful Hilton Waikaloa Village Resort, and man is that place amazing! Ben had been there before, and he tried to give me an idea of what it was like, but I still wasn’t prepared for the sheer magic of the place. First of all, it’s huge. And I mean HUGE. If my sister happened to call me and tell me to meet her in the lobby, I’d have a good 3/4 mile walk from my room. There are three main towers containing guest rooms and many other buildings with restaurants, lounges, etc. If you don’t feel like walking, there is a monorail and an adorable boat channel that will take you between the main buildings. But if you opted for one of these, you would not only miss the beautiful walk, but you’d miss the art too. The Waikaloa is FULL of Asian-themed art. During just a 5-minute walk around the grounds, you would literally pass dozens and dozens of sculptures, paintings, carvings, etc. Whoever curated this collection had a big job on their hands. The hotel has several large pools as well as a lagoon that it completely open to the ocean. If you hang out in the lagoon, you will most likely see lots of sea turtles and fun-looking fish. You could literally stay on this property for the entirety of your visit and never run out of things to do. (We, of course, DID leave the property a bit to explore.)

Hawaii-Waikaloa-45Ben bounces across a suspension bridge that spans one of the pools at the resort.

Hawaii-Waikaloa-53I snapped this pic of the Ocean Tower at the Hilton Waikaloa. This was where most of our hotel rooms were, and it was my favorite tower. If you looked at it from above, it would look like three circles, connected but with the interior completely open. In the middle was the adult pool (score!), a cantina/restaurant and a cafe.

On the day following our wedding, Ben and I went on an ATV tour at the northern tip of the Big Island. The tour was actually a Christmas gift from my parents, and we had a blast! We covered a lot of lush, Hawaiian landscape and stopped at a few waterfalls. At one of the stops, we did a short hike to get to the falls and at the bottom, and there we found macadamia trees. Our guide cracked some of the raw nuts open for us and we got to eat them right off the tree. They were delicious, by the way. Our ATV was pretty cool because it had seats that were side-by-side instead of one right in front of the other. I like the kind you straddle if you’re by yourself, but with two people, one person is always looking at the back of the other person’s head. This was much better.

BenKar-ATVMe and my new husband are looking pretty spiffy, eh? I think that helmet made me look like a bobblehead.

Ben during the ATV tour on the northern point of the island.

Ben during the ATV tour on the northern point of the island.

HawaiiATV-15Me and Ben at one of the waterfalls on the ATV tour.

Since the resort was just amazing, we spent most of our time hanging out there. In most other situations, Ben and I would be out exploring more. But there was something really nice about just “hanging out” and spending time with the people we’re close to. I liked not having to worry about carrying a 40-lb camera bag on a 3-mile hike, or getting up at 4 am to be out shooting sunrise. (Ironically, I got up early anyway because I was just psyched to start the days!)

In the mornings, I went for long walks with my mom. We’d walk on the resort, off the resort and would go for miles just talking … all before the rest of the gang got out of bed. That time was just so special to me. In fact, I wish I could beam myself from wherever I am every day to go on morning walks with my mom.

It was also the morning time that truly reminded me how much of a warm weather gal I am. Ben and I have been spending the winter in the Pacific Northwest. In fact, it’s the first winter where we didn’t head south for the colder months, and I noticed something interesting happening. I found that I didn’t want to get out of bed in the morning. In fact, my eyes didn’t even want to open! This is SO uncharacteristic of me. Usually, I want to sleep as little as possible and I’m excited for whatever the new day will bring. Something was definitely off. Then we went down to Hawaii. The entire time we were there, I was awake before the sun came up, just lying in bed waiting for it to get light enough to go outside and start the day. I think Jimmy Buffett sums up my feelings for the wintery north in his song, Boat Drinks. “Oh I know, I should be leaving this climate; I got a verse but can’t rhyme it; I gotta go where it’s warm!”

In the evenings, we would meet up for happy hour at “Buddha Point,” a beautiful overlook at the resort that is just perfect for sunset. And of course, there is a Buddha statue there. We’d bring wine and snacks and watch the magical Hawaiian sunset. Sounds so rough, doesn’t it!?

Sunset happy hour at Buddha Point

Sunset happy hour at Buddha Point

JayLesa_SunsetJay & Lesa pose for a sunset photo.

Sunset engagement shoot with Laura & Rich!

Sunset engagement shoot with Laura & Rich!

