Eat sign

Eating. Fundamentally, one of life’s pleasures.

Sign spotted in Kono’s, Haleiwa – a Hawaiian restaurant where pig was the main ingredient on the menu. I liked the textures … of the sign, that is. The pig was delicious too.

~ Spotted Cow


Snap Chat. Landscape or Portrait ?

Surfer. Landscape.

I’m going to start posting a regular discussion about photography, and call it Snap Chat.  However, unlike it’s better-known namesake, the posts aren’t going to disappear after a matter of seconds.

I will talk about handy photography tips, stuff I’ve worked out on my own, or something I’m finding challenging.  As I don’t have a lot of time to spend on post-production, I try and take the photograph correctly in the frame without relying on cleaning it up afterward. Of course, it’s not always possible. But I think it’s a good habit.

If you are a frequent reader of our posts, you’ll know that I like taking pictures of people or animals “doing their thing”. One of the bits of constructive criticism I was told recently, is that I take too many pictures in portrait format when I should do it in landscape. I need to give the person space to move within the composition and I need to give them context. The space also provides a story.

Portrait format is more suitable if you only want to capture the object and nothing else.

You can see the difference in the space between the two Hawaiian surfer images. When I was sitting on the beach, the thing that caught my eye was the surfboard pattern. That was what I wanted, and the sea provided the context. The portrait picture includes the horizon and the sky, but doesn’t give a lot of space to the surfboard even though it dominates the composition. What do you think?

One last thing. It is, of course, a rule of thumb. And rules can be broken when you know how to. Besides, it’s in the eye of the beholder. Sometimes there just isn’t a right answer.

Any thoughts on landscape vs portrait?

~ Spotted Cow

Surfer. Portrait.


Weekly Photo Challenge: Dreamy

Silhouette against sunset

We drove up MaunaKea on Hawaii’s Big Island to catch sunset at the visitor centre. Hawaii has some surprises up its sleeve. Did you know that it snows up here in the winter? We had to take our sweaters, scarves and hats with us. In the event, the sunset was not a spectacular one, although the sky did turn some beautiful colours. It was dream-like nonetheless.

Weekly Photo Challenge: Dreamy

~ Spotted Cow


Orchids in greenhouse

Orchids remind me of my grandmother because she used to breed them when she was alive. When I was young I would stand in her garden and contemplate their ugly beauty. She grew ones that were trained up a supporting stick and had skinny yellow petals with deep red markings. I wondered why she didn’t choose the bigger, prettier ones with lush vivid petals, like these orchids at the Akatsuka Orchid Gardens in Big Island, Hawaii.

Years later, I read a book called The Orchid Thief by Susan Orlean, which is about a horticulturalist named John Laroche and his quest for the rare ghost orchid. It is a broad tale about orchid obsession and the lengths to which plant collectors will trek into dark swamps and headhunter-inhabited rainforests to find rare orchids. Orchids like humidity and the shyest ones live in the humid low-light density of forests. It’s a wonder that we think we can buy them from the supermarket and grow them in our houses. I’m minded to read the book again.

~ Spotted Cow

Pink orchids Purple orchidsWhite and purple orchidsThe Orchid Thief by Susan Orlean

Spam Musubi

Yes, spam. The Hawaiians are crazy about spam. Did you know that Hawaiians eat more spam per capita than any other state in the US?  Nevertheless, it took some persuading from my college friend, Ms Southern Gal, that I ought to try a spam musubi. She is married to a Hawaiian Japanese, which lends her some credibility in these matters.

“It’s a really tasty snack. I bought some for breakfast tomorrow,” she said to my dubious look.

Next time I had the opportunity, I bought a spam musubi from the local 7-11.  It looks like an un-cut sushi roll. In the middle is a slice of cooked spam tongue marinated in furikake, a Japanese seasoning with seaweed, sesame seeds, fish flakes and other un-name-ables. It was surprisingly flavourful and quite filling.  I think the taste is enhanced by the seasoning, which melded the spam with the rice. Otherwise it might’ve been quite flat, just dry layers of spam, rice and nori. I liked it, and had another one the day after. Hmm, I wonder if it would get a following here in London?

