THE LONG AWAITED CHOPPER RIDE
Having just landed in Lihu’e yesterday, we were still not yet adjusted to the two-hour time difference between Los Angeles and Kaua’i. So Julie and I had no trouble waking up this morning at 6am from our Aston Islander on the Beach Resort in Wailua just minutes to the north of the airport in the joined Wailua/Kapa’a townships.
As we worried about the traffic we had already encountered yesterday throughout the eastern side of the island, we anticipated having to leave early to Hanapepe, where our Inter-Island Helicopter tour was.
So we spent the morning getting ready, eating some Moloka’i Sweet Bread Dinner Rolls for breakfast, and washing it down with cans of Lilikoi – all the food was bought from Wal-mart yesterday.
Having been to places far away, Hawai’i seemed strangely local to us. We’ve had plenty of “Oh yeah…” moments where we would realize that we were still in the United States so certain things we thought we couldn’t do abroad, we could do here.
And so when we realized that we could use Julie’s cell phone to call the helicopter company, we didn’t have to worry about paying telephone toll fees to make the call from the room. And we took full advantage of it trying to ensure that we were getting what was advertised and that we weren’t going to get a repeat of our Bungle Bungle Bumble in Western Australia.
By 7:37am, we got into our economy-sized Dollar rental car and headed to the Inter-Island Helicopter hangar.
The traffic didn’t seem at all bad this morning and we took our sweet time getting to the town of Hanapepe. And by 8:15am, we were at the tour’s car park.
Since it was still very early, we took this time to determine what we needed and what we could leave in the car. We also snacked on some of the unhealthy chips and Cheez-Its until it got closer to our expected check-in time of 8:50am.
When the check-in time arrived, we got into their portable office, paid the expensive fee of over $300 per person, got weighted, then watched the safety video. When that was done, we checked out some of the post cards and signs inside the office in anticipation of what we’re about to see on the tour.
We couldn’t wait!
But we had to wait since it was 9:10am and our flight wasn’t until 9:35am. So as we stood there, we were trying to assess whether we’d get the front seat or not by comparing ourselves to other people waiting for their flights. We knew from our previous experience in Maui that it all depends on weight and the lightest people go in the front.
Finally at 9:35am, we got our inflatable life jackets and followed the Hawaiian worker towards the black Hughes 500 chopper (an open-air four-seater; the very reason we chose to go with this company). Once we were in and strapped, the leather-jacketed pilot wasted no time taking off.
As we zoomed over the western leeward parts of the island, the pilot finally broke the silence by doing the usual commentary mentioning things like the last sugar plantation left in Kaua’i and the various things we saw below that belonged to the Robinsons – who apparently were rich and powerful enough to own much of this island and the island further west of us called Ni’ihau.
Then, the pilot asked a few rhetorical questions. One of them was some obscure one about Mark Twain’s real name. I already forgot what that was. Don’t ask.
One thing that really struck us was the number of landslides and trees that fell over like toothpicks. The pilot mentioned that the damage came from Hurricane ‘Iniki back in September 11, 1992.
The tour continued at a very brisque pace and Waimea Canyon came right under us before we could blink and eye and take meaningful photos. Waipo’o Falls looked very impressive and some of the other waterfalls along the way we just as tall and scenic as well. But one thing that I already started to realize was that this guy wasn’t going to slow the craft down and let us take photos. It was good thing I had my quick SLR with me. I could tell Julie’s point-and-shoot was probably frustrating for her.
The sun was also very bright so there were long shadows cast into the canyon. I’m sure they wouldn’t make many of our photos good, but what could you do?
After passing north over the grand Waimea Canyon, the chopper continued over to the Na Pali Coast. We did get a chance to see the unforgettable profile of this rugged and beautiful coastline. But once again, the pilot went fast and it was difficult to take the photos we wanted in a relaxed manner.
The pilot then proceeded to go in and out of the various valleys here. It was hard to believe that one of these valleys was home to several thousand Hawaiians. And they accessed the valley via the Kalalau Trail, which the pilot proceeded to say that on a scale of 1-10 for difficulty, the trail was said to be a 9.
That bit of news kind of worried me about the Kalalau Trail day hikes we would attempt later in the trip. But I’d worry about that later when we’re done with this tour.
So in our rushed pace, we got photos of what we could of Hanakoa Falls and Hanakapi’ai Falls against the bright sun. And as the pilot swung over to the north shore showing us Hanalei Bay and Princeville, he headed inland and into the Hanalei River Valley.
The pilot didn’t say much about the Hanalei River Valley but given how much time he spent hovering over this area, I wondered if we were supposed to see something here. After a short while, we noticed a few tiny waterfalls en route, but then he proceeded to land near one of them in some remote area of this valley.
I guess this was the private waterfall we were getting on this trip – the very reason we paid a premium for this flight. I was hoping it was the Manawaiopuna Falls from the Jurassic Park movie, but instead, it was the Pu’u Ke Ele Falls on the privately owned Robinson land.