While we were on the Big Island, I also got to swim with dolphins! I have always found dolphins to be so intelligent, fascinating, and “personable,” but I’ve never had the opportunity to interact with them before. It’s either been too expensive or a scenario where the dolphins are just in the equivalent to a swimming pool. At the Waikaloa, they’re in a lagoon and it just felt a little more natural. It was still pricy, but I guess they have to pay for the lagoon somehow! I got to meet several dolphins, and it was just incredible. They would swim down a line in front of us and then turn around to come back. I was at the end of the line and could feel the movement of the water when he whipped around and changed directions. It really gave me an idea of how friggin’ powerful they are. If his tail fin had hit me, it probably would have broken my knee or something. And of course, the whole time I was hanging out with the dolphins, I was thinking of the song from “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy”: “So long, and thanks for all the fish; So sad that things have come to this…” hehe.

I got to swim with dolphins!!

I got to swim with dolphins!!

So basically, our stay in Hawaii was everything I wanted it to be and more. I got to marry the man I’m madly in love with, spend quality time with family and close friends and explore a new place…which just happens to be paradise. Life is good.

I’ll end this post with a few more photos, and a promise that I wont go this long without blogging again!

Dave and Cindy kayak in the lagoon at the resort. The lagoon is completely open to the ocean, so you never know what kind of sea life you'll see in there!

Dave and Cindy kayak in the lagoon at the resort. The lagoon is completely open to the ocean, so you never know what kind of sea life you’ll see in there!

Me and Ben enjoying the luau dinner show

Me and Ben enjoying the luau dinner show

Brian, Madison & Amanda at the Luau

Brian, Madison & Amanda at the Luau

Bill & Penni at the Luau

Bill & Penni at the Luau

My parents show up for sunset happy hour at Buddha Point

My parents show up for sunset happy hour at Buddha Point

Rich on the water slide. Love it.

Rich on the water slide. Love it.


Ben, having a rough morning at the resort.

Ben, having a rough morning at the resort.

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Our Hawaiian Wedding

An absolutely beautiful shot by Judy Host. I can't believe that's actually me!

An absolutely beautiful shot by Judy Host. I can’t believe that’s actually me!

It’s hard to believe I’m actually writing this post. If you would have told me five years ago that I would soon meet my perfect partner, live a life of travel and get married in the dawn of 2013, I wouldn’t have believed you. I didn’t think it would ever happen for me, but I guess it just goes to show you that if you want something bad enough, the universe will open up opportunities for you. You just have to embrace them. About four years ago, Ben and I connected at photography conferences and then online. After nearly a year of long online conversations and short meet-ups at events, we both knew there was something special was going on. We had too much in common and got along so easily. However, at the time, Ben was parked (in the motorcoach) in San Diego and I was working in New Jersey. It was then that I decided to take the biggest leap of faith in my life. I packed my bags for a week and flew out to spend a week with a man I had hardly ever spent any time with in person… staying on his 40-foot tour bus. We knew that all the pieces fit pretty well… we just had to make sure that we meshed well in person. This is what I’m thinking as I’m standing in a gazebo in Hawaii, gripping my father’s arm, about to make my way to the tiny open-air wedding chapel and marry the man I fell in love with during that leap-of-faith trip.

WOW, right? I felt like the luckiest girl in the world, spending a week in Hawaii with close family and long-term friends, and marrying my Ben. As I mentioned in my last post, Ben and I brought in the new year on Oahu with my family. On Jan. 2, we flew over to the Big Island (and my family followed, on the 3rd). The first thing we did after leaving the airport was go to the marriage license “office” to get the temporary license we would need on our wedding day. I put “office” in quotation marks because, well… just check it out below. Have I mentioned how much I love Hawaii???

Our Hawaii marriage license "office" :-)

Our Hawaii marriage license “office” :-)

We then drove about 30 minutes north and checked in at the absolutely stunning Hilton Waikaloa Village resort. This place is literally an Asian-themed ocean village, and a far cry from your standard hotel. The resort is made up of three main hotel towers and several other buildings that house restaurants, shops, water activity centers, etc. To walk between buildings is a hike, and personally, I LOVE that! I would say that it’s nearly a mile to walk from one end of the resort to the other. Because of that, there is a small monerail/tram that travels between buildings and a little boat system as well. (A waterway weaves through the whole resort.) Because we were getting married, we got upgraded to a gorgeous ocean-view room. I literally jumped up and down when I took my first glimpse off the balcony.


This was the view from our hotel room. Insanely gorgeous!

