***Warning: This blog has a lot of pictures!
This final post about our sea, land and air travel in Kauai is about our helicopter tour. I had never been in a helicopter and I was a little nervous at first, but our pilot, Russel, was excellent. When I told Russel I was nervous, he assured me we were out for a tour and not an amusement park ride, which allayed my fears completely. True to his word, the flight was smooth and I could relax and enjoy the bird’s eye views.
This was Frank’s third time in a helicopter, including when he was able to fly with our son Hunter as the pilot, so he is an old pro! Frank also gets credit for many of the photos from our tour as I was fighting my hair for much of the trip. Although I had my hair in a ponytail, the elastic band kept slipping out and I spent my time holding my hair and replacing the pony. Tip to others – wear TWO elastics in your hair as it is windy!!
Hair aside, we had a great flight! We chose the no doors option so our views were completely uninhibited by glass or door frames. Russell told us that in non-COVID times, Mauna Lau Helicopters fly 7 or 8 tours per day and that there are usually 15 to 20 helicopter tours flying at all times. Russell said some days there were so many copters up that it was like a dogfight! The day we flew, we were Russell’s only flight that day and one of only two that week! Quite the opposite of a dogfight and we were very fortunate to have the skies to ourselves.
We took off around 11 am from the southeastern part of Kauai near the airport and during our one hour flight we saw many of our land and sea spots from the air. In addition to seeing places from a different perspective, we flew over land that is inaccessible any other way.
As we flew, we saw dramatic landscapes that were sometimes sheer faced and variegated with plants and rocks then altered to hillsides with plants and flowers. Some areas were dry and desert-like while others overflowed with waterfalls, but each offered a unique beauty of its own.
Our day began with a few clouds but for the most part visibility was very good and we could see a long way as is evidenced by this shot looking down the Nā Pali Coast. We did encounter some clouds and rain over the peaks but the change in weather made me feel like we had a chance to see yet another aspect of Kauai’s many faces.
One really cool thing we saw was Open Ceiling Cave from above! You may remember from this post that we explored the Open Ceiling Cave in our dinghy, so we saw it looking up into the opening. Our helicopter tour allowed us to see that cave from the air through the hole in the ceiling and into the water!
When we made our hike to the Alakai Swamp Trail, the rain prevented us from seeing Hanalei Bay but on our helicopter tour, the rain cleared and we were able to get the view from above that we missed when on foot. While anchored in Hanalei Bay, we appreciated the beauty of the bay, but seeing Hanalei from the air showed how absolutely stunning it is as a whole!!!
Remember in Part I of this series when we hiked along the Kalalau Trail and ended up at that fresh water river that exited onto a white sand beach and into the Pacific Ocean? Well here is an aerial photo of that lovely beach!
Lastly I want to share this picture taken on our helicopter tour because I think the face of the coast on Kauai is so compelling. In this last photo you see a richly green hillside over a tall cave that opens directly into the Pacific Ocean. If you look closely, the water is clear enough for you to see rocks in the sand floor of the ocean. Doesn’t this make you want to grab your mask and fins and explore?
The sixty minute flight went by in a daze of extraordinary views. Initially nervous about the flight, I was really sad to see it end! We thoroughly enjoyed the helicopter tour and highly recommend it if you have the time and inclination. Seeing Kauai from the sky was a very interesting way to cover a lot of land in one hour and this was definitely icing on the cake for getting a complete view of this island.
The helicopter tour was a great way to see Kauai from a distance and quickly, but she is a stunning place and if you have the opportunity, be sure to explore on foot and by boat. Kauai is definitely worth the effort!
There isn’t a lot of unique information in this post, but Kauai is very special to us after spending so much time there and meeting so many wonderful, welcoming people. We wanted to make sure we have a good journal of our time in Kauai and we hope you enjoyed the photos.
As always, thank you for reading our blog. If you want to hear from us more often, please visit on Instagram or on our FB page. We hope you are staying well and sane during these interesting COVID times. All the best from TTR.
The drive from Hanalei Bay to Waimea State Park was about 2.5 hours but we had heard so much about the Waimea Canyon that we really wanted to make the trip.
