Anyone that has vacationed in the Hawaiian Islands knows that there are loads of helicopters around. The sightseeing flight operations are extensive and there are a variety of types that are used. The Astar was a big feature of these flights but the EC130 was developed to provide something best suited to these flights and it is now very widespread. There are other types in use too. I used a Robinson R44 for one of my flights for example.
There are the occasional MD500s around too which is what you expect to see if you ever watched the original Magnum PI TV series. The helicopter area at Lihue was a busy place to be with a steady stream of operators moving from the different pads. I wasn’t on vacation to spend time watching helicopters but of course I managed to slip a little time in with them!
During our last trip to Kauai, I wrote about visiting Waimea Canyon, some of which you can find in the previous posts including here. This year we went back. We weren’t looking to do much hiking this time but instead just wanted to take in the lovely scenery. It is certainly a dramatic enough spot that you can get plenty of good stuff to see.
I did manage to get an aviation theme to this post though. We got to one of the overlook locations looking into the canyon and one of the tour helicopters was coming towards us. I grabbed a quick shot of the EC130 as it turned away. Plenty of other helicopters came by – a steady stream really – but they all took different routes. I guess it depends on your pilot as to what you get.
We got to the top of the canyon road and the overlook that gives views of the north coast of the island – normally. Not this day. The clouds were rolling in and obscuring the view to the north. Since we were right at the summit, the clouds bubbled up to the top and then dissipated almost immediately. You had cloud on one side and nothing on the other. Very cool!
There are plenty of interesting birds when you visit Hawaii. The large birds that live on the cliffs like the frigates and boobies are cool as are the Nene, the state bird of Hawaii which is a rare type of goose. However, there are a few other birds that are plentiful to see and, where we stayed, it wasn’t difficult to find a lot of them coming to visit. Some were even rather brave about landing on the balcony while we were sitting there.
Two types of bird caught my eye on a regular basis. One was the red-crested cardinal and the other was a mynah bird. The cardinals showed up pretty regularly. According to a friend of mine, they have a duller color to the crest when they are immature and then it becomes fully red when they are adults. We saw plenty of the immature birds and a reasonable number of those that don’t make fart jokes!
The mynahs are less dramatic but, with the right light on them, they still look pretty good. They certainly made for something to keep an eye on while we were otherwise taking it easy!
Something I have never done before is snorkeling. Having grown up by the sea, I am not sure why this would be but perhaps it is down to the lack of reefs with plenty to see. Snorkeling is very popular on Kauai and I figured I should really try it out. I grabbed a mask and snorkel at a store in Hanalei and headed out to the reef at Tunnels. Having never used a snorkel in anger, I was a little unsure of how I would get on. After a bit of practice breathing while having my face underwater, I started drifting around the reef.
At first there was nothing special to see but suddenly I found myself surrounded by tropical fish. They were everywhere and seemed not terribly perplexed by my presence. It was like being in a documentary except it was right in front of me. Time went by very quickly without me realizing it.
I decided to take along the GoPro with me while I was swimming about. With so much activity in front of you, it is something that you really want to be able to share. The GoPro is a great little device but it is not the perfect solution for underwater filming. Basically, filming underwater is not straightforward and requires good planning and the right equipment. The light is flat and the colors muted. I was chatting with a a pro underwater photographer and we compared notes about what we need for our respective areas.
Having said all of that, I did get some footage so here you go with a sample of what I saw.
The place we stay on Kauai is a short journey from the lovely town of Hanalei. You drop down the side of the hill and cross the river to get to the town which is beside a lovely bay. It certainly isn’t a large town – this is Kauai after all – but it has a few nice shops and some good places to eat. However, the best feature is the bay. (No sign of Puff the Magic Dragon though!)
As the sun goes down, the light on the beach is really attractive. Not only is it a beautifully curved beach but the mountains in the background make the whole place feel even more special. I really could stay there for a very long time. It is an attractive spot to others as well. If you have seen the Descendents, this is the beach they walked along and the house that the other family were renting. Here it is below for those movie buffs amongst you.
I may have already talked about Kauai sunsets and sunrises. However, a quick one to add here. We took the boat trip up the Na’Pali coast and, when we got back to Hanalei Harbor, we were getting ready to get off the boat when we were treated to another great sky. Thought I should share it!
The climate on Kauai varies depending on which part of the island you are on. It can be tropical or almost desert like. Some places are drenched with rain almost continuously. The tropical area makes a great place for a tropical botanic garden so that is exactly what is there. The garden is located inland from the entrance so you need to take a shuttle to get into it. Once there, you are free to wander around.
There are some really interesting plant types and the landscaping of the place is very attractive. There were a few other visitors when we were there but it certainly wasn’t busy and we could be pretty much alone as we wandered around. It did rain a little while we were there. This is supposed to be the drier side of the island but I guess we brought the rain with us from the north side of the island. However, the showers were only occasional and we had borrowed umbrellas from the office so we were fine.
Not only were there great trees and plants to check out but we also got to feel what it was like to be surrounded by a plant. Check out this battle between nature and the road!
We repeated another part of the trip from last year when we went out to Kilauea lighthouse. This is a peninsula which not only provides a good navigation reference but is also a great spot for watching some bird activities. The birds roost on the rock faces and head out to sea to fish. However, some are less inclined to do the hard work.
The frigate birds prefer to wait for the boobies to return from fishing and then harass them into dropping their catch and scooping it up themselves. Out by the lighthouse is a great place to watch this happening. The lighthouse itself is undergoing restoration at the moment and is covered in protective material. It doesn’t make a good photography target for the time being. Glad I saw it last year! however, the fencing around it apparently was popular with a young booby. Not sure why he would choose that when there is so much human free space around but there you go!
There were also some dolphins swimming around in the bay below us. They were a long way off and hard to spot but it was still exciting to spot them. I could really spend ages out on the headland. The wind blows you about but the birds are so close and the view is so good, it is hard to find a good reason to leave!
One of the great opportunities on Kauai is to see the sunset. Sure, you can get great sunsets in a whole bunch of places but somehow it seems better when you are in a tropical paradise! This year we didn’t make the trip to the beach at Ke’e which is a popular sunset spot. Of course, sunset isn’t the only opportunity.
The sun comes up in some pretty ways to and where we stayed provides a good view of proceeding. We did get a few opportunities to see the sun come up (the time change makes for early rising) and light up the sky. However, the weather wasn’t always cooperative on this trip so it was the luck of the draw some times. However, I think we did okay!
One thing you won’t be short of if taking a tour of Kauai is waterfalls. You have an island that has a lot of high terrain and a regularity of rainfall (including the wettest place on the planet) so that means there is lots of water making its way from the high ground to the sea. Sometimes that means taking the quickest route – off the edge.
Some of these falls can be seen from ground level and that is certainly worth doing. However, taking to the air gives you two advantages. First, you are above the terrain and can get a better view of the falls themselves. Second, since you are no longer constrained by the location of roads or trails, you have access to the more remote locations which also tend to be the sites of the more interesting falls.
We saw a lot of falls while we were up in the helicopter. Some of them we had seen on the ground but plenty of others we hadn’t. In truth, we saw so many we lost track of them. In some locations the water was running down in multiple locations so you couldn’t even say which bit was “The” fall. Others were a bit more obvious.
In the end, who cares. They all looked amazing. The scale of the scenery is such that a photograph can never truly convey what it was like to be there but hopefully they provide a taste.