Shortly after we got settled in our room, our great friends Jay and Lesa arrived, and we had an impromptu happy hour in our room. Then, the four of us set out to explore the hotel. On this walk, I saw the wedding chapel for the first time and I nearly cried when I saw how perfect it was. The windows open right up to the ocean, and the stained glass inside is all Hawaiian plants. The chapel is tiny and only seats 18 people. This was perfect for us, because we wanted a very intimate, casual [and barefoot] ceremony. Little by little, our friends and family arrived at the resort. It was so heartwarming to know that they were all there because of us. Hawaii isn’t exactly an easy trip for most people. It was worth it though. On the night before the wedding, we had a happy hour meet-and-greet at the Waikaloa’s Malolo Lounge. This was great, because everyone in our group got to hang out and get to know each other before the actual wedding day. By the time the ceremony rolled around, everyone was already friends.

The wedding chapel at the Hilton Waikaloa on the Big Island of Hawaii. We couldn't have picked a better place.

The wedding chapel at the Hilton Waikaloa on the Big Island of Hawaii. We couldn’t have picked a better place.

 Wedding Day

Our wedding day started early for me, not because I HAD to be up, but because I WANTED to be up. I woke up with the sun, showered and enjoyed the morning. I loved the fact that I was in no hurry. I eventually met up with Amanda, Laura and little Madison and we made our way to the spa. We all had pedicure appointments (barefoot wedding, remember?) and I got my hair done as well. Thing were really starting to sink in at this point. While I was waiting for my pedicure appointment, I started practicing my new signature… Karen Willmore.


Amanda and Madison at the spa. Amanda would be my bridesmaid and Madison, the flower girl.


I love this photo that my mom took of my sister Laura getting her hair done. All the reflections are awesome!

After my hair was done, my mom and I headed back to my room to get ready. Now, I wasn’t really an average bride. I already mentioned that I wouldn’t be wearing shoes, and I wouldn’t be wearing makeup either. It’s just not my thing. So all I really had to do was put the dress on. Since Judy was taking some photos for the day (and I can’t thank her enough for that!), she met us in the room and we took some shots there.

Getting ready in the hotel room ©Judy Host

Getting ready in the hotel room ©Judy Host

Since we wanted some photos outside, we slowly made our way to the chapel, making several stops for photos. Judy has such a great eye for picking out beautiful photo locations and I was glad we weren’t in a serious hurry.

Another beautiful shot by Judy. We took our time making our way to the chapel, so that we could take some photos. ©Judy Host

Another beautiful shot by Judy. We took our time making our way to the chapel, so that we could take some photos. ©Judy Host

The wedding grounds at the Hilton Waikaloa are large. There is a beautiful gazebo with a long pathway leading away from it and toward the chapel. This entire setting is at the oceanside and provides a perfect view of the sunset. Our ceremony was actually timed for the sunset. Could this get any more romantic?? We had time to take a lot of photos before the ceremony and though it was really windy, the weather was warm and sunny.

Me with my sister, Laura, the left, Amanda on the right, and little Madison, who is Amanda's daughter and the flower girl. ©Judy Host

Me with my sister, Laura, the left, Amanda on the right, and little Madison, who is Amanda’s daughter and the flower girl. ©Judy Host

Ben and his best man, Eddie Tapp. ©Judy Host

The first shot of me and Ben together on our wedding day. ©Judy Host

The first shot of me and Ben together on our wedding day. ©Judy Host

The ceremony began at 4:30 and the procession started in the gazebo. The ceremony was absolutely beautiful and was based on Hawaiian traditions and nature. The minister, Rodney “Dard” Aller went through many beliefs and traditions of the Hawaiian islands, stressing their importance and meaning to our relationship to each other and to Hawaii itself. There was one thing he said that sent a chill down my spine. I mentioned before that even though the day was beautiful, it was very windy. Well during our ceremony, Dard said that the winds represented those who have left us. My grandmother had just passed away in August and it was her main goal to make it to Hawaii for this ceremony. I guess, in a way, she did. It was just such a special thing that he said that. It literally made her part of the ceremony.

Ben and I wrote our own vows and at the end of the ceremony, our rings were blessed, we read our vows and were pronounced husband and wife. This time, I actually DID cry a little. Everything was just so perfect. Immediately following the ceremony, we signed our marriage license and headed out for some family photos. I mentioned that Eddie was Ben’s best man, but he was also kind enough to take some photos for us. He and Judy were so, so amazing that day. I know what it’s like to take wedding photos, and it’s not easy. We took some group shots and then as the sun went down, Eddie took some shots of me and Ben alone.

Right after we were pronounced husband and wife

Right after we were pronounced husband and wife

Me and Ben with my parents. It was a very emotional moment.

Me and Ben with my parents. It was a very emotional moment.

