Jason O'Rourke | Best of 2013

Best of 2013

January 05, 2014  •  2 Comments

Ever since I arrived in Hawaii, I have been fascinated by the lava flows on the Big Island, and I have been looking forward to the opportunity to photograph the ocean entry. I had seen the surface flows on a few occasions, and attempted to hike out to the ocean entry in December 2012... but before my trip arrived, the ocean entry had stopped, allowing an epic night of witnessing the surface flow, but no ocean entry.

In January, I scheduled myself to head to Maui for a week of whale watching... still chasing my "white whale" of a whale breach shot. As I got ready to go, I heard that the lava flow on the Big Island was once again reaching the ocean. I jumped at the chance to go and get another shot at witnessing the lava making the ocean entry, and I booked a guided tour with Kalapana Cultural Tours. With a change to my flight itinerary, I was now set up with flights from Honolulu to Hilo and then from Hilo to Kahului.

A few hours of hiking out with Andrew from Kalapana Cultural Tours, and we were rewarded with a beautiful new coastline of black sand beach, with molten lava reaching the ocean. The photo below was my favorite from the trip, titled simply Lava Flow.

Lava FlowLava Flow

After a night camping at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, exhausted from the hike but excited about everything I'd gotten to see and photograph, I woke up early and caught my flight to Maui to start chasing my whale breach. I was greated with A Whale's Aloha on an early morning whale watch, and was off to a great start for my week.

I finished my first few days of whale watching with a "Maui Mugging" when a pair of humpback whales swam within 25 yards of our boat while we were idled, listening to the hydrophone playing whale song. With the close proximity, and the late afternoon light, I was able to capture Sunset Tail.

Sunset TailSunset Tail

Another shot I've always wanted to do was a long exposure of some of the beautiful waterfalls along the Road to Hana. I headed down for a weekend of hiking and camping, and stopped in the late afternoon with ideal conditions for a long exposure of Waikani Falls. It was a bit of fun minimizing the water droplets on my lens, at the base of a waterfall, but I think my patience was rewarded.

I have always had a love of lizards, and while visiting Buster at Sandys Beach, I got to see this Jackson chameleon.

While Jackson chameleons aren't native to Hawaii, they were introduced through the exotic pet trade in the 70s. Whether escaped pets, or released into the wild, they have established themselves in the Hawaii environment, and can be found when hiking local trails.

This guy fell out of a tree and onto a rock, where he was picked up by some hikers and brought down to Sandys beach. I definitely enjoyed the chance to hold him, and actually photographed him while he was clinging to my arm.

Speaking of Buster, he had been a regular at Sandys Beach for several days, so I decided to go give him the full portrait package, capturing this image of a wave breaking on the sand behind him, as he snoozed the afternoon away. It was actually featured on Hawaii News Now, by Guy Hagi, as he introduced the evening's weather.

For June, I managed to capture this beautiful shot of Ha'o Coming Ashore at Laniakea Beach on Oahu's North Shore. It has always been a favorite place to take my guests, or just spend a few hours on an afternoon watching the numerous Honu swimming just off the beach, and frequently finding some of these beautiful creatures napping on the sand. Hawaii is the only place in the world where green sea turtles come ashore to nap, and while it isn't known exactly why they do so, I don't think it is a coincidence that they choose the beautiful beaches of Hawaii.

Coming AshoreComing AshoreHao'okanaka is named in memory of Hawaii surfing legend Andy Irons. She can be recognized due to the paw print scale design behind her eye. Each Honu has a unique shape and pattern to their facial scales, which can be used to identify them.

In July, I met Kea, who was born on the Fourth of July. While he no longer has his black baby fur, he is still easy to recognize by virtue of the distinctive bleach marking on his front and rear flippers, as well as the spot on his armpit seen in this image. He is roaming a bit from his birthing beach, but usually is within a few miles of it. I'm sure he'll continue to expand his travels as he gets older.