Fortunately our friends, Katie and Kevin, invited us to have dinner and stay the night with them at their beautiful home on the west side of Kauai. Not only did we get to spend time with these fun people and enjoy Katie’s fabulous cooking, we were able to hike the Waimea Canyon two days in a row!
As you know from Kauai By Sea, By Land and By Air ~ Part I, our hike along the Kalalau Trail was stunningly beautiful. Our next adventure was on the western side of Kauai in the Waimea State Park.
Waimea State Park includes the Waimea Canyon which is sometimes referred to as the “Grand Canyon of the Pacific.” Although this quote is often attributed to Mark Twain, others say the moniker became popularized by John Wesley Powell, an American explorer, who visited Kauai in 1869.
I don’t know who dubbed Waimea the Grand Canyon of the Pacific, but the name is certainly apropos.
Waimea Canyon State Park encompasses 1866 acres of land and the canyon itself is 1 mile wide, 10 miles long and is 3000-3500 feet deep. I have seen a list of over 25 hiking trails within Waimea State Park and the adjacent Kokee State Park, so we had quite a selection for our two days.
For our first hike, we chose the Kukui Trail, a trail that traverses the side of the canyon and descends about 2000 feet. The drive time to the Canyon caused us to begin a bit late in the morning on this trail that is listed as “difficult.”
I wasn’t feeling great that day so we only walked about 1.5 miles, then turned and hiked back up to the top of the trail. The Canyon trail felt completely different from our hike on the Kalalau Trail. The Canyon was much warmer and instead of lush greenery and water, the Waimea Canyon looks like parts of the southwest areas of the Mainland.
Although we only walked 1.5 miles out instead of the whole 5 miles round trip, we saw a good sampling of this trail and had some excellent views.
Once we reached the top of the trail again, Frank flew his drone and captured a few pictures from above so we could see what we had missed by not walking all the way to the bottom of the canyon.
As you drive up state road 550 to Waimea and Kokee State Parks, there are three official lookouts and a few others. These stops offer pretty views for those who don’t want to actually hike. Since I had called off our hike early, we drove the remainder of SH550 and stopped several times to look around.
Once again we found ourselves in a unique situation due to COVID 19. We stopped at three overlook parking areas that had elevated viewing platforms and public restrooms. We only saw one car at all of these stops! It was surreal and felt almost apocalyptic though it was also serendipitous to have these views to ourselves because the lack of noise added to the serenity.
Waimea means “red waters” in Hawaiian and is the name given to the River at the bottom of the canyon because the water has a red hue caused by the breakdown of the red soil through which the water passes.
After spending an excellent evening with Katie and Kevin, we headed back toward the Canyon. This time we sought a different type of trail and chose the Alakai Swamp Trail in Kokee State Park. The Alakai Swamp trail is 7 miles round trip and, although listed as difficult, we didn’t think it was terribly hard. There are parts of the trail that require you to climb up/down a sort of sandstone type of rock hill but there are reasonable footholds and the trail is well delineated.
Luckily I felt well again and we had a great time on this hike. The terrain changed often and we walked on sloping rock, soft ground, raised walkways, dilapidated wood steps, across a stream and up and down sandstone rock hills!
The Alakai Swamp is fed by water from Mount Waialeale. Mount Waialeale is one of the wettest places on earth and averages 450 inches of rainfall per year. The rainwater drains off of Mount Waialeale into a plateau where the water collects and forms the Alakai Swamp. I read that the Alakai Swamp is the world’s highest rainforest and swampland, though I have been unable to verify that statement.
The “swamp” was nothing like the swamps of Frank’s childhood in Louisiana! We didn’t see one alligator and we certainly couldn’t take a pirogue through it as there was comparatively little moisture in the mud and no river anywhere. Of course we knew this would not be the same kind of swamp.
Prior to 1991 when Hawaii began the installation of a raised boardwalk, hikers sloshed through the muddy swamp to get to the Kilohana Lookout at the end of this trail. Realizing the negative impact of so much traffic on the plants and shrubs, the State added the boardwalk and significantly reduced the impact of hikers. The boardwalk is raised and 12 inches wide while the previous walking trail had become as wide as 30 feet in places.
According to the University of Hawaii, Alakai means “one-file trail” and adding the boardwalk makes it a single file track again.