The whole bridal party after the ceremony

The whole bridal party after the ceremony


I love this. © Eddie Tapp

I love this. © Eddie Tapp

This is such a perfect shot of me and Ben. ©Eddie Tapp

This is such a perfect shot of me and Ben. ©Eddie Tapp

Classic Ben & Karen ©Eddie Tapp

Classic Ben & Karen ©Eddie Tapp

While we were taking these photos, there was a happy hour with tapas outside the chapel. As it started to get dark out, we all made our way to the dinner restaurant, the Kamuela Provision Company, where we had two long tables outside overlooking the ocean. The wind died down (Thanks grandmom!) and the torches and palm trees created the perfect atmosphere for our small reception dinner. It was only 22 people, so it was small enough that Ben and I could both enjoy our meal and talk to everyone without feeling overwhelmed.


Our beautiful reception dinner

I can’t begin to explain how perfect it was. The whole day was exactly what we wanted: intimate, elegant, casual and Hawaiian. After the day ended, everyone kept saying how perfect it was and how much they enjoyed it. Personally, I don’t think anyone enjoyed it more than I did. I was in paradise with the people I’m closest to, and I got to marry the man I am madly in love with. Life is good.

I’m going to save the rest of the Hawaii trip for another post, but if you want to check out a larger gallery of photos from the day, visit http://www.karennace.com/ourwedding


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Goodbye 2012, Hello 2013!


Happy New Year everyone! I hope the holidays have treated you well… they sure did for me! Ben and I spent a week and a half in New Jersey and then brought in the new year in beautiful Hawaii! (If the saying is true that the way you bring in the new year is what sets the pace for the 12 months to come, then we’re doing pretty good!) But let’s back up a little, shall we?


Since the motorcoach we call home was parked in Oregon, Ben and I flew from Portland to Philly to spend the holidays with my family in New Jersey. Christmas is the best time of year at the Nace house, and I think the whole family agrees on that. Everyone is home, the atmosphere is warm, and we have a lot of fun holiday traditions. Even though it’s cold, I would never miss a Christmas with my family.

Christmas2012-10Ready for Christmas!

This year it was a little bitter sweet, since my grandmother just passed away in August. She was always a major part of the holidays, so things really didn’t feel the same without her. For decades, she would always prepare Christmas Eve dinner, which was a feast consisting of at least seven different kinds of fish and an irresistible array of side dishes. This year, the whole family chipped in to continue that tradition, and I think we would have made her proud.

Christmas2012-2My parents taking a first stab at seared tuna. 

Christmas2012-14-EditReady to eat the Christmas Eve feast

Christmas morning is always a crazy gift-giving marathon. It takes hours to open gifts as everyone takes turns, going one at a time. We usually have a break for breakfast, and another for happy hour! What I love about Christmas morning is that everyone puts so much time and thought into their gifts. There aren’t really any “average” gifts. Lots of love goes into each one. My favorite gift of the day was what I got my dad. For decades, he’s had these 8mm film reels hidden up in a closet somewhere, containing memories of my parents’ wedding, me and my sister as babies, family that is no longer with us, etc. I had all that film sent away and converted to DVD format and made customs cases for each one. It was a great surprise for him, and we watched the videos that very night.

Christmas2012-55My sweet Nyah on Christmas morning.

Shooting time!

While we were in NJ, we paid a visit to our good friend Carl, whom I met years ago at Heritage Vineyards, where he serves as assistant winemaker. Carl has an amazing wine cellar in his home and since he will be moving back to Texas this year, we wanted to do a photo shoot in his cellar so he’ll have some nice memories to take with him to his next house. Ben specializes in a unique form of photography called lightpainting, and that’s what he did for this shoot. Lightpainting is where you take a completely dark scene and light it with flashlights and other light sources while the camera shutter stays open. I took some non-lightpainted shots to complement Ben’s image.

CellarLightpaintBen’s lightpainting of Carl’s cellar. If you want to learn more about lightpainting, check out Ben’s e-book on the technique at www.DigitalMastery.com. © Ben Willmore 2012

CarlsCellar-49One of my shots from the day

One more pre-Hawaii shot:

Christmas2012-79Before we left for Hawaii, and not one week before our wedding day, the guys took Ben out for a boys-only Philly craft beer crawl. They all piled into a stretch limo and had a field day! The “Groom” shirt was a gift from my sister, Laura.


I know you were probably wondering when I was going to get around to the Hawaii part of this post. On New Year’s Eve, at 4 in the morning, we all headed to the airport, bound for Honolulu. (When I say “all,” I mean my parents, my sister and her fiancee Rich, Rich’s parents Bill and Penni, my brother David and his girlfriend Cindy and of course me and Ben.) It was hard to believe this trip had actually arrived! Not only were we ready to be in paradise, but that meant our wedding was only days away!