There was a short board walk leading to a picnic area with a canopy. The lovely falls was before us with a very inviting plunge pool. The couple who was joining us on their honeymoon from Boston brought some towels, but they ultimately decided not to swim.
We enjoyed our little snack of a half muffin, cantaloupes, and oranges with some Hawaiian Iced Tea. But we wondered what happened to the roast beef sandwich we thought we were going to get when we booked the tour.
When we started to notice mice around the picnic area, the pilot (who by now struck me as a Harley Davidson biker type of guy) offered to shoot the mice. He went on to talk to us about the things that people brought onto the island to ruin the native vegetation and birds. Mice were amongst the stowaways so you could tell he was itching to use his trigger finger.
The pilot also told us about the Pineapple Express (a pathway for Pacific Storms that are responsible for much of the rain we get in LA and further inland in the States) as well as storms from the Aleutian Islands near Alaska, and how they just about never miss Kaua’i, which is why it’s so rainy here. Moreover, we learned that the pilot was a fill-in for another pilot who was sick, and that our pilot was involved in numerous rescues, filmings, drug busts, and firefights. He told us many stories about his exploits in those things.
When we noticed another mouse, the pilot proceeded to reach into his pocket, pull out his glock and shot the mouse as a loud popping bang echoed throughout the area. This startled us as we didn’t think we’d have an armed pilot on the tour.
When the pilot asked us where we were from, we told him Los Angeles. That was when the guy said with a smile, “Oh, then you guys should be used to firearms going off.”
That got me cracking up, but anyways, we couldn’t help but feel a little uneasy. Even though I do agree with him about eradicating the pests brought to the island, it did seem rather to be a rather unprofessional act especially considering the big money we spent.
After taking a few more photos at the falls, we headed back to the chopper while conversing with the honeymooning couple from Boston. I don’t know what it is with me and languages and accents, but I certainly enjoyed hearing the Bostonian accent.
When the pilot was done looking for wild boars to shoot, he rejoined us and we were back in the chopper to resume the tour.
Next, we continued towards the east side of the island but still near the mauka or mountains. We would eventually get into a valley that seemed to go towards the Wai’ale’ale Crater. However, the pilot got distrated as he spotted some goats and circled them.
I think he wanted to shoot them, but perhaps since he was still piloting the chopper, he was content to see them run off and hiding in the dense bush. Once again, not very professional I reckoned – especially in light of the fact we paid over $300 per person for this.
Anyways, we finally entered the Wai’ale’ale Crater. This place had a certain mystical feel to it because of its incredibly vertical walls with grooves on them – a few of which had thin waterfalls. We couldn’t see up to the top of the crater as a thick layer of clouds covered them and probably dumped a little bit more light rain on the area. But it was easy to see how it could be the wettest spot on earth as the clouds just seemed to be parked here all day long and almost every day of the year. The pilot said it was over 90% of the time the clouds are hovered over the crater like this.
The tour continued towards the south where we flew over Po’ipu and then over the ocean. The Bostonian woman mentioned back at the picnic about not being able to see whales so far from their stay in South Kaua’i. So the pilot spotted a few and flew over them. We got a few photos of them, and it was quite a cool sight to finally see big whales.
When Julie and I thought about it, we couldn’t recall ever seeing whales (let alone humpback whales) in person before. I guess our birds eye view of them kind of made this part the highlight as the island’s scenery took a back seat (though personally I wished we could’ve spent more time on the scenery and less time chasing goats).
And so ended the helicopter tour. We next got back into the car and prepared to go to Po’ipu to see the Spouting Horn, but not before being delayed by our recharger apparently falling apart. Oh well, I guess we had to do this leg of the trip on the laptop’s batteries as well as the GPS’s batteries.
LOSING THE HOOD
It was 12:17pm when we arrived at the car park for the Spouting Horn. It was basically a blowhole that shoots water through a lava tube and high up into the air all the while letting out a loud whooshing sound. It easily dwarfed the brave local fisherman who risked his life net fishing into the rough and open seas.
In addition to people coming in and out of the attraction as well as the souvenir stands nearby, there were numerous roosters strutting around freely in the area. In fact, we realized that roosters were seemingly everywhere on the island. We had read that they were all released since the big hurricane in 1992 and, well, they’ve pretty much run amok now.
It was 12:46pm when we left the Spouting Horn after taking numerous photos. Next up was an expected short excursion onto Kipu Falls.
We eventually found the rather unsigned trailhead for the falls at 1:21pm. We knew we had found the right spot because of the number of vehicles parked here and the number of folks walking to the falls in bathing suits and flip flops. Julie knew the falls were not tall so she opted to stay in the car for this and not have to deal with the mosquitos.
