Honeymoon in Hawai'i - Day 9: Last Day in Kauai

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

When I first started planning our Hawaiian honeymoon, there was one thing I knew we had to do. If you read my earlier post "What would one man do for love?", you'll know that "thing" was taking a helicopter tour of Kauai, a must-do when visiting that island. After reading hundreds of reviews of all the major helicopter tour companies in Kauai (and booking one tour only to cancel it later), I finally decided to book with Mauna Loa Helicopters. Here's what sold me: 1) Mauna Loa is not only a tour company (and not even primarily a tour company), but is a helicopter flight school; they train many of the pilots other companies on the islands use; 2) you can have the doors off or on, depending on your preference, and I definitely wanted the doors off; and 3) for only a fraction more than you pay for one of those other helicopter tours, you get a private tour of the island. Mauna Loa uses four-seater helicopters, so they can only accommodate parties of two or three people. That means you will never be going up with strangers, never crammed into the middle and having to look over someone to see the view. You have no say in where you sit on a helicopter tour (seating is determined entirely by weight), and it was important to me that on my honeymoon I a) get to sit next to my DH, and b) that we both get to sit by a (non-existent) door. So once I learned about Mauna Loa, going with anyone else really wasn't an option.

Because our second day in Kauai was really only a half-day (the ship sailed at 2 p.m.), we decided against renting a car on the second day and didn't bother planning any activities other than the helicopter tour. When I sent a reservation request into Mauna Loa back in November, one of their staff, Daniela, called me that very night to confirm and I got to ask her recommendation about when to fly. Originally, I'd thought about taking one of the earliest flights--8:30 or 9:00, in order to have time to shop or go to the beach afterward. Helicopter tours in Kauai are frequently cancelled due to rain, and sometimes fog rolls into Waimea Canyon or Kalalau Valley and erases visibility, so I was trying to avoid these situations as much as possible. I'd read the fog often came in around lunch time, so I knew I wanted to go out much earlier than that. Daniela talked me into doing a later flight though (the 10:30 one), because she said the lighting would be better than early in the morning. In winter the sun doesn't come up until nearly seven in Hawai'i, and of course that's on the east side. The west side, where the Na Pali Coast is, can lie in shadows for much longer. The lighting, as you'll be able to tell from the pictures, still wasn't great (we were dealing with glare a lot), but it was a lot better than it would have been at 8:30, so I have Daniela to thank for convincing me to book a later tour. Ideally, under clear skies and no fog, the tour would be great at lunchtime I think, with the sun directly overhead. But it's hard to plan a tour with perfect conditions, especially when you have to book weeks or even months in advance and have no idea what the weather will be like when you go. The weather in Kauai was the number one thing I worried about on our honeymoon and while I was planning for it. More than anything, I didn't want our helicopter tour to be cancelled. But how fortunate we were that we had near-perfect conditions that day--bright, sunny blue skies and not a drop of rain in sight.

Kauai Day Two was the only day the whole trip that we got to sleep in a little (until eight, I think) and eat a leisurely breakfast. Afterward, we took the Harbor Mall trolley to the Mauna Loa offices. We had to be there about 45 minutes before our flight time, I think, so we could watch an instructional video and get weighed. Everyone in the Mauna Loa office (and, indeed, all their employees) was super helpful, friendly, and just genuinely nice--they all made the experience wonderful from beginning to end. Maren took care of us in the office, and then she turned us over to Jim, their driver, who took us out to the helicopter pad at the Lihue Airport. 
Our ride for the morning.
There he introduced us to Adam, our pilot, who got us all strapped in and ready to go. It was so nice having a personal pilot because he could ask us questions about things we particularly wanted to see and point them out along the way, and we had headsets and mics so that we could all communicate with one another. Adam had to do most of the talking, though, because once we were in the air, I was speechless!
All bundled up and ready to fly! 
I had never been in a helicopter before (much less one without doors!), so honestly I was a little nervous. Probably not as nervous as my heights-hating husband, but a little anxious nonetheless. Helicopters do crash all the time (a Blue Hawaiian one had crashed on Molokai just weeks before we arrived--somehow I forgot to mention that to T ;-) ), so they are much more dangerous than planes, but they are so much more fun. In Adam's capable hands (and with perfect weather to boot), I needn't have feared anything. The flight, from lift-off to landing, was nothing short of amazing.

Since that word is pretty subjective and meaningless, I'm going to let you decide just how amazing it was, and let the pictures do the talking (even though they are so inferior to the real thing it's almost laughable). (Side note: The following pictures have not been processed in any way. They were taken with either our Canon T3i DSLR w/ standard 18-55mm lens and a circular polarizer filter, or with my Nikon Coolpix point-and-shoot, which, for the record, takes terrible, washed-out moving shots. So when the colors look really bright or saturated, they are probably twice that bright and saturated in real life, and when they are washed out and blurry, just blame my limited photography skills and budget camera.)
We have lift-off!