We brought in the new year in Waikiki on Oahu. Stepping off the plane, I felt like Dorothy having just stepped into the land of Oz. NJ was so overcast, cold and colorless and Hawaii is, well… Hawaii. It’s beautiful, lush and colorful. We had dinner that night at the Hula Grill, which was open on one side to the beach and the ocean. At midnight, all we had to do was walk out onto the restaurant’s balcony and watch the fireworks show over the Pacific Ocean.

BenKar-NewYears-loresBen and I bring in the new year in Waikiki. Just before midnight, Ben ordered a bottle of champagne for the table.

Oahu-NewYears-51-EditIn downtown Waikiki stands the statue of Duke Kahanamoku, Hawaiian surfing legend.

On New Years Day, we spent time wandering around downtown Waikiki, shopping and walking. My family had never been to the island of Oahu before, so they enjoyed exploring. While New Years Eve in Waikiki was great, Oahu is actually my least favorite of the Hawaiian islands. There’s just too much city for me, and while the North Shore is great to see for the waves and such, there are much more spectacular beaches elsewhere. This is certainly not a complaint though! Heck, it’s Hawaii… in January! Plus, we were definitely saving the best for last, as the Big Island was our next stop. While were in Oahu, we met up with our wonderful friends Eddie and Judy, who would be at our wedding and had also decided to visit Oahu first. I just love meeting up with our friends all over the globe, especially in a place as special as Hawaii!

On Jan 2., Ben and I made the short plane ride to the Big Island, where we would check in at the Hilton Waikaloa Village resort. This is where we would spend the larger part of our trip and we would be getting married (!!!) in the beautiful little chapel on the hotel grounds. But that, my friends, is a post on its own. More (lots, lots more) to come!

Oahu-NewYears-2Exploring Waikiki! From left, David, Cindy, Ben, Laura and Rich.

Oahu-NewYears-37I loved this photo I got of Laura and Rich enjoying the tropical weather!

BenKarEddieJudy-OahuBen and I met up with Eddie and Judy at the Yard House in Waikiki. Reunion! (This photo has the classic “shot by a bartender with an iPhone” quality, so sorry about that!)

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A very special week on Maui


A little video I made including some of our photos from the two islands: Oahu and Maui (Many of the pix are iPhone shots)

*** Note: This is a fairly long post about my stay on Maui. There is a lot of the usual travel stuff, including tips, recommendations, and my favorite points of interest. If you’re not into reading all of that, AT LEAST skip to the last section in this post, titled “A day I will never forget.” If you’re a regular here at the Pixel Diaries, you don’t want to miss this part! ***

In my last post, I talked about our stay on Oahu, with its Waikiki nightlife and surfers’ paradise. After Oahu, we made a little island hop over to Maui, where there was a lot going on. We were picked up at the airport by our friend Steve, who out of sheer coincidence, was visiting the islands the same time as us with his wife, Beverly. (You might hear me talk about Steve and Bev a lot, as we are always meeting up with them in Las Vegas, their home town.) As if that wasn’t enough, our friend Diane happens to LIVE on Maui, so our first evening there was somewhat of a reunion!

Ben and I at a hidden beach on Maui.

We started our first full day on the island with a whale-watching boat ride with Ben’s friends Mark and Shayla, who are Maui locals. It was great to get out on the water and see the coastline from that perspective. Hawaii is just so beautiful and alive with tropical colors. Even though we only saw a few whales from a distance, we had a great time, just taking everything in. Later that same day we went out exploring with Steve and Bev, visiting a few beaches on the southern part of Maui. We also grabbed lunch at an awesome little fish market and cafe called Eskimo Candy. If you’re ever on Maui, I highly recommend it, even if you’re just grabbing stuff to go. Their spicy ahi was amazing!

Ben also taught a 3-day photography/Photoshop workshop on Maui with the Institute of Visual Arts, run by Randy and Becky Hufford. We stayed in Randy & Becky’s guest house, nicknamed the “Pineapple Love Suite,” and while Ben was teaching, I went out and explored Maui. (Just as in Oahu, I felt guilty wandering the island while Ben was inside teaching!)

