Have you ever gone on a helicopter ride? Today I got to go – and it was amazing! This flight left from Kahului’s heliport (next to the airport), flying around the West Maui mountains, across Molokai and the incredible sea cliffs, peering deep into West Maui’s untouched crater and back. If you ever get the chance, go! You get to explore Maui from a bird’s eye view, see completely untouched otherwise inaccessible places. It’s breathtaking!
This spring one of the Kihei schools had a fundraiser auction. I love to support local schools and teachers, and you can get some great buys at these auctions. Local businesses donate gift certificates for their restaurants, hotels, snorkel cruises, and in this instance – helicopter rides! Have you ever participated in these online silent auctions? The smaller items often go up to the item value quickly (still a worthy cause), but the large-ticket items often close at a real discount. And that’s what happened – I got two Air Maui tickets at roughly half their actual value.
You know what? Sig and the kids all refused to go on a helicopter ride. Say what? Yes, they bailed on me. So I went with a friend. I called Air Maui last week to see if we could book our flights. Since these are donated tickets, they asked if I would call back within the no-refunds window (48 hours before the flight) and they would gladly let me book our two seats (they usually prefer only one of these donated tickets per flight). I get it. They definitely need to make sure the trip is making money. I called Air Maui Friday morning regarding weekend availability and they had two flights open – the West Maui/Molokai trip, and an all-island tour (unfortunately that one didn’t work with my schedule).
There are six passenger seats aboard the Air Maui chopper. Two in the front, four in the back. FYI passengers are seated with the heavier guests in the center, lighter guests on the sides. Don’t take it personally if you get an inside seat. You definitely don’t want the chopper to tilt because of poor weight distribution.
The flight took off across the water towards the West Maui Mountains. The pilot gave geographical and some historic insights into what we were seeing. Do you remember my blog about hiking the Waihee Ridge Trail? We flew into the Waihee Valley (that you look into on the left as you hike up the trail), all the way to the back to the Wall of Tears (a wall of thin, delicate waterfalls). Absolutely amazing. Then coming out of the valley, we flew over ridges (carefully avoiding flying near residences) towards the Nakalele Blowhole. At that point we left Maui and flew across the channel towards Molokai.
We passed turtle rock – a popular scuba-diving spot, where my brother-in-law filmed a whale shark (see blog post) last summer, and on across Molokai to the sea cliffs. These are the tallest sea cliffs in the world, rising up to 3000 ft. Such an abrupt dropoff, covered in trees, ferns and greenery. The pilot pointed out the Kalaupaupa Leprosy Colony/National Park in the distance (it is accessible only by invitation as patients still live there). Then we headed back across Molokai’s old volcanic crater (which is now a lush sunken valley), back across the channel and towards Lahaina.
The interior of the West Maui Mountains
We flew over several of those dry barren ridges above Lahaina, peering down into them. Did you know, from Lahaina they may look barren and dry, but just a little ways in, they are green and lush from all the rain. We then flew across the former volcano crater – which in turn has collapsed into five separate valleys. It is incredible flying over this pristine unreachable rain forest. It is green and lush and completely inaccessible except by air. I don’t know about you, but over the years I’ve often stared at the mountains enroute to Lahaina, wondering just what it was like in there. Now I know!
We ended the tour by flying through the Waikapu valley (one of the five) across Mahi Pono fields, the irrigated crop circle just south of the old Sugar Cane Factory and back to the airport. I loved it! And if it fits your budget – do it! Go on a helicopter ride!
Did you know?
The West Maui Mountains are the second-wettest place on earth (the wettest is on Kauai). They get over 300 inches of rain annually and are the source for Central and South Maui’s water supply. Dry Kihei by contrast averages 8-13 inches of rain annually.
Maui County is comprised of five volcanos ~ Molokai, Lanai, Kaho’olawe, Kahalawai (West Maui Mountains) and Haleakala (the only dormant volcano on Maui). The channels between the four islands (Molokai, Lanai, Kaho’olawe and Maui) are relatively shallow, and scientists think they at one time formed one large island which is now partially submerged.
The Molokai Sea Cliffs are the tallest sea cliffs in the world. They are thought to have been formed when roughly a third of the island broke off and sunk into the ocean due to volcanic/earthquake activity, over a million years ago.
Kalaupapa is a leprosy (Hansen’s Disease) colony where the government exiled leprosy patients to live in complete isolation starting in 1865. The purpose of this isolation policy was to prevent the spread of this contagious disease. The isolation policy officially ended in 1969. Here is a link with more information about this tragic part of history. Hansen’s Disease is now treatable/curable.