Above: The bird's-eye view of Kauai's Napali Coast that I enjoyed, courtesy of Blue Hawaiian Helicopters. Photo by Mary Pat Treuthart.
The Hawaiian island of Kauai is unique. Fourth largest of the main eight islands, it is largely inaccessible except by foot or by helicopter. And since we are well beyond the days we would hike into areas that even Rich Landers might hesitate to tackle, that left only one choice if we wanted to see more of Kauai than we could view from the main roads.
What did we do? Well, everyone said that if there were one island you had to see by air, it was Kauai. So, yeah, we sprang for the helicopter. Blue Hawaiian Helicopters offered us an hour-long flight that toured the entirety of the 560-some-square-mile area, all for about $200 a head.
Helicopters have changed quite a bit since I last rode in one (Vietnam, 1969, don't ask). Along with our pilot Brad (former Army pilot, 25 years experience), seven of us were stuffed into a space that, surprising to me, did manage to offer more elbow room than your average theme-park ride. My wife Mary Pat and I sat in front between Brad and another passenger, while the other four sat in back (we had no say about the seating; it was all determined, they said, by weight).
Brad lifted off from the Lihue Airport in a fairly dramatic fashion, rushing toward a stand of palm trees at the end of the runway, before sweeping up and over the coast. The ride was smooth and far less bouncy than I expected, and the headphones we were all wearing both muffled the noise and made communication easy.
We headed west, toward the island of Niihau in the distance, and along the southern coast. As we flew, Brad explained how so many movies have used the remote Kauai landscapes. “I'm not a big movie guy,” he said just before mentioning “The Descendants” as we flew over the coastal valley that director Alexander Payne used as the site of the movie's climactic family squabble. We then proceeded clockwise around the island's perimeter, heading inland to swoop through and over the majestic valleys (especially Waimea Valley).
The high point, literally, came when — because we'd been lucky enough to sore one of those incredibly clear days so rare in Kauai — we were able to rise above Kauai's tallest peak, Kawaikini, a peak that is normally shrouded in clouds. Equally visible was the second-highest peak, Mount Walaleale, which is often listed as one of the world's wettest spots (with an annual average rainfall of some 460 inches). Brad seemed to make the aircraft stand on end so that we could get as many different views as possible.
Then we headed up past the Napali (also spelled Na Pali) coast, a stretch of some 16 miles that feature stark cliffs that rise up from the ocean like folded strips of green-and-red-tinted paper. Then past Taylor Camp, home of the former hippie haven, around exclusive Princeville, and then back toward Lihue.
You see, on occasion, bumper stickers that say things such as, “We're spending our kids' inheritance.” The helicopter ride around Hawaii's garden Island may fit that category.
Hey, I'll say, thanks for the early Christmas gift.