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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