Toward the end of our trip to Kauai we actually paid attention to the weather forecast and were pleased to see that it was clearing a little bit. Mostly we just wanted a decent day on Saturday. This was due to the fact that four of us were scheduled to take a helicopter tour of the island, and for obvious reasons, we wanted good weather. Saturday started with the usual showers but not as many. It was Dusk and Rinda’s departure day, so we had a nice walk on the beach and then got ready for our flight. They were to head to the airport for their flight home shortly after the helicopter ride. Bill and Machelle had a lazy afternoon hanging out in Hanalei.
Rinda had booked the tour for us and chosen Sunshine Helicopters. They are based in Lihue, not far from the main airport, as are most of the helicopter companies. The staff were friendly and checked us in efficiently. You must provide your weight when making the reservation and, just to make sure you weren’t being overly optimistic, they take your weight when you check in. It’s done discreetly using a floor mat in front of the check in desk! There was a basic safety briefing and introduction and then we were driven by van to the heliport. As we sat under a shelter by the helipads, we saw our bird come in from its previous flight.
After disgorging its passengers and taking on some fuel, we were ushered over to the still running chopper and loaded in according to our seat assignments. Supposedly they assign seats according to weight, but Dusk and Rinda were given the opportunity to pay a little extra to ensure they got the two front seats. The helicopter we were in seats six, so there were four of us in the back seat. Two others, whom we didn’t know, were joining us for the flight. Unfortunately, I got almost the worst seat in the bird for taking photos or getting the best views. The right side is highly favored, as is the front. As you circle the island clockwise, most of the views are out the right side. I was seated next to the window, but on the left, so I couldn’t see much of anything out the right side. The back seat of this helicopter was not very big, so the four of us were crammed in like sardines, and Michael was totally smushed between me and the not petite gentleman next to him. All that being said, I enjoyed the tour. But another time, and I would go again, I would pay a little more and go with a different company that uses more comfortable helicopters, and I would do everything possible to ensure a better seat. It’s worth it and it’s totally possible. To his credit, our pilot, Brian, did do a few circles in certain places so that the left side could get a better view, but there was still definitely an unavoidable bias toward the right. As we toured the island, I tried to take some photos of the incredible scenery, but it was exceedingly difficult to get any good shots. Between the glare off the glass, the rain spots on the window, the framing in the pilots window in front of me, and the cramped quarters, I had a hard time getting much of anything. You’ll see what I mean in the photos that follow. I have chosen the best of what I got and even those include some crooked ones and a bit of glare. As we flew around the island, Brian gave us a bit of a tour which included pointing out numerous locations where films have been made such as Jurassic Park, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Avatar, etc. We all wore headphones and could communicate with him which was nice. There was a soundtrack that played when he wasn’t talking which consisted of instrumentals, many from films. So it was that we took off with the theme from Raiders of the Lost Ark playing in our ears.
After heading south along the coast from the airport, and flying over Poipu, where we had spent our first three days, we turned inland and flew up the magnificent Waimea Canyon. From the air we got to see so much more of it than we had on our drive. It was an incredible sight with reddish earth mixed with vivid greens. We had passed through some rain, so a lot of my photos were too marred by rain spots on the glass. However, I did manage to get a shot or two of the same waterfall we had seen from the road.
After Waimea Canyon, we headed up the Na Pali coast. This is one of the main attractions of Kauai but is really only visible from the air or by sea. You can hike along some of the coast. but it is truly rugged and the stuff of wild tropical dreams. I was glad I got to see it from such a vantage point.
As we came around the north end of the island we passed over Ke’e beach and the Limahuli Gardens, which we had visited previously. Before we knew it, there was our own little slice of paradise laid out before us – Hanalei Bay.
After flying up the Hanalei river valley toward the interior of the island, we flew over the top and back south a bit, then turned up into the Waialeale crater. The top of Waialeale is one of the wettest spots on earth and the crater is a sacred place to the native Hawaiians. As we followed an ever narrowing canyon, the waterfalls kept multiplying. When we came to the end, the narrow canyon took a left turn and ended. Amazingly, we kept going right into the middle of this narrow space, with sheer walls rising all around us. Brian did a 360 degree turn. It was very dramatic and quite magical, but impossible to photograph. This was the best I could do.
After Waialeale, we made our way back to the airport and landed safely after a little less than an hour’s flight.
Here we are still wearing out life vest fanny packs.
Back at the Sunshine offices, we said goodbye to Dusk and Rinda and then made our way back north to Hanalei.
Someday maybe I’ll get to do that again. I sure hope so. For anyone visiting Kauai, I have to recommend a helicopter tour, especially if you have good weather. There is nothing that can compare to the views and experience of seeing the Garden Isle from the air.