We were standing on the helipad of Jack Harter Helicopters, watching helicopters land and take off.
It wasn’t perfect weather. The sky was full of dark clouds and it seemed awfully windy. Orange airport flags flapped wildly, their slender poles bent over. But the pilot (who’d been flying for something like fifteen years, including two years in the Army) didn’t seem concerned with the weather, so why should I?
Martin and I were ushered into the two front seats, grinning our fool heads off, and strapped down. The propellers roared overhead, competing with the wind.
And then suddenly we lifted smoothly off the ground, sliding sideways. Nose pointed down, we skimmed along the outskirts of the airport, and then rose miraculously and breathlessly up into the sky, where dark mountains and green fields and the blue ocean opened up before us.
Martin and I squeezed hands tightly, grinned wider and wider, pointed here and there. Martin was shooting lots of video footage and lots of photos, although I’m not sure how he did all that composing and metering and camera-fiddling while simultaneously holding my hand, pointing out sights, and hanging out of the helicopter.
Oh, did I mention that there were no doors on the helicopter?
Just gaping holes in the side of the aircraft, with nothing but a thin seatbelt strap holding Martin from tumbling out.
Martin sat enthusiastically right there on the edge of the precipice, leg dangling out, pants flapping wildly in the gale, the wind snatching at him. He kept leaning out, further and further – a little more! a little more! – for the next great shot.
Hundreds of feet up in the air. Halfway out of the helicopter. Not holding on.
The pilot corrected him a few times – “Hey buddy, get back in here!” – and then eventually gave up. There’s only so much you can do with these crazy photographers.
We flew over Poipu, then turned inland towards Waimea Canyon. The pilot flew low and fast over a ridge, and the earth suddenly dropped dizzyingly out of sight, plunging down, and we found ourselves over Waimea Canyon.
Waterfalls poured down cliff faces to streams far below, fingerlike side canyons snaked away, dramatic and colorful earth striations dazzled us. We flew high, we dropped low, we hovered in front of waterfalls, we spun in a tight circle to see canyon walls.
A few times the air felt disturbingly choppy to me, like our little helicopter was getting awfully buffeted about, and I wondered if it was too windy for safety, if the pilot would need to modify his flight plan, maybe take us back early. We were kind of being thrown about by this screaming wind, and I wasn’t interested in being dashed to the ground, thank you. But the pilot just kept chatting away to us on his headset, pointing out the sights, and there was no stress or concern in his voice. Either everything really was fine, and this battering wind was truly nothing to worry about, or he was really good at disguising the peril we were actually in.
I suppose a little sub-hurricane-force wind is nothing for him. He was an Army guy. They’re pretty good at their jobs.
We flew out to the coast and turned upwards (north) and