So I took off with my camera gear and tripod. And as I walked the narrow use trail, I immediately slipped but managed to maintain my balance in several spots at the start. It was a reminder that I was back in tropical hiking conditions where muddy and slippery trails were the rule rather than the exception.
Anyhow, I eventually got to a slippery and steep trail leading to the top of the waterfall, I immediately saw numerous people standing on the rocks at the top while there were plenty of others at the base of the falls on the far end of the large plunge pool.
It appeared that the best photos of the falls were from the other side of the plunge pool below the falls, but it appeared that I couldn’t get there without going for a swim. With all the camera equipment I was carrying, I wasn’t about to do that as theft was a real possibility.
So I settled for profile views of the falls. And as I prepared the camera, I realized that the polarizer was on but the scene was too dark for it. So I had to remove the lens hood in order to switch out the lens.
But just as I removed the lens hood, it popped out of my hand and landed in the plunge pool away from all the commotion.
I was torn between going for a swim or leaving the lens. I took a few minutes looking around for another way to get down, but there didn’t seem to be any. There was a promising trail further along the reeds back on the main trail, but then a fence prevented any further progress.
So I settled for my photos and returned to the car at 2:06pm without the lens hood.
Next, we headed back to Lihu’e and returned to the government building at 2:27pm. Yesterday, I had come here to retrieve a hiking permit for the Kalalau Trail on the Na Pali Coast on Tuesday December 26. But after seeing rain in the forecast for that day, I had to come back here to see if I could secure a permit for Monday (Christmas Day), which was forecasted to be mostly sunny.
The lady issuing the permit remembered me and ultimately accommodated me by issuing a permit for Monday weather permitting.
So with that squared away, we went looking for a lunch. Unfortunately, nothing in town seemed to be open at the time. So we eventually headed back towards the Coconut Marketplace area which was next to our hotel.
After eating at the Hula Girl for some fish and smoked pork tacos, we were back in the car at 3:38pm and determined that there was still enough daylight left to find Ho’opi’i Falls.
At 4pm, we thought we had found the car park for the falls as there was a dirt road that went through a gateway. The Private Property sign was overgrown and we thought it was put there to discourage people from going to the falls.
So we walked through the gate when we heard barking dogs running out past an internal gate and further to us. It continued barking and it became immediately clear that this was not the correct way to the falls as we had unknowingly trespassed. Oops!
We had this distinct unwelcome feeling here and we were beginning to wonder whether it’s worth finding this waterfall or not.
As a matter of fact, today ended up being a rather strange day. I mean, that waterfall tour seemed strangely subpar and not as memorable as I had expected (especially for the money we paid). Then, I had lost my lens hood at Kipu Falls. Julie got frustrated when all the lunch spots she wanted to try out were closed. And now the possibility of something bad happening in this rather unwelcome-feeling spot was palpable.
But finally Julie spotted the well-hidden dirt road. Fortunately, there was room to park near the dirt road without parking on someone’s property. And by 4:21pm, we were off on the trail, but we did so knowing that daylight was starting to fade away and that our vehicle might be vandalized by a local not wanting tourists to be here (as I had read about this previously).
The dirt road was narrow and there was no way we would take our rental car down here. Towards the bottom of the hill, it was quite muddy and slippery – especially given the shade and humidity here.
And it wasn’t long before we got to the first waterfall, which was basically less than 15ft. There were a trio of kids having fun jumping off the rocks into the deep plunge pool below. But of course, Julie and I were content to take our photos, try not to mind the mosquito bites, and continue towards the second waterfall.
On the way to the second waterfall, we found a fork near the stream. We decided to pursue the fork going in the upstream direction. That was when we saw that the trail went to the plunge pool beneath the first falls (though it required a swim to get all the way there). So that’s how those kids made it to the bottom of the falls, I thought.
After that little revelation, we continued on. The track went down another steep and slippery hill before mostly following the stream. It was easy to get discouraged as the path went under numerous downed trees. Plus the increasing darkness of the fading daylight also gave us the forbidding feeling that we had to get out of here pretty soon.
Finally after a last scramble up another slippery hill to get around more fallen trees, we got a view of the second waterfall looking down at it. But in the low light, I was glad I brought the tripod.
At 5:32pm, we returned to the car. There were a few moments of slipping and sliding as we tried to climb up the muddy hills, but we got there in one piece. More importantly, the car wasn’t vandalized and we now had our sights set on a return to Kapa’a or Wailua for dinner.
At 5:58pm, we ended up eating at Scotty’s Beachside BBQ, which made some killer babyback ribs. They also happened to be co-owned by the authors of the Ultimate Kaua’i Guidebook as well as the other Wizard Publication guides. It was a pretty relaxing end to this awkward day and hopefully tomorrow might yield something with a little less drama.
But the traffic back to the Islander on the Beach Resort in Wailua was relentless. I guess some thing you can’t really get away from – even in Hawai’i’s Garden Island.
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