Iao Valley State Park

Iao Valley State Park

While I was out exploring on my own, I referred to the Maui Revealed guide, which is both a book and an iPhone app. I used the app. If you’re ever going to visit the island, I recommend reading the book before you go, and using the app while you’re there. It has a map feature that can show you all the points of interest in your general area. It also still works when you have no cell signal. The first place I explored was Iao Valley State Park, which turned out to be a great place to explore if you only have a few hours. There were a handful of short hikes, through the lush, green rainforest, and the most picturesque view in the area was the Iao Valley Needle (You can see it in the pic above).

After driving one of the scariest roads I’ve ever been on, I was rewarded with this amazing view.

Kahekili Highway

Before leaving Iao Valley State Park, I opened my trusty Maui app and decided that I would head to a beautiful scenic overlook on the northwest part of the island. I had no idea what I was in for when I set out! From the map it looked like a pleasant drive along the island’s coast. I DID drive along the coast, but the drive was far from pleasant! Picture a narrow, beat-up road that was so windy and full of hairpin turns that you never really made it over 10 mph. And you wouldn’t WANT to go over 10 mph because the road was lined on one side by a rock wall and the other side by a sharp cliff that overlooks the water. In other words, you try to type one text message while driving this road and you will most likely become a permanent fixture on the bottom of the pacific ocean.  No joke. To make things worse, the road was only wide enough to fit one car, but it was a two-way road. So if another car is coming your way, one of you has to find a spot to inch over enough to let the other pass. If this isn’t possible, you have to drive backwards down the windy road until you find a place wide enough. (I encountered this situation a number of times, once with a darn school bus!) In case you were wondering, this road is called Kahekili Highway, and I will most likely never drive it again. If you’re on Maui, and you decide to go that route, may the force be with you! On the PLUS side here, when I finally got to my destination, the view was amazing. I was most definitely rewarded for making the treacherous drive! You can see my view in the shot above.

The Road to Hana

The next day was Maui road trip day with Beverly. For years, I had heard stories about the famous “Road to Hana,” and I finally got to make the drive that day. We started off in the town of Paia and went all the way to Hana, stopping at all the interesting places along the route. If you’ve never driven this road before, it’s good to keep in mind that it’s all about the journey, not the destination. There’s not really much IN Hana, but there are tons of scenic places to stop along the way. Even if you don’t get out of the car, you’ll enjoy the incredibly lush foliage on either side of you, and there are several waterfalls you can see right from the car. Of course, we actually got OUT of the car.. a lot! We stopped at some waterfalls and short hikes, but the following places were my favorites:

• The Rainbow Eucalyptus Trees: We found these suckers around mile marker 10 and they just blew me away! They looked like something that would come out of a Dr. Seuss book!

The Rainbow Eucalyptus Trees on the road to Hana

• Upper Waikani Falls (Three Bears Falls): This is a triple waterfall between mile markers 19 and 20. From a photographer’s perspective, this was awesome, and it’s right on the side of the road, so it’s easy to pull over if there aren’t too many cars.

• Halfway to Hana: There is actually a little food stand/shop titled “Halfway to Hana” and the banana bread is awesome. Get some :-) (Though keep in mind that you’ll only have about three thousand more opportunities to buy banana bread on this road.)

• Wai’ anapanapa State Park: Don’t worry. It took me about three days to learn how to pronounce that too. This park is beautiful, especially if you can go off-roading a bit beyond the camping area. Beverly clued me in on that little secret, and after driving through the forest a bit, we were able to pull off and walk out to the rocks where the water met the land. It’s not a beach, but more of a lava rock terrain where the water comes crashing up against the coast. Beautiful!

The road BACK from Hana (and a major driver fail)

When we reached Hana, instead of turning around and going back the way we came, we continued in the same direction to make the full loop around the eastern side of the island. I’ve got to admit, the drive BACK was just as spectacular as the drive THERE. The terrain turned into more of a countryside, lined with beautiful mountains on one side and the ocean on the other. We stopped a LOT so I could shoot loads of landscapes. Each stop was more beautiful than the last, and as the sun got lower, the light was amazing. Bev and I were laughing at ourselves because every time we peaked over a new hill, we would both oooh-ing and aaahh-ing. At one point, I pulled over, super excited to shoot the light on the mountains, and ran around the back of the rental jeep to get my camera gear out. As I was reaching into my camera bag, the car started moving away from me! Yup. In all my excitement, I had forgot to put the car in park! Way to go, Karen. Bev got a kick out of watching me run after the car, cursing my head off. I’ve got to say, jumping into an unmanned, moving vehicle was a first for me.

Just when we thought we were going to book it back to town, we see a big group of tourists on the side of the road, waving their arms and pointing somewhere over the ocean. We’re just thinking, “crazy tourists” until we pass them and I see it in my rear view mirror. It was a full rainbow, starting off in the mountains and ending in the ocean. Neither words nor photos could do it justice. Magical was the word we used, and it was the perfect ending to an awesome day.

