January 19, 2001 Helicopter Tour – Lihu’e, Waimea Canyon, Na Pali Coast, Hanalei, Kawaihau
Jack Harter Helicopters started the helicopter tour business in Kaua’i, and they came recommended by the B&B I was staying with. They use six passenger Eurocopter AStars custom-equipped with the largest windows and a unique cabin layout, giving passengers the best views possible. They also offer doors-off flights with their Hughes four passenger helicopters for those who want an extra thrill, or for dedicated photographers who want to avoid window reflections in their photos. I learned from my trip to the Grand Canyon that helicopters are an excellent way to see the country, so I decided to spend the money on this tour.
The tours start at the Lihue heliport, which is adjacent to the main airport, but you need to check in at the Jack Harter Helicopter office, which is located very close to the airport. You will be briefed on safety procedures and then driven to the heliport. Takeoff was smooth – an indication of the rest of the flight. We flew around Kaua’i in a clockwise direction.
Looking over Ha’upu (Hoary Head) Ridge from the air offers a gorgeous view towards Kipu Kai, Kawai Point, and the Menehune Fishpond. The spectacular Mana Waipuna Falls is next on the itinerary, and as we proceed toward Waimea Canyon, we fly over Olokele Canyon and can see the irrigation ditch which supplies the fields in this normally arid area with water for the sugar cane crops.
Driving to Waimea Canyon by car presents some spectacular vistas, but seeing this canyon from a helicopter is a whole new experience. As we approach the canyon from the south, we catch glimpses of the colors and water courses that make this canyon so interesting. The red rock and soil that makes up so much of Kaua’i is laid bare in this area of high erosion. The vistas from the head of the canyon looking back south show the way the layers of mountain ranges fades into the sea, and we get an excellent view of Barking Sands from high atop the ridge just before we dip over the top and catch our first glimpse of the Na Pali Coast.
Na Pali Coast
Our first glimpse of the Na Pali coast as we clear the ridge line wows us with the view of the Kalepa Ridge cones on the Na Pali coast. Streaming sunlight over the mountains is simply magical; the high surf makes the Na Pali coastline stand out. This is simply awe-inspiring. There is no substitute for seeing the Na Pali coast from a helicopter.
Hanalei & Central Mountains
As we leave the Na Pali coast and head past Ha’ena Point, the beautiful Hanalei Bay comes into view. Maniholo Bay & Ha’ena Point frame pretty Hanalei Bay, with Princeville further down the coast. We fly close to falls in the mountains behind the valley, which are the source of the Hanalei River. In quick succession as we cruise down the coast towards Lihue: the Makaleha Mountains, fantastic Keana’awi Falls shrouded in cloud , beautiful Kohalalele Falls, showing us the wettest place on earth are the central peaks of Kaua’i – Wai’ale’ale and Kawaikini.
East Coast & Lihue
As we approach Lihue and the end of our tour, we see Wailua Falls and look north along the east coastline over Hanama’ulu Bay, productive farmlands, the upper Wailua River, and glimpse the Sleeping Giant. We float down on the helicopter pad and reluctantly return to our land-based existence.
What was the highlight of the helicopter tour? The Na Pali Coast was a clear winner, although seeing the Waimea Canyon from the air was interesting after having driven there the day before. The Hanalei Valley is even more beautiful from the air. Incidentally, the narration from the helicopter pilot was amazing. He had facts, figures, answered our questions, and had some very interesting stories to tell the whole time we were airborne. He even knew when to be quiet, and let us enjoy the amazing views!