I: Na Pali Coast by Air


Before departing for my inter-island travels, I went to chat with one of my supervisors about things to do in Kauai. She very emphatically told me that you haven’t seen Kauai unless you’ve done a helicopter ride. With that advice, we signed up to do a doors-off helicopter ride around the Na Pali coast on our first day. The Na Pali Coast State Wilderness Park only makes up about 2% of the area of Kauai (6175 acres compared to 562 square miles), but in my opinion it made up 75% of the views. The other 25% would mostly be found in Waimea Canyon State Park, which conveniently adjoins the Na Pali Coast. Quite honestly, I’m still in awe of Kauai three weeks later. If you like the outdoors, Kauai is the place to be. I found Maui to be a little overrated, but I’m already trying to find ways to get back to Kauai one day.

That being said, below I’ve traced a similar route to what we followed. Unfortunately we flew on a cloudy day, so many pictures seem somewhat hazy. The views in person were simply drool-worthy though.

Itinerary

2:00 – 3:30: Get Carried Away in a Helicopter (#80) and Hele to Jurassic Falls (#9)

Two Tips for Flying

1. Take Dramamine 45 minutes before take-off, to quell any nausea you might get en route. It will make the ride much more enjoyable and allow you to focus on the views instead of your stomach.

2. For doors-off rides, wear long pants and a jacket – it gets chilly!

Hele Kauai

We flew with Jack Harter Helicopters on a doors-off Hughes 500 aircraft. It had five seats which allowed four people to have door seats and one person to sit in the front middle. Seating is determined by balancing weights and I was a bit sad to end up in the back left after we read that the front right seat gets the best views. However, our pilot was awesome and did plenty of 360s; I had fantastic views at all times.

Our helicopter waiting for refueling.

Our helicopter waiting for refueling.

Now, doors-off seems a little bit terrifying. The safety briefing made it seem as if we were strapped in three separate ways. When we got into the helicopter, the pilot saw me fiddling with my buckle and reached around to check it for me. I wasn’t so concerned about it being properly buckled as much as I was thinking “this is it?!” Yes, that was it. One buckle similar to what you would find in a car. Surprisingly though, even when the helicopter was tilting to turn I never slid in my seat. Every turn was very gradual and I never felt in any danger of sliding around in the backseat.

The views were amazing from the start, and they just kept getting better.

A tilted view of the airport as we took off.

A tilted view of the airport as we took off.

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I remember thinking to myself at this point, “I don’t even need to fly over the coast, just the area views of the island are astounding!” But we continued on, into valleys and past multiple hidden waterfalls.

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Manawaiopuna Falls, featured in Jurassic Park, is on private land owned by the Robinson family. It is only accessed by helicopter tours, and only one company has a permit to land nearby.

After just a few minutes we were beginning our flyover of Waimea Canyon. Sadly, the cloud cover was awful at this point and we didn’t get the spectacular views we had been expecting based on the pictures. However, we planned to do some hiking in the park the next day, and we didn’t come for the canyon; we came for the coast. That just gave us a few more minutes to hope that the sky would clear up!

Flying over Waimea Canayon

Flying over Waimea Canyon, the “Grand Canyon of the Pacific”

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Then the moment finally came where we emerged over the ocean and along the grand Na Pali coast. And luckily, the cloud cover became slightly more sporadic!

First views of the Na Pali coast

First views of the Na Pali coast

Photo by William Berkson

Photo by William Berkson

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Pro tip: If you're photographing a helicopter ride, take at least two shots in continuous mode to hopefully avoid helicopter rotor blades in at least one of them!

Pro tip: If you’re photographing a helicopter ride, take at least two shots in continuous mode to hopefully avoid helicopter rotor blades in at least one of them!

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These cliffs rise thousands of feet above the Pacific Ocean, making this land completely inaccessible to cars and hikers.

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Looking toward Hanalei Bay and along the Kalalau Trail, one of the most dangerous hikes in America.

I did not want our time on the helicopter to end, but eventually we had to return to civilization. We caught a quick glimpse of Hanalei Bay before turning into one last valley to view Mt. Wai’ale’ale, one of the wettest places in the world. Everywhere the helicopter turned we were greeted with waterfalls not more than a couple feet wide, cascading thousands of feet from the cliffs. Some of the most dramatic sights made for awful pictures as we were once again swamped in clouds.

The wettest spot on Kauai, and one of the wettest in the world, Mt. Wai'ale'ale.

The wettest spot on Kauai, and one of the wettest in the world, Mt. Wai’ale’ale.

After leaving the unadulterated landscapes of the Na Pali coast, we finally began to see signs of human activity again around Hanalei Bay. I don’t think anyone was ready to end the journey there, but we knew it was coming soon.

Hanauma Bay

Hanalei Bay

One last glimpse of a rainbow before heading back to the airport.

One last glimpse of a rainbow before heading back to the airport.

We landed way too soon, just as the sun was coming out!

We landed way too soon, just as the sun was coming out!

The rest of the day was spent relaxing. After building up anticipation the entire day, the short hour-long helicopter ride took it out of us. We needed to get some rest for the upcoming hikes!

 

Next Up: Waimea Canyon

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