Friday, October 31, 2008

Waimea Canyon

It was going to be tough to top our anniversary day! The helicopter tour was really a once in a lifetime experience. And we spent a lovely evening at the Grand Hyatt for drinks and dinner. But with only 5 days on Kauai we were determined to see and do as much as possible- and then kick by the pool on our last day :)

So we were up and in the convertible the next morning, on the road to Waimea Canyon. The views are just over the top amazing! We followed the road up and stopped at each lookout point. It was fun to watch the helicopters flying thru, looking just like tiny dots and knowing that was us the other day. As our book and others suggested we kept driving to the very very end- the Napali Lookout. Here you can see where the canyon ends at the Napali coast. The clouds build up in the valley and you have to wait it out, but when they!

This was the only time we were rained on, it started soft and then really dumped for 5 minutes. I was driving with the top down and finally we had to stop in the middle of the road and put it up as I couldn't see for all the water in my eyes. And then it cleared up and we were on our way. The drive and the canyon were just awesome.

As we came down we stopped for lunch at the Waimea Brewing Company which had good beer and yummy Kalua pork nachos!

On our way home we stopped at the Spouting Horn and watched the hole throw ocean water high into the sky for a bit but really we were ready to be back by our pool and catch the hula show that they were doing just before sunset.

Another gorgeous day on this beautiful island.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Remember T.C.?

I always thought that Theodore "T.C." Calvin, Magnum's friend and owner of Island Hoppers helicopter tours, had a pretty good life. Sure, he didn't get to live in a 200-acre beachfront home, or drive someone else's Ferrari, but flying over the Hawaiian islands every day seemed like a decent trade-off.
I'd always hoped to be able to have that experience.

We'd realized that we weren't going to be able to get back to French Polynesia, our honeymoon location, for our 5th-year anniversary, even though that had been our original thought. The twin realities of available vacation time and available funding reared their ugly heads and dictated a vacation that was both shorter and closer to home. Fortunately, we got a great deal on accommodations and airfare and were able to schedule a 5-day stay on Kauai.

Our flight landed in Lihue after dark, so when we drove to our nearby hotel, the Kauai Marriott Resort, we really didn't get to see very much, and were somewhat skeptical that our so-called ocean-view room could actually see the ocean. We just had some sushi and late-night drinks at one of the attached restaurants that night, but looked forward to actually seeing the island the following morning.
Fortunately, the next day dawned bright and clear, and we discovered that we did actually have a view of the Pacific, albeit somewhat obstructed. We spent the morning exploring our hotel (including gigantic koi pond), pool (largest on the island, and in fact the largest in which either of us had ever been) and beach.

On the advice of several friends, we'd scheduled our helicopter tour for our first full day so that we could get a feel for the topology of the island. We walked over to the helicopter operator's office, directly across the road from our hotel, received a brief safety lecture and were bused the mile or so to the airport.

American Eurocopter EC130B4 "ECO-Star" in which we were flying had room for two passengers in the front seat (to the pilot's right) and four in the rear. The tours, from all oeprators, take a clockwise flight pattern around the island, so the front and right of the aircraft are the best viewing seats. Even though we'd requested those locations, weight distribution of passengers meant that we ended up with the left rear, to our initial disappointment.

Neither Wendy nor I had flown in a helicopter before. When it took off, I thought she was going to squeeze my fingers off. I personally thought the flight was extremely smooth, and with the noise-canceling headphones we were wearing, it was much less noisy than a commercial airline flight. It was a bit disconcerting to slide sideways from time to time, or to rotate in place.
Within five minutes, we were flying through a rainstorm somewhere over the south side of the island, next to a mountain range, with zero forward visibility. Very wild! That lasted a grand total of only a few minutes, and then we were in the clear and heading up over a ridge and into Waimea Canyon, which easily compares to, and exceeds, the [distant] views I've had of the Grand Canyon, or my direct experiences in the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone and Raydah Escarpment in Saudi Arabia.

Eventually we headed to the northwest corner of Kauai and began flying along the incomparable Napali Coast. Our pilot was great, and when he took us into individual canyons he was careful about rotating in both directions so that Wendy a
nd I were able to get clear views of all the cliff walls and waterfalls. In particular, the 3000-foot cliffs and falls of the crater in Mt. Waialeale were unforgettable -- we hovered about halfway up the cliff, rotating in place, and it seemed like we were in some prehistoric Land of the Lost.

The tours unfortunately only last about an hour, so all too soon we had to head back to the airport. But it was a fantastic way to start the trip; T.C would be proud!

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