Each time I visit a location, no matter how many times I’ve been there, I make a point of finding something new. On Maui several days in advance of my workshop (which starts Monday), I took the drive to Hana with the express purpose of exploring some of the unmarked, intriguing, jungle canyons that I’d “rushed” (a relative term on the serpentine Hana Highway) by on previous visits.
The Hana Highway, also known (less ironically) as The Road to Hana, clings to the intersection of Haleakala’s windward slopes and the relentless Pacific surf. Navigating this harrowing track makes me marvel that it was ever built in the first place—it’s easy to understand why the engineers who carved the route opted whenever possible for hacking into the lush jungle over chiseling into the volcano’s precipitous basalt cliffs. The result is long stretches of road tunneling through a dense green canopy, suddenly interrupted by a vertigo inducing explosion of blue sky and sea.
Along the way each bridge encountered marks that stretch of road’s deepest plunge into the jungle before climbing back toward the ocean. These bridges are also where the waterfalls are. Many can be viewed without exiting the car—lower the windows and hear the roar; others are up or down the canyon, accessible with varying degrees of effort.
Somewhere on the midpoint of the trip I squeezed my car into a wide spot next to a bridge crossing a quiet stream. The lack of parking combined with the rush of oblivious cars indicated that this was not a location of note—exactly the kind of thing I was looking for, so I figured I’d at least check it out. Without my camera I scrambled over some rocks and dropped down to the stream bed. The stream flowed past water-rounded rocks that ranged all the way up to refrigerator-size. From my initial vantage point I saw the canyon had promise but it soon bent left and disappeared. I hopped to the far side and scrambled upstream—as soon as I rounded the bend the canyon’s vertical walls squeezed tighter and several times I wasn’t sure I could go on. But each time I encountered barrier it seemed the solution was to cross to the other side and keep moving forward (there’s metaphor there).
As I advanced I started seeing pictures everywhere: little cascades spilling over rocks, graceful ferns arcing from the mossy walls. What had started as quick feasibility study had somehow evolved into an actual exploration and I was starting to regret leaving my camera in the car. But the canyon seemed to be pulling me forward and I continued, hoping for a more open view that would give me more insight into what lay ahead. Fortunately that came soon enough, when I rounded and came face to face with the end of the road: a vertical cliff, at least 100 feet tall, trimmed by a diaphanous veil of water tumbling into a translucent turquoise pool. Paradise found.
It took me exactly ten minutes to hop back to the car (I timed it), and (distracted by the opportunities along way) maybe thirty minutes to make my way back up with my camera. But despite the distractions there was never any doubt about where I was going to spend the bulk of my time—finding a scene like this is more thrilling to me than the most colorful sunrise or vivid rainbow. The persistent overcast was ideal for the intimate photography I love so much, so most of my efforts concentrated on aspects of the scene, balancing the exposed and submerged rocks with the waterfall’s white strand.
I can’t even tell you that this is my favorite image from that shoot—I just grabbed an image that pleased me and processed it quickly because wanted to share something. I have no illusions that I’m the first person at this spot, not even close. But for the two hours I spent, in the middle of primetime on the Hana Highway, I was completely alone in Paradise and that was enough for me.