Kaua’i Day 6: The View From Above and Around

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Even though hubby and I had arrived in Kauai with almost no clue what we were going to do while we were on the island, we did have one activity on our minds that we were hoping to do — a helicopter tour!

You see, when we arrived at 5:30 am at the Denver International Airport to get our boarding passes for a romantic vacay to Hawaii, we were very bummed to find out that we didn’t have seats next to each other for the six-hour flight from LAX to Lihue. The ticketing agent was able to find us seats next to each other, but the drawback was that we were seated on the right side of the plane — the side that gets absolutely no view of Kauai or any of the islands during the flight in. Yea I know, first world problem! Luckily, it was an easy problem to solve later with a helicopter tour, which would provide us with a closer view of the entire island anyway!

After dealing with days and days of bad weather on Kauai, we began to doubt whether a helicopter flight was even a good idea. On the other hand, we noticed that not a single day went by where we didn’t hear helicopters circling above and giving tours to tourists, so maybe we had nothing to worry about! Or at least we didn’t have to worry about them cancelling our flight. Whether we would survive a flight in bad weather was still undetermined.

We booked our flights about two days out and crossed our fingers that the wind would be somewhat calmer on the morning of our flight. We chose one of the earliest flights of the day with an 8 a.m. check-in, which meant that we had to get up extra early in order to drive to the airport on the other side of the island. We hoped that by choosing an earlier flight, we might avoid the clouds and wind that seemed to get worse by the end of the day. Furthermore, we were mostly interested in seeing the Na Pali Coast on the western side of the island, which was best viewed early in the morning when the blinding sunshine wasn’t washing out the view of the beautiful coast.

The cost of the flight was a hard pill to swallow ($190 per person), and it wasn’t even the romantic/private type of helicopter tour that you see couples indulge in on TV shows, like ABC’s The Bachelor (we were squished on the helicopter with four other people and a pilot), but when we considered that it was such a special and exciting experience to see the island from above, we realized the cost was still worth it! We also felt “better” about the cost after considering that other more lame touristy activities were just as expensive, so if we wanted to do any special activities on the island, we were going to have to fork out some money! For instance, another somewhat popular (or at least well-advertised) activity in Kauai is tubing down a canal through a sugar plantation. This seemed like it would be a dorky, but fun activity to do to pass the time in Kauai… until we found out the cost was $106 per person… to float on a river. Yeahno.

The morning of our flight was hardly any less windy than any other day (as evidenced by my hair in the photos), but we were fortunate enough to have clearer skies than what we had observed the past few mornings. We had an awesome pilot who pleasantly and casually described everything he knew about the island from living there his entire life and his voice never deflected even once during our windy, shaky flight! The pilot explained that we were able to see a lot more waterfalls coming off the mountains that week due to the abundant amount of rain the island had recently received. It was true; everywhere we looked, there was another gleaming stream of water flowing down a vertical crease in the lush green mountains.

Although seeing the picturesque Na Pali Coast with its soaring cliffs was just as exciting as we had imagined it would be, and it was also fun to see the same beach on the Na Pali Coast that we had hiked to a few days prior (which looked like such a short hike from above, of course), my favorite part of the flight was actually seeing the north side of the island where we were staying. We were able to see the famous Tunnels Beach that was down the walking path from our rental property. From the beach itself, we would have never guessed how incredible it actually was, but from above, the reef at Tunnels Beach looked so spectacular that there were no words!


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Left: One of the valleys off the Na Pali Coast. Right: The beach on the Na Pali Coast that we hiked to on day 4. We continued up that river to the waterfall in the far distance.

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North side of Kauai near Ke’e Beach

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Photo of Tunnels Beach from our helicopter tour. See the red-roofed house on the very left end of the photo? Our rental property was located right near there; that’s how close we were to this amazing reef!

After our one-hour helicopter flight that we were sad was over (but glad that we had survived), we grabbed some much-needed coffee at a cute coffee bar near the airport and then immediately made our way to get some yummy grub at a taco place. I was hungry just about every hour of every day on our trip (surprise, surprise), but when I received my two-taco order from Island Taco for lunch that day, I realized that no amount of hunger could devour those gigantic tacos! But I made it happen anyway… and then I was hungry an hour later.

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Speaking of tunnels, this famous Maluhia Road Tree Tunnel was a fun sight we got to see a few times on our driving trips around the south side of the island. The picture really doesn’t do it justice, as certain sections of the “tunnel” have such a huge canopy that is created by the Eucalyptus trees, that it is mesmerizing driving through it (but obviously there is no safe place to stop to take a photo).

After lunch, we decided that it wasn’t enough to just see the whole island from above; we should also drive around the whole thing, too! Kauai has a main road that loops from the north portion of the island (where we stayed) to the west end of the island. It is impossible to drive completely around the island since the main road does not cut through the mountains on the northwestern side of the island, but you can still drive through a large portion of the Waimea Canyon on the west side and view the island from the various lookouts that are well above 3000 ft elevation.

The dry Waimea Canyon, although it hardly looks like the typical tropical paradise you imagine when you think of Hawaii, still has its own beauty that is worth seeing if you have time to kill. The landscape is mostly red and rocky, but it was fascinating seeing enormously tall waterfalls cascading down the cliffs of the canyon and trying to trace with your eyes the rivers far below that cut through the canyon floor for miles and miles on end.

Although it was a really cloudy day when we visited, I imagine that on many days it would be difficult to get an endless view of the island from these lookouts in Waimea Canyon since we were so high in elevation that the fog was difficult to escape. At one of the last lookouts we stopped at, Kalalau Lookout, it was so foggy that we couldn’t see a foot past the guard rail. We were hardly impressed by this lookout and figured it was probably just the same as the other gazillion lookouts (admittedly, we got a little bored of these lookouts as they started to look the same after about the second or third one), but as it turns out, we later Googled the Kalalau Lookout and it probably would have been the most amazing lookout of the Waimea Canyon that we would have seen that day if we could have seen it! The Kalalau Lookout has a very famous view of the ocean and the Na Pali Coast!

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After driving as far as we could into the Waimea Canyon, we headed back out of the canyon and out to the road that follows more closely along the west coast and ends at the Polihale State Park. The few beaches that were on the west side of the island were nothing to write home about. They were mostly sandy (not the good kind of wet sand, but the bad kind of dry sand), tree-less, and ridiculously windy. Every time the wind below, it felt like our legs were being power-washed with sand.

Our travels to the dry west side of the island made us anxiously look forward to getting back to our lush, wet paradise on the north side!

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Polihale Beach

Up next: We go to Queen’s Bath and see just how scary the waves can be in the winter months of Kauai.

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