~ Spotted Cow

spam musubi

In the slipstream of the President

President Obama was in Hawaii at the same time as us. Alright, so we didn’t hang out with America’s most famous Hawaiian, but we did visit Hanauma Bay several days after he and his family snorkelled there.

The reef is in shallow water and you can see the marine life easily. It was like watching an underwater circus, with shoals of fish weaving back and forth. The offset is that you have to be very careful about not destroying the coral. There is an information hut with snorkel hire.  It also had several big boards with pictures of sea life so that we could identify the sea slugs and the butterflyfish underwater. Or even the humuhumunukunukuapua’a, the reef triggerfish which is Hawaii’s state fish. Bit of a mouthful.

~ Spotted Cow

 Hanauma BaysnorkellingFish chartView of Koko Crater from Hanauma Bay

All kinds of strange plants

After our aborted attempt, we visited the Koko Crater Botanical Garden on another Honolulu day out. It was delightful and leisurely and it wasn’t as crowded as the trail to the top of the crater. In fact, it wasn’t crowded at all. The botanic garden is stretched out across the crater floor and with the crater heights forming the walls, we felt like we had a Green Kingdom to ourselves.

In the loop walk, we saw all kinds of strange plants – one that looked like a star fish, another that looked like a green spaceship with orange protrusions, bulbous boabs, hairy monster trees, giant odd pods. My favourite was the cactus garden. It had a medusa cactus, big as a van and super spiky, that looked like it was out to get you.  And stalactite cacti, extra thorny, which hung down from tree branches.

I’m making up all the names because there were few signs. Enjoy the pictures. They are a mere subset of what we saw.

~ Spotted Cow

Hairy monster tree plant with tongue spaceship flower star plant cactus Koko Crater Botanical Garden

And when they were up, they were up

Koko Head Crater Trail.  It has to be said, we didn’t intend to walk this trail. It was New Year’s Day in Honolulu and the Koko Crater Botanical Garden was closed.  So, instead of walking around the crater floor, we decided to walk to the top of the crater. It turned out to be a far more strenuous morning than we had planned.

It’s about a 1km walk to the top of the crater on a disused tramline, and it is very steep.  The less fit folk probably enjoy the views on the way up more because you look out to the bay when you need to take a rest. The faster folk power up the steps like mountain goats. There are 1048 steps and the steepest incline is the final stretch toward the top.  It made me think of the Grand Old Duke of York nursery rhyme – “And when they were up, they were up”.  You keep thinking you’re almost at the top, but the stairs seem to stretch forever.

~ Spotted Cow

Koko crater tramline

Koko crater trail views Koko crater trail view

Hawaiian goose

No, not to eat.  Hawaii has a state bird, an endemic goose called the nēnē, which is fighting for survival. If you’re lucky, you’ll run into some of the wild population that live in the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. They eat the red berries called ohelo, whose bushes are commonplace in the lava soil.

I think we were too noisy in the park, always chatting to each other along the trails. It has such an affectionate name that we kept saying it. “Where’s the nene? Where’s the nene?” We didn’t see any, even in the places where it was signposted.

We did however, see a nene on the road just outside the national park.  It wasn’t shy at all and posed for pictures obligingly.

~ Spotted Cow

 Taking photo of nene Nene up close ohelo bush

Rainbow State

Hawaii standard issue license plates have a rainbow on them. In the ensuring days of the holiday we saw rainbows regularly – generally out of the car window – whenever the rain and the sun were having a friendly tug-of-war. I wonder if Hawaiians have their own version of a leprechaun with a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.

My favourite was our Christmas Day rainbow because it took us by surprise on a beautiful but otherwise indiscriminate beach. A little rainbow-ette which popped up every time the waves broke on the rocks. It was a mesmerising little spectacle.