First, flying towards Nawiliwili Harbor in Lihue.

The Pride of America, our home for the week. I think I can see our balcony from here!
So. Many. Waterfalls. (In Hanapepe Valley)
Even more waterfalls. 
Flying towards Manawaiopuna Falls (try saying that five times fast), otherwise known as "Jurassic Park" Falls, in Hanapepe Valley. It's that little white line in the far right center.
Getting closer!
And closer!
So close!
More waterfalls in Hanapepe Valley. Because they are everywhere in Kauai.
How Green Was My Valley? Probably not as green as this one.
Heading for Waimea Canyon
Perspective shot: See that little blue dot in the center 2/3s of the way over? Yeah, that would be a Blue Helicopter.
Oh, there's that waterfall we were looking for yesterday! How ever did we miss it? (Wai'alae Falls, seen at the top and bottom of this photo)
Waimea Canyon, the Grand Canyon of the West. Err, the Pacific.

Now entering the realm of the Na Pali Coast...
The Na Pali Coast! You know, only that thing I'd been waiting my whole life to see.
"Inside" the Na Pali Coast. There was a waterfall back here (one of many), but somehow I didn't get any pictures of it.
More Na Pali Coast

Looking back at the Coast
Ke'e Beach stretching into some other beaches I don't know the name of.
Hanalei Bay
Another view of Hanalei Bay
Can someone get this poor camera some sunglasses?
Rugged, green terrain on the way to Mount Wai'ale'ale, one of the wettest spots on earth
Oh, look, another waterfall.

Entering Mount Wai'ale'ale Crater

The Wai'ale'ale Crater is full of waterfalls, usually far more than what we saw. You're surrounded by black scars in the rock where water often flows. Unfortunately, most of the scars were dry when we were there--the only downside to being there during an unusually dry rainy season.

Twin falls of Wailua, which we'd driven to see the day before.
Back on the ground, safe and sound. Can we go again?
Wow, it's much warmer here on the ground than it was flying through the sky at a hundred miles an hour!
Jim was waiting for us when we landed to take us back to the Mauna Loa office, so Adam took a couple of pictures of us with the chopper, and then we were on our way. Once back at the office, I bought a Mauna Loa hoodie (I couldn't resist), we said good-bye to Maren, and then we decided to browse the shopping center. Jim had offered to take us directly back to the ship, but I knew I wanted to buy a hoodie, and the trolley driver that morning had told us about several stores that sounded interesting to me. Unfortunately, once we started looking around, we didn't find much of interest. There's a hobby store there with all kinds of model trains and things if you're into that kind of thing, and I did buy a vase at the Chinese jewelry store, but we probably spent less than half an hour looking around. Then we took the trolley back to the ship.

We had lunch in Skyline for the first time, and it was really good--good service, good food. For every course, I basically ordered what the waiter recommended, and he never steered me wrong. Afterward, we decided to go ahead and start packing our bags and shower for dinner before the sail-by, especially since we had six o'clock reservations at Lazy J.

When we first sailed away from port, we were pretty close to shore for a while, so I was able to get some nice shots of lighthouses.

But after that we headed out for deeper waters until we reached the Na Pali Coast on the other side of the island. By that time, we had gotten pina coladas and were relaxing on our balcony, feet up and camera on the tripod so we didn't even have to get up to shoot. T.J. had his remote attached, so whenever we wanted to take a pic, all we had to do was click the button without even going near the camera. A pretty nice way to end the cruise.

As we got closer to the Na Pali Coast, we started seeing whales--lots of them, diving and slapping their tales. They were really frisky and totally stealing the show away from the gorgeous scenery. 

Tail-splashing whale

During the entire sail-by, I was waterfall hunting. We had the binoculars out, too, and they are truly a must-have for the sail-by. They were great for watching the whales, and they were even better for spotting small, trickling waterfalls running through the nooks and crannies of the Na Pali. 

Overall, it was a perfect day, and I'm so glad that we flew with Mauna Loa and we went with the doors off. It made everything feel so much closer and the experience more immediate, and we both loved it. Even T.J. said it was the best thing we did the whole trip, and he was scared to death to do it beforehand! I'm glad we waited until the second day to take the tour, too, because we'd seen so many of the same sights the day before from ground level, and from the air I felt I could appreciate them in a whole new way. Seeing the Na Pali Coast had been a dream of mine for years, and I feel privileged that I got to see it (and so many other places in Kauai) from three different perspectives--from the ground, sky, and sea. The sail-by was the perfect way to end a pretty perfect vacation, and certainly an amazing two days in Kauai, an island that I intend to return to again and again. 

Lastly, I'll leave you with a few pictures that have been processed a bit in order to give a slightly more accurate idea of how colorful Kauai is. Next up: our last day in Oahu. :-( Until then, aloha!


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