The Alakai Swamp Trail ends at an overlook where Hanalei Bay can be seen on a clear day. We were hoping to see Ticket to Ride floating in the bay from that vantage point but the clouds rolled in and a light mist began just before we reached the furthest point. We didn’t have enough visibility to see the Bay.
So we turned around and began the walk back toward the parking area. About half a mile into our return, we were far enough from the coast that the sky cleared and the mist disappeared.
Of the two hikes, I preferred the Alakai Swamp Trail. I think there is greater variety on the Swamp Trail from what you walk on to what you see. I liked the variety of foliage, the movement from clear areas to shaded ones and the undulating trail. I think the Alakai was easier than the Kukui Trail where we were always walking down on the way out and always trekking up on the way back. Others will surely prefer the vastness and grandeur of the Kukui Trail.
Thank you for stopping to read our blog. I hope seeing these pictures of Kauai brings you joy and reminds you of the goodness and beauty of our world. If you want to hear from us more often, please see our Facebook page or follow us on Instagram. Stay well and be kind.
We have had the pleasure of staying in Kauai for several weeks during the end of summer when the weather is perfect for exploring. The days are warm with a mixture of sunny and rainy days which makes for a nice variety. The nights are cool enough to be comfortable while sleeping without even considering the need for an air conditioner.
Combine great weather with the beauty of this island and the almost non-existent COVID cases here and we have to admit that we fell into a very fortunate situation!
Those who know us will not be surprised to learn that we have managed to stay busy and we have explored a bit of the island. Although we have only anchored in Hanalei Bay, we have taken TTR down the Nā Pali Coast a couple of times to view her beauty from the water. We have also taken several hikes in different areas of the island. And we took a helicopter tour of Kauai! So indeed, we have explored by land, by sea and by air!
Initially I was going to cover all of our hikes, sails and helicopter tour in one post, but there are so many great pictures that I am spreading the information over several posts.
Let me begin by sharing just two photos from our sailing trip down the Nā Pali Coast since I have already written about that.
Looking west along the Nā Pali Coast.
From a sailor’s perspective, Kauai looks magical and difficult. I could imagine how fertile the land is in places and how available fresh water is from all of the waterfalls. Yet the sheer wall faces and uneven terrain look like it would be difficult to walk or settle the area.
A small waterfall near the ocean.
However, one of the most beautiful hikes we have ever taken, the Kalalau Trail, traverses this Nā Pali coastline for 11 miles. The complete hike covers five valleys, takes a full day and requires a park pass. However, the first two miles of the trail end at the Hanakāpī’ai Stream and park signs estimate walking to the stream takes 1.5 to 2 hours.
The beginning of the Kalalau Trail.
We were definitely up for the hike to the stream and set off at a snails pace since the scenery and fauna were captivating… and I had to try to get some decent pictures.
Most of the trail was shaded and easy to walk.
The trail was originally built in the 1800s to connect Hawaiians living in remote regions of Kauai and the beginning portions of the trail were restructured in the 1930s to accommodate horses and cattle.
Looking east back toward Kē’ē Beach where we started the hike.
Once the restructured portion of the trail ends, the remainder of the hike is a narrow, natural trail that weaves up, down and around. It can be very muddy and slippery, but fortunately we caught a dry day and the “conditions were perfect.”
Clearly these ferns thrive in the damp environment.
The views changed constantly as the plant species include indigenous and imported varieties. Combine the varied plants with a trail that weaves toward and away from the cliffs along the ocean and we were rewarded with visions that changed from land to ocean.
Looking west along the Nā Pali shoreline.
My Eagle Scout is always well prepared so we had plenty of water but we forgot to bring any food. However, Mother Nature provided an abundance of ripe guava along the trail and we ate a few of these to satisfy our hunger.
Frank breaks open a guava…doesn’t get much fresher!
These roots reminded me of hula skirts.
A perfect day for hiking and photographs.
Even though the trail was mostly shaded, after walking a couple of hours, we were a bit hot. Luckily for us, the end of this portion of the trail stops at the fresh water Hanakāpī’ai Stream. The stream tumbles around time worn boulders and ends right on the white sand beach where it meanders into the Pacific Ocean.
The fresh water stream winds downward to the beach.
Of course we took a dip in the pools formed at the end of the stream and watched the ocean waves crash against the cliffs and sand while we sat in the quiet water of the river.
