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Kauai by Helicopter: Hawaii's frontier

Enormous stretches of Kauai remain unexplored by man. Most travelers will be happy to drive to the edge of the Waimea Canyon or take a tour via zodiac to discover the immensity of Na Pali from a safe distance. Fewer still will walk the staggering Kalalau Trail, a bucket list-worthy 11-mile journey along the northern Na Pali coast.


And a small, select few will say ‘screw it’ and book a helicopter.


It’s not such an absurd way to explore an island that’s barely 30 miles across. A glance at a map of Hawaii’s garden island will show you just one main road, extending from Ke’e Beach in the north to Waimea in the south following the eastern shore. Beyond that? Vast untouched wilderness. Miles upon miles of open plains, staggering canyons, waterfalls and rainforests filled with rare and exotic birds and flowers. You’d be hard pressed to penetrate more than a few miles into the lush interior without an Indy fedora and a sturdy 4WD. From the air though, every secret can be uncovered.


Na Pali Coast from the air. Picture: Julian Fong


Kauai is a green giant blanketed by dense forest. From above you can begin to understand how barely 5% of the island is developed. Our first highlight is Manawaiopuna Falls, otherwise known as Jurassic Park Falls after featuring prominently in the 1993 film and the 2015 reboot. We slowly loop towards the falls, giving everyone a chance to see the water tumble into the abyss. Our pilot follows the river upstream to Kāhili Falls, as series of picture perfect drops cut through the wilderness.


Deeper we venture, into the Waimea Canyon, the ‘Grand Canyon of the Pacific’. The rocky red martian landscape drops thousands of feet below us, deep brown earth a far cry from the verdant greens we had become used to. We swoop low to see the Mountains goats cling to the cliffs.


Barely a moment later we’re on the coast heading for the famed Na Pali coast.

Nothing can quite prepare you for the visual spectacle. A feast of colour, from green to ocre, then white sand and turquoise ocean, fills our windows like a pastel painting. Thousands of paper thin ridgelines fall sharply towards the ocean. Each corresponding valley weathered my millenia of rain and wind. Our pilot flies low over the ridges, and our stomach falls through the floor when we see the immense drop on the other side. What a rush.

It’s easy to see why no overland route has ever been created. And I’m glad to be honest. We might possess the technology to cut great holes through the coast like Swiss cheese, but the moment we do the magic will be lost. Until then it remains a mystery; one of America’s final frontiers.


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