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#7 of the Romantic Things to Do on the Big Island of Hawaii
Let me Take You on a Magic Carpet Ride
First, press ‘Play’ …
The Magnificent Seven
…then picture this.
You arrive about an hour early and check in with the desk personnel at the heliport just off the highway going north out of Kona. It’s mid-morning, and when you get out of your car, you can smell the kerosene from the jet engines on the helicopters as they come and go. They’re busy here, but it’s a relaxed busy, somehow different from the airport experience you’re used to seeing.
The people behind the desk eventually round up your group and you walk out to your gleaming machine. Your helicopter is an Ecostar. It has a huge bubble canopy that wraps around most of the front. It’s beautiful.
You meet your pilot who is a very knowledgable and competent guy. He flew Blackhawk helicopters, a much bigger and more complex machine for the US Army in Afghanistan and Iraq. You’ll feel very comfortable with him at the controls.
Your love helps you into the helicopter. You’re seated in the middle, next to the pilot and your love climbs in beside you taking your hand. From below your feet to above your head are huge, clear panels sweeping around to both sides. It provides you an amazing, almost unobstructed view. There are also two couples seated behind you on the back row, and after everyone’s belted in the jet engine starts and the rotor overhead begins to spin. It’s not loud because you’re wearing headsets that allow conversation by pushing a switch.
The pilot talks to the tower, then pulls a lever on his left up a bit and you slowly rise into the air. It’s wonderful, unlike anything you’ve ever felt before! It’s as if the two of you are sitting on a magic carpet. As the ground starts to recede below, you gently move forward and begin to glide away on a slowly increasing curve. The views are amazing, the lava forming soft puffy mounds beneath your feet.
That type of lava is known as pahoehoe (pron. puh–HOH-EE-hoh-ee) and it’s formed when lava moves slowly and cools slowly. Pahoehoe lava has a smooth, shiny, or swirled surface and the word comes from the Hawaiian verb “hoe”, which means “to paddle” reminiscent of the swirls made by paddles in the water.
As you continue inland, the lava fields become more craggy, dotted with straw-colored puffs of invasive bunch grass. This is aa (pron. AH-ah) lava which is formed when lava flows rapidly. Under these circumstances, there is rapid heat loss. When the solid surface crust is torn, the underlying lava is unable to move quickly enough to heal the tear. Bits of the crust are then mixed in and coated by the still liquid lava, forming the craggy chunks
Your progress is much slower than a plane because the helicopter’s working hard to climb as you move inland and the land rises beneath you.
Soaring off across the plains at about 500 feet, The Magnificent Seven sound track begins to play on your headset. You look down and see hundreds of black dots flowing across the grass below. They’re sounders of feral pigs, large and small, running from the helicopter. Watching them sweep across the ground, you almost feel as if you’re in the middle of a wild west round up. You wonder what they eat, where they drink and how so many of them exist out here (and, if you’re like me, where the nearest grill is.) As you fly on, you see a herd of wild sheep below you on the plains.
Continuing further inland, the ground begins to undulate gently almost like waves on the surface of a grassy ocean.
The sunlight is softly painting the grasses below, highlighting the sage brown with a golden glow. You notice the clouds beginning to gather around the mountain top. Moving inland the landscape, dotted with volcanic cinder cones almost looks alien.
Heading eastward towards Hilo the landscape begins to change beneath your feet. The black lava and brown grass gives way to more lush, green pastures. You’re coming into a rain forest.
As you climb higher, you rise over the saddle between Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa and enter the rain showers and mist that often hang in the valley. Beads of moisture form and streak the canopy as you push north east through the sky at over 100 miles an hour. Soon the visibility improves and you see the slopes below you flushed with green as you move over the wet side of the island.
As you swing out over the ocean and head south, the beautiful eastern cliffs come into view. The eastern coast of the Big Island is incredible.
It’s easy to envision the topography as a gigantic lava flow that broke off and slid into the ocean, with a few large pieces sticking up out of the water as a reminder. These cliffs are one of the most iconic sights on the entire island and you know that image will be forever etched in your mind.
Continuing south, the land flattens out, becoming more green. You see tiny farms and many small patches covered with black shade cloth. These are the orchid and flower farms of Hilo. The shoreline here is rocky with white water as the waves break on the rough ground.
The only places that aren’t covered with green are lava flows, roads and roofs. Your magic carpet bends its course south, following the flank of Mauna Kea until you come to Kilauea Volcano and the Pu’u ‘O’o vent in the crater’s mouth.
You fly past and around it, leaning over to see the bright orange space where the lava is flowing away under the crust and down to the coast. You wonder what it would be like down there – the furnace heat of the glowing magma smoothly slipping from sight, only to reappear miles away, the sulphur stink of the gasses billowing out into the air.
After a couple of passes you slide downhill over green slopes to land at Hilo International Airport for more gas. Everybody gets out and walks to the shelter. It feels like it’s going to rain any minute in Hilo even when it’s not. Fifteen minutes later everybody piles in again and away you fly, heading out to sea and north along the coast. There are some lovely beaches in Hilo. If you have time you decide you’d like to explore them further.
It’s almost godlike, this sense of freedom. The pilot calls out and you look sharply below at something huge in the water. It’s humpback whales, clearly visible through the water below. They rise and spout underneath you, and the brisk trade wind pushes the vapor away toward the island as you watch.
A gentle bank sends you back toward the land, your pilot turning into one of the incredible valleys carved into the cliffside. And shortly something amazing comes into view. Waterfalls – taller than you are, flying along at over a thousand feet! You look up to see them leaping free from vertical cliffs to fall hundreds of feet into pools, only to leap again and spill endlessly to the ocean. These streams, creeks and small rivers are replenished almost daily in one of the wettest places on earth, and the slopes are carpeted in green vegetation. It’s awe inspiring to realize that water was the author of this valley.
You arc in and turn tightly within the confines of the narrow valley, never stopping to hover because that’s dangerous – as with most things in nature, speed is life when you’re flying. After a few passes, you zoom out again and begin the long climb back up and over Kohala Volcano and then down again to the hot and sunny Kona side. Coming back down from the north, you see the heliport and hover over your pad, settling gently to earth. You almost don’t want to get off your magic carpet, but you know that you need time to absorb the amazing things you’ve seen, to digest the wonder you’ve felt. It’s hard to describe, but after seeing the island this way, it changes you. You become more open to this special place, more aware of its depth, its appeal and its amazing variety.
Blue Hawaiian Helicopter
Address: 68-690 Waikoloa Rd, Waikoloa Village, HI 96738
Least Busy Times: Mondays
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