Sitting in the rock edged pool at the mouth of the Hanakāpī’ai Stream.
If we had any doubt that the water was fresh water, the numerous tadpoles put our minds at rest.
No signs of transformation on this tadpole.
The last river pool and the path the escaping fresh water takes to the right.
The stream made a very definite path through the sand beach, flowing to the right, heading slightly downhill, then turning left until the tide crossed the sand and the two bodies of water met in the middle of the beach.
You can see the stream flow to the right and in the distance cross left to join the ocean.
We must have spent about an hour exploring the beach and wading in the stream. There were even a couple of caves along the beach that we looked into. It was a very refreshing change to be in fresh water and not feel sticky from salt as our skin and clothing dried on the walk back.
In non-COVID times, this walk is extremely crowded and is one of the most popular hikes in Hawaii. How popular is the hike? Well the Hā’ena State Park limits their day use permits to 900 per day!!! Furthermore, the site says the passes sell out quickly.
A helicopter view of Hanakāpī’ai Beach with an arrow pointing to the river on the beach.
I counted the number of people we encountered during our day. All told we saw fewer than 30 people on the hike, in the stream, on the beach and in the ocean.
Needless to say, we experienced the Kalalau Trail in a way few modern travelers have or will.
The Nā Pali Coast, found on the northwest side of Kauai, stretches for 16 miles. Pali means cliffs in Hawaiian and with some cliffs rising 4,000 feet out of the water, the area is aptly named.
It is impossible to put into words how beautiful this coast line is with verdant cliffs rising dramatically from intensly blue water and waterfalls cascading periodically through the deep green foliage. Instead I will include photographs that only partially capture the beauty.
Early one morning we upped anchor in Hanalei Bay and chose a course close to the coastline. The wind was pretty light and the sea state calm so we motored at a casual pace which allowed us to enjoy the views.
Higher and higher cliffs.
In addition to the waterfalls and cliffs, the coast has several sea caves. After spotting a few interesting looking caves, we found a shallow spot to anchor Ticket to Ride and launched the dinghy for a closer look.
The caves were not particularly deep and certainly were not at all similar to Painted Cave in the Channel Islands of California, but it was still fun to pretend we were intrepid adventurers scouting out unexplored places.
After re-boarding TTR and traveling another 30 minutes, we arrived at the iconic Honopū Valley where we again dropped anchor.
TTR anchored off of Honopū Beach.
Stretching up to 90 feet, Honopū Arch is the largest natural arch in all of Hawaii. A must see in our opinion.
We swam from TTR to shore and were dazzled by the dark rock arch rising from the creamy white beach. Honopū Beach is isolated and no boats or aircraft are allowed to land in Honopū Valley which gives the area an unspoiled and somewhat sacred ambiance.
We walked to the nearby waterfall and Frank and I cooled off in its fresh water before walking back to salt water and swimming to Ticket to Ride.
One of the most spectacular caves along the coast is Open Ceiling Cave; just a short dinghy ride from Honopū Beach. Like other caves, we slowly dinghied into the arched opening. The unusual part is that once inside, the cave is filled with light because the ceiling fell down into the water.
Now sunlight streams into the circular cave and illuminates the walls as well as the fallen ceiling which can be seen underwater marking the center of the cave.
Open Ceiling Cave is a huge contrast to Painted Cave on Santa Cruz Island, CA. This one reveals all of its beauty and secrets in the sunlight while Painted Cave is deep and pitch black as you go blindly into its depths.
After returning to Ticket to Ride, we spent a bit more time motoring along the coast. Soon it was time to turn around and point TTR back to Hanalei Bay. Since the coast line is an exposed area, we preferred to spend the night back in Hanalei where we are in protected water.
On the trip back we raised the main sail and genoa, then threw out a couple of fishing lines to see what might bite. We managed to snag a skipjack tuna but chose to release him. Although the fishing wasn’t successful, the sail was very pleasant and exploring the beauty of the Nā Pali Coast was a wonderful way to spend the day.
Thanks for visiting our blog. We hope seeing the beauty of the Nā Pali coast brings a bright spot to your day. As the virus cases rise in Hawaii, we are doing our best to stay healthy and restrict our interaction with others. We hope all of you are staying healthy and sane too. All the best from us to you.