Kauai Trip Report, 9/24/06 - 10/8/06

Old Oct 22nd, 2006, 10:58 AM
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Helicopter Tour

We really agonized over this one in terms of which company to pick. We knew from my research here that there had been a few tragic helicopter incidents over the years, so safety was an important factor in our decision. With that in mind, we only considered the three companies recommended by the blue book–Air Kaua’i, InterIsland and Jack Harter. After reading all the raves here about “no-doors” tours, we decided to give that a try. We figured the pictures would be lots better without the glare and we also liked the fact that these helicopters (Hughes 500s) seat only 4 passengers at a time and have no middle seats in back. It used to be that only InterIsland flew the no-doors flights but we found out that Jack Harter is now doing them, as well. Of these two, we ultimately decided to go with Jack Harter because the blue book describes their narration as the most detailed and accurate. Apparently, InterIsland has temporarily stopped doing their waterfall landing tours that many here have raved about.

We wanted to do the helicopter tour early in our trip to help orient us to the island, so we booked a week before leaving home for a flight on our second day. We deliberately chose a morning flight since I recalled reading that these were preferable for weather and lighting issues. I was a little worried when we woke that morning to rain and overcast skies, but it had stopped raining on the ground by the time we reached Lihue. I have a tendency toward motion sickness and I’ve heard that some feel nauseous on these flights, so I asked when we were checking in if many have problems. The man at the desk said they average around one incident a day (I’m guessing they fly 50 or more people daily?) but he also said that problems are much rarer on the no-doors flights, which we thought was interesting. I guess all the fresh air must help. I’d taken some Meclizine (i.e. Bonine or non-drowsy Dramamine) the night before and I ended up feeling fine throughout the flight.

Seating arrangements for all helicopter tours are done by weight/height so everyone must step on the scale at check in. Following a short safety briefing and orientation, we were shuttled to the nearby take-off and landing area. Mike and I ended up in the front seat, with me in-between he and the pilot, so he got picture-taking duty. The front is supposedly best for views, but I was a little disappointed to be stuck in the only middle spot. This is easily the smallest seat of the four so don’t expect much elbow room if you end up here. If you opt for a no-doors flight, don’t be like the folks we flew with, who showed up in shorts and flip-flops. The temperatures in the air are a good 15 degrees cooler than on the ground and it gets very windy. We were pretty comfortable in long pants, closed shoes and windbreakers, although Mike said his right side got a little cold toward the end when we flew through some rain.

Wow–what can I say about the flight itself? There is so much beautiful scenery on Kaua’i that just can’t be seen any other way. The views are absolutely awe-inspiring. Yes, it’s pricey but if you can afford only one tour, this is definitely the one to do. The visibility ended up being fine despite some low clouds and heavy rain in the Wai’ale’ale crater, and we were lucky enough to catch a full 360 rainbow over the NaPali coast. Although I was a little nervous, we easily flew into the valleys while remaining safely below the cloud layer, and it was a smooth flight. Overall, I was very impressed with our pilot’s flying skills, although, to be honest, I can’t say we were overly thrilled with his narrative, which came off a bit like a bored tour bus driver. I’m guessing this varies quite a bit from one pilot to the next. Having no-doors was a little scary at first but you’re well strapped-in and we were happy to have chosen this option. Be aware that there is no music, although you do have headsets, which cut back on the noise and allow you to ask the pilot questions in-flight. The open-air concept is great for picture-taking, but it make take a few minutes getting comfortable enough to let go of the hand-hold and pick up your camera. I posted a number of our helicopter pics online and you can see them via the link above. The price for this trip was $229pp.

Overall, I would recommend Jack Harter for their safety record and the no-doors flights, but might try Air Kaua’i if we wanted to do a more traditional, closed-doors experience to see how their narrative stacks up.
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Old Oct 23rd, 2006, 01:43 PM
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Thanks for sharing! I enjoyed your photos and report.
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Old Nov 3rd, 2006, 02:29 PM
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Gosh, this is by far the longest it's ever taken me to write a trip report. So sorry to keep dragging this out! OK, here's the next installment...

NaPali Catamaran

We also scheduled this tour on the recommendation of the blue bible. There are a number of different companies that do NaPali coast tours but NaPali Catamaran is one of a very few that leaves from the north shore (Hanalei) so it increases the amount of time you spend actually seeing the NaPali scenery vs. tours that leave from the west side, where a significant percentage of your tour is taken up just getting to the NaPali coast area. We knew NaPali Catamaran was popular and that we’d need to book in advance so I called at about 2 weeks out. Wow–-we ended up getting the last 2 morning slots for our chosen date. I guess the moral here is that 2 weeks isn’t enough!

We knew tours could sometimes be cancelled if the surf was too high so we deliberately picked the Thursday of our first week, hoping we might be able reschedule if this happened. It turned out to be a good decision. Early Thursday morning we got a phone call that the water was just too rough. Fortunately, we were able to reschedule for several days later. When we’d originally booked the tour, it was for the last week in September–-$140pp for a 4 hour sightseeing trip including an hour-long stop for snorkeling and lunch, but NaPali generally stops doing the snorkeling part of its tours on October 1st due to water conditions, so the rescheduled trip was only $125pp for 3-hours minus the snorkel.

Early on the morning of our tour, we met at NaPali Catamaran’s offices in Hanalei, where a van shuttled us to the bay in two groups. Once there, we waded through the shallow water to a motorized outrigger canoe, which took us to the 34' catamaran. NaPali takes a total of 16 people on each tour, so there isn’t much room to spread out or move around on the boat. There is a seat for each person but no more. Since the passenger area offers no shade, be sure to wear plenty of sunscreen or bring clothing to cover up. There is also a small marine bathroom on board.

Luckily for us, the water was almost completely calm, so–surprise!–staff said we’d probably get to do the full hour of snorkeling after all, even at the reduced price. I thought this was really nice of them. During the tour our captain commented several times on how unusually great the conditions were for October. As we were pulling out of the bay area, an enormous turtle floated past us, and a few minutes later a group of spinner dolphins showed up to play in our wake. We were off to a great start!

The tour starts out heading west along the NaPali coastline. If the water is calm enough, they’ll take the boat into several of the small caves you pass along the way, which was really neat. The scenery along the NaPali coastline is just fabulous. We’d seen some of it already on our helicopter tour, but it was great to get a closer look from a different perspective. Near the western end of the coastline, we stopped, dropped anchor, and did our snorkeling at a place called Nu’alolo Kai. This was a gorgeous reef and the best snorkeling we did anywhere on Kauai. While we were stopped, the staff offered a light snack of fruit, cookies, chips and string cheese served with soft drinks, water or juice. An hour later, we were back in the boat and headed east on our return to Hanalei Bay. The return trip is always rougher than the trip out, so if you’re prone to seasickness, I’d recommend taking something before you leave. Luckily, it wasn’t bad at all for us–probably because the water was so calm. I’d taken a Bonine the night before and wasn’t queasy at all, although I think I would’ve been fine on this particular day even without the medication. We were told that morning trips are always calmer than afternoon ones, so this is something else to be aware of when scheduling.

Overall, this was a great trip. A slightly smaller group and an option for a longer tour would both have been nice but, nonetheless, I’d definitely recommend NaPali Catamaran for tours in the summer season.
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