July: Kea, OahuJuly: Kea, Oahu

2013 really became my Year of the Seal when I started volunteering with the Monk Seal Foundation, and spent many of my mornings watching Luana and her mother, R912, up at Mokuleia. She was born in August, with a tropical storm bearing down on the island. My first opportunity to photograph her, at just one day old, I managed to capture the pair lit by the setting sun on her birthing beach, with this beautiful rainbow spreading overhead.

One of the mornings I was scheduled to watch Luana, I was asked to take a hike out to Ka'ena Point to look for Rip, a male seal that had been observed with fishing line tangled around him. Somehow, in all the years I've lived here, I'd never hiked Ka'ena Point, but I figured this was a good reason to give it a try.

Hiking from the Mokuleia side, it really isn't that tough a hike, about four miles round trip. However, when I got to Ka'ena Point, I didn't find Rip and instead found another large seal. That's when the real journey started...

Some other hikers had come from the Waianae side, and told me they had seen a seal on the hike out from Yokohama, and that he'd had a marking on his back (where Rip had been wearing a transponder). Since this was likely the seal I was looking for, I hiked back with them "about a mile"... except that as we continued, it was clear to them that he'd been much further back than they remembered, and we kept hiking.

Alls well that ends well, right? Rip was snoozing in a tide pool, with no fishing line tangled around him and never even opened his eyes when I verified his tag numbers from a safe distance, and took pictures to be sure he didn't have any injuries.
November: Rip, Kaena PointNovember: Rip, Kaena PointRip, sleeping away the afternoon, in a tide pool along the trail to Kaena Point. While traveling to Kauai in September, I set my sights on some bird shots out at Kilauea Lighthouse. I was focused on the larger 'Iwa birds, an albatross, the Nene wandering the lighthouse lawn, but at the end of the day, it was a much smaller bird that caught my attention for my favorite shot. This Hawaiian Cardinal perched in the green bushes at the point, with the ocean and rocky island behind him offered a chance for some detail, and contrasting colors that I really liked.

Hawaiian CardinalHawaiian CardinalThe Hawaiian Cardinal is also known as the Brazilian Cardinal, introduced to Hawaii from South America in the 1930s. Beautifully striking birds, this one posed on the vegetation, snacking on berries, with the rocky island of the point at Kilauea behind him.

Another trip to Laniakea Beach on my birthday found a Honu on the reef. Feasting Honu was selected by the fans on my Facebook page (www.facebook.com/JasonORourkePhotography) to anchor my 2014 Calendar for the month of December.

Feasting HonuFeasting HonuA Hawaiian green sea turtle, or Honu, pauses from a snack to cast a wary eye at me, as the waves roll across the reef.

A return to Kauai in October was timed with some big waves on the North Shore, which made watching the sunset at Ke'e Beach a top priority. I spent hours watching and photographing the waves crashing in on the reef and the cliffs of the Na Pali coastline, but the colors of the setting sun on the misty spray in the air, with this wave curling up was by far my favorite.

Ke'e WavesKe'e WavesA trip to Kauai during a high surf warning for the north shore meant the show at Ke'e Beach was spectacular. I spent hours watching and photographing the waves crashing in on the reef and the cliffs of the Na Pali coastline, and captured the color here in the fading afternoon light.

Of course, as I said... 2013 was my Year of the Seal, so it seems only appropriate to wrap up this year's edition of my favorite photos with this image of R313. She had actually taken a break from the raging surf at Ke'e Beach photographed above, and was napping on the shore. As the sun poked beneath the clouds, she woke up and took a good look at me. She seemed a little curious about that big camera I was carrying, but after posing for this shot, headed back out to the sea.

January: R313, KauaiJanuary: R313, Kauai

I hope you've enjoyed my Best of 2013 as much as I have enjoyed shooting them. Look forward to many more photos in 2014, and more to share this time next year!



These are wonderful, Jason. I'm glad you included Makamae (R313). She's keeping me very good company this month.
Ed Rosack(non-registered)
Wow - what a year you've had! I like all of these photos - well done!

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