~ Spotted Cow

Hawaii rainbow

Hawaii license plate

Front row seats at the surf

The biggest waves we saw in Hawaii were on Oahu’s North Shore at the Ehukai Beach Park, home of the Banzai Pipeline, supposedly the world’s deadliest wave.  The waves are biggest in the winter. They swell up and roll onto a shallow reef close to the water’s edge.

So, you can grab a coconut, make yourself a front row seat on the beach and watch the surfers do their thing. I held my breath every time one of them disappeared under the waves … until he re-surfaced again. You can feel the power of the surf standing ankle-deep in the water.  It’s difficult to believe that the sea is flat enough for snorkelling in the summer months.

If you’re hungry, stop by one of the string of shrimp shacks on the Kamehameha Highway through Kahuku. We went to Fumi’s. I had salt and pepper shrimp which was spicy and delicious … although it would’ve felt more like an authentic experience if it hadn’t been served in a white polystyrene box.

~ Spotted Cow

Surf Surfer Ehukai Beach Park

Ice cold coconut

Fumi's Shrimp Shack Salt & Pepper Shrimp

Unfurling ferns

Baby ferns, I call them. One of my favourite things to photograph on rainforest walks are ferns in that stage before they become their fully fledged selves.  I get much pleasure out of their delicate little fractal curled-ness.  And just before they flare out into the bright green-fingered leaves as we know them, they look like flying butterflies with yellow edged wings.

These pictures were taken on the walks we did at the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.

~ Spotted Cow

Unfurled fern

fern curls

Fern unfurling

fern butterfly

Hawaii is smokin’

Hawaii is Geography 101.  The islands were born from volcanoes and continue to grow from volcanic power to this day. We spent a couple of long days at the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park on Big Island where you can get up close and personal with the world’s youngest and most active volcano, Kilauea – her name sounds like Killer Whale and she’s massive. Her latest eruption started in 1983!

It was instant gratification. Our first view of Kilauea’s smoking Halema’uma’u crater was from the Volcano House lookout, across the street from the Visitor Center.  Hawaiians believe that the crater is home to the goddess Pele. She was puffing away serenely into the blue sky. Serenely, by the way, is about 1000°C.

There is a closer viewing from the Jaggar Museum lookout where there are also telescopes for more intimate observations. We returned after dinner to check out the red lava glow.  It looks more dangerous and mysterious at night.

The museum itself is one room packed full of interesting information about volcanoes and the equipment used to measure seismic activity. The youngsters were jumping up and down to test the interactive seismograph. And I learnt more about lava than I knew was possible.

~ Spotted Cow

Kilauea crater from Volcano House

Kilauea crater from Jaggar Museum lava glow volcano through telescope


Hawaiiana. Surf & Hula.

We’ve just come back from Hawaii and found it deliciously exotic.

Two images typify Hawaii of the travel ads – beautiful beaches and hula girls.  Both of these are iconic and we even found their images on boxes of mints.

The ocean is everywhere and the waves were always big. But what we wanted to see were the barrel waves like those in the Hawaii Five-0 intro. We saw them on Oahu’s north shore.  They weren’t the giant 50 footers, but they were impressively awesome enough not to want to get in the water with the surfers. I know it sounds crazy, but we’ve not seen waves like this where we live in Sydney.

On Christmas Eve we went to a luau. It was touristy but so much fun. The girls in their vegetal finery – including coconut cup bikinis – fluttering their hips like brandishing birds of paradise. Buff men in sarongs and leaf anklets. The fire dancers were astounding – no burn marks ! Do they start out practising with full fire suits? The luau finished the evening with the Hawaiian Twelve Days of Christmas.

Numbah 12 Day of Christmas my tutu gave to me : 12 televisions, 11 missionaries, 10 cans of beer, 9 pounds of poi, 8 ukuleles, 7 shrimps a swimming, 6 hula lessons, 5 big fat pigs, 4 flower leis, 3 dried squid, 2 coconuts and one mynah bird in one papaya tree. Were you humming along?

Aloha. We’ll be back with a fair few more Hawaiian postcards. If you don’t want to miss out, make sure you leave your your email address on the front page.

 ~ Spotted Cow

Hula mints

Hawaii wavesHawaii surf