A day I will never forget (and the absolute best way to end our Hawaii trip)

On our last full day in Maui, Ben was finished his workshop so he was free to explore with me. Since we were both hoping to shoot a bit, we decided to explore a little more on the Road to Hana. Ben hinted that we might be spending the night near Hana, but he was acting a little mysterious about the whole thing. I didn’t ask questions. I just rolled with it as I usually do. Unfortunately, it was pretty overcast and rainy for most of our drive, so we didn’t go on a lot of hikes. We spent a good amount of time shooting some waterfalls and overlooks. Eventually, Ben said he was going to try out a side road toward Nahiku. We winded down toward the coast and ended up right on the water, where you could look down and see miles of beautiful Hawaiian coastline. We walked down to an area that was a bit secluded, with woods on one side and the ocean on the other. We just kind of hung out there for a while, in each others arms. I was thinking that it couldn’t really get better than that. I was wrong, because moments later Ben asked me to marry him.

Words just can’t explain how surprised I was. I didn’t truly believe he was serious until he pulled the box out of his pocket. I burst into tears and must have cried for at least 15 minutes! After those 15 minutes Ben reminded me that I’d not yet given an answer! “A thousand times, YES!” was my response, once I finally found words again. There is nothing I would love more than to grow old with Ben. And of course I don’t actually mean the “getting old” part (though it sure beats the alternative!). One of my favorite quotes, which is featured on the sidebar of this site, is that “Happiness is a journey, not a destination” and I fully intend to share that journey with Ben. He is the love of my life, my friend, my lover, my partner and often times my sanity! I’m tearing up again as I type this, because I’m just so darn happy!

We did end up spending the night in the Hana area, and went out to a very nice dinner to celebrate and let things sink in a bit. Ben even called my dad and asked for permission to marry me. My family loves Ben to death, so I think they threw a little party that night back in Jersey! We flew out of Hawaii the next night, and I think this is a good place to wrap up this post. Life is good. :-)

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Greetings, from paradise!


Aloha everyone! This is the first of two posts about our recent journey to Hawaii… aka paradise! Ben taught two workshops on the islands – one on Oahu, and one on Maui. The only Hawaiian island I had been to in the past was Kauai so I was so psyched about the opportunity to see two new ones!

Our first stop was Oahu. Ben was teaching a two-day class at the University of Hawaii with Pacific New Media and we stayed on campus for the duration of our stay. Considering we were in a dorm-like room, we had to resist the temptation to switch to a nice hotel room! We DID come to our senses though… because staying in that kind of housing (which was somewhere between free and dirt cheap) enabled us to direct $$ to more fun things.

When we arrived in Honolulu, we immediately went to pick up the rental car. When Enterprise directed Ben to a lime green Volkswagen Beetle, I struggled to keep myself from laughing. It was like driving around in a giant bubble. (And we later learned that it was designed to be cute, not functional.) Ben was pretty hungry, so he did a Yelp search for some local food and found Helena’s Hawaiian Food. Man, what a perfect way to kick off our stay in Hawaii! We could tell it was good because there was a line out the door. It was a no-frills place where you order at the register and then try to snag a table if you could. We didn’t get a table, so we got our stuff to go and ate in the car after finding a parking spot that looked over the city of Honolulu. The food was amazing… and very authentic. They even gave you a little baggie of special salt if you happened to order a dish that it was suited for.

Ben and I had Mai Tais at the Hula Grill in Waikiki on our first night in Oahu.

On our first night on Oahu, we went to Waikiki beach to check out the nightlife, and it was barely a 10-minute drive from where we were staying. Our first stop was a bar that Ben found on Yelp. It was supposed to be a wine bar and it had amazing ratings. I started to notice some odd things though. First off, they hardly had any wine. Then I notice a very muscular, nice-looking guy holding a small and very well-dressed dog. Another guy, similar to the first, comes in and gives the male bartender a big ol’ kiss on the lips. Then, as I look around the room, I notice I’m the only gal in a place full of very affectionate dudes. When Ben returned to the table after getting our drinks, I have to lean in and politely tell him that he took me to a gay bar and I was the only female in the room! Now we have no qualms with gay bars at all. They’re great. What made it humorous was that it was completely unintentional on his part. Mix that with the fact that he was driving around a lime green Beetle and I had to tease him a little. After our happy hour there, we explored the shops in Waikiki a bit. It’s definitely the place to go shopping and dining if you’re staying near Honolulu. There are tons of stores, galleries and excellent restaurants. We ended up eating at the Hula Grill, and I’d definitely recommend it. There was live Hawaiian music and we got a seat on the patio that overlooked the beach and the ocean. It was beautiful and the food was great.

A random stop I made while driving around the perimeter of Oahu. Beautiful!

For our first full day on the island, we decided to explore and drive the perimeter of Oahu, stopping at any place we found interesting. Our first stop was Makapuu point, which is the easternmost point of the island. We took a short but steep hike that went up a big hill, overlooked the ocean and ended at a lighthouse. It was hard to get a good shot of the lighthouse because of the awkward vantage point, but it was still a really nice walk and part of it goes along a humpback whale sanctuary, so if you just stop and look out, you can see them swimming, diving and I’m sure you could catch an occasional breach of you got lucky.

Sweet Home Waimanalo was a little cafe/store we stopped at on the northeast part of Oahu. They had wonderful healthy food, smoothies, and a fun atmosphere.

We made another stop at a cafe/market called Sweet Home Waimanalo. I was thirsty and it’s a place that we just happened to come across, and we were so glad that we did! Everything they offered looked so yummy and extremely healthy. We both got smoothies. Mine was acai and Ben’s was peanut butter/banana (it sounds odd but it was delicious.) We continued driving around the northern part of the island, stopping to shoot occasionally, but mainly taking in the scenery. We spent a good amount of time at the North Shore, which is pretty much a surfer’s dream come true. I caught some waves too… only with my camera!

I shot this at a beach on Oahu’s North Shore.

Some orchids I found at a botanical garden outside of Honolulu.

During the two days that Ben taught, I took the car and went exploring on my own, though I felt guilty that Ben was inside working while I was driving around. I visited Foster Botanical Garden, which was right outside of Honolulu and a nice place to photograph. The grounds were pretty large, and there was a nice greenhouse which casted some really nice light on the plants. I actually wished I had a macro lens at this place. I also made another trip to the North Shore, where my sole focus was to photograph surfers and waves some more. I found the Pipeline, which is probably one of the most famous surf breaks in the world, and just gaped at it for a while. I couldn’t believe how huge those waves were. You almost have to include a surfer in the shot for some perspective!

The two shots above are from the Pipeline on the North Shore of Oahu. Is helps to have a surfer in there for scale, doesn’t it?

Another stop I made was at the Dole Pineapple Plantation. They have a pretty big setup for tourists there, with a huge shop, a train tour, garden and kiosks outside. I went on the train tour and was a bit disappointed, as I felt it was somewhat geared toward kids. If you’re on Oahu and happen to be driving on 99, the plantation is worth the stop since you’ll already be driving by it. I enjoyed walking the grounds there and checking out the shop. But unless you’re really into touristy stuff, I wouldn’t make a special drive up there though.

An iPhone shot I got while visiting Chinatown in Honolulu. The fruit and vegetable stands were so colorful!

After Ben was done his 2-day class, he was free to explore some more and we headed to Chinatown in Honolulu. It was a nice walk, and I loved seeing all the fruit and vegetable stands outside. The indoor markets were pretty crazy to me because of the sheer array of foods I have never even seen before! We also made a trip to Pearl Harbor and explored the memorials and free museums there. We had recently watched the movie, so it was interesting to see it in person.

Some Hawaiian dancers at out Luau at the Polynesian Cultural Center.

An iPhone shot of me at the Luau… I had just gotten this Hawaiian-style dress earlier in the day.

Ben got a crazy yummy pina colada smoothie at the Luau.

On our last night in Oahu, we went to a Luau at the Polynesian Cultural Center and spent some time at the center itself, which is really like a gigantic park. We were both really impressed with how big it was. Each Polynesian culture (Hawaii, Tahiti, Fiji, etc.) had its own little village where you could see demonstrations, explore buildings and get free canoe rides. The luau that night was huge, and a lot of fun. There are a lot of luaus on Oahu, but this one had the best ratings and people seemed to feel it was the most authentic. The food was all good and really Hawaiian, and the dancers were great… even the little hula kids they had perform! The luau package I bought came with an evening show, called “Ha! Breath of Life.” We were thinking it would be some hula dancers and fire spinners, but it turned out to be a HUGE production… like something you’d expect to see in Vegas. Ben counted at least 70 cast members. (And yes, there WERE hula dancers and fire spinning, but they were incorporated into a much bigger show.)

We wrapped up our week on Oahu in Waikiki, having an afternoon cocktail on the beach while waiting for our flight. Next stop: Maui! More to come!

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