May 8, 2013

Kauai, Day 5: We helicopted the heck out of the island

Thursday was The Big Day: our helicopter tour of the island! And when I say "our," I mean my and Melanie's tour, because my sister and Caroline wouldn't get within 500 yards of a helicopter.

Mel and I managed to arrive on time -- NAY, EARLY! -- for our tour, so we were treated to a little extra get-to-know-you time with our shuttle driver. I surreptitiously snapped his picture so that you all could enjoy his hair, too.

He was so full of energy that I was convinced he was high. He maintains that he was just high on life and two coffees (yes, I asked him), and perhaps that was true. High or not, he was really nice. I was just relieved it was only a mile or so to the airport.

After we'd each strapped our floatation devices to our waists, we boarded the helicopter and took off! And it really happened just about as quickly as you read that sentence.

Mel and I were seated right behind the pilot; she was on the far left and I was in the middle.

He was an "interesting" guide. I wouldn't say that he imparted a whole lot of touristy information about the island, but he grew up there, so he was well-versed on its history. He did point out some trails where he used to ride ATVs when he was a kid, for instance.

I was completely fascinated by the dashboard. I kept watching what the pilot was doing and then trying to figure out which needles were moving on the dash. More difficult than you'd think, since I'm practically blind, even with contacts.

He flew really low over some of the peaks ... this picture shows you what a sharp edge that peak right below us has. Kauai doesn't have a whole lot of rolling hills ... most of them are actual peaks.

Mel and I had a great time from the first moment!

It was particularly neat to see some of the Napali Coast from the air, since we'd just experienced the view from the sea the day before.

Kauai's weather is so mercurial ... it can change from moment to moment, but almost the entire time we were there, clouds were on top of us (when we were at sea level). This picture happens to capture that really well, because you can see that we're not flying all that high in the helicopter, but we're a good bit above those lowest clouds over there.

Based on our experiences, I bet it was actually a little chilly on that beach you see there!

But we headed a slightly different direction and got some more pretty views.

I'm pretty sure this is part of the Pacific Missile Range Facility, most of the rest of which lies on the beach below it. It's a U.S. Naval testing and training range for missiles. I'm going to hazard this guess because I'm almost positive our pilot didn't tell us what this was.

(I could be wrong. Mel will correct me if I'm bashing the guy for no reason.) (Not that I'm bashing him, really. I just thought his "guide persona" could use a little work.)

At any rate, it's hard to beat this location.

This was only my second time in a helicopter, but I love when you take a sharp turn, banking hard to the left or right, and you can see the rotor blades in your peripheral vision. I guess it might make some people nervous, but it reminds me WE'RE FLYING! LIKE BIRDS!

Although it had been mostly sunny up to this point, as we headed inland toward Waimea Canyon, the weather looked like it was going to turn.

We did get a few minutes of some pretty color in the canyon, but for the most part it was sort of washed-out because of the lack of sunlight.

Then the pilot said, "Schwuhhhh. Well, it looks like rain over there, so for safety reasons I don't think we can go too far in ... we'll go blah blah blah instead." To be honest, I kind of tuned him out for the last half of that sentence, because I thought we were turning around to go to a different spot.


Here was what we could see out the front windows:

And here's what was happening out the side windows:

Fun fact: Helicopters don't have windshield wipers.

Our pilot got really excited because when we backed out of the rain a bit, we were able to see mud waterfalls, which he said are pretty rare.

Does that sound like a line?

I think that sounds kind of like a line.
The last part of the tour was seeing a series of waterfalls -- featuring REAL WATER! Not mud.

This one was made famous in Jurassic Park years ago ... it's still stunningly beautiful.

As we moved closer to Mt. Waialeale (I THINK it's pronounced "wy uh LAY lay"), which is the wettest point on Earth, we started to see more and more falls.

I guess the one bonus of a rainy week like we had is that all of these falls were running pretty well during our tour ... and our pilot sort of kept us right in the midst of all of them and did two complete 360-degree turns at altitude so we could all get a good look.

It really was something to see.

And he wasn't shy about getting us up really close. I mean, I took these next couple of shots with my phone, so this is no zoom lens. We were right up against them.

As we flew back out, looking behind us, we could see falls as far as our eyes would reach. (For me, that was like 20 feet. But I'm assuming the others could see farther than that.)

Flying back to the airport, we were treated to some up-close views of more of Kauai's amazing variety of plant life.

I felt so privileged to get to see the island again from this vantage point! Gorgeous.

One other thing I wanted to share from the ride ... we got to fly over Hanalei, which is home to Princeville, the development in which we stayed. Below is Hanalei Bay, extending to the right, and Princeville is straight ahead, just past the waves breaking.

This is a closer view of Princeville, with the St. Regis Princeville resort there in the left foreground. (More on that tomorrow! We ate supper there on our last night on the island.) Our house was located about half an inch above dead center on this photo, for reference.

When we landed, our shuttle driver offered to take our picture in front of the helicopter, which -- HELLO, OF COURSE WE WANT OUR PICTURE WITH THE HELICOPTER!

And I happened to think it was pretty cute that he photobombed us with the hand signal. And hey, look! I think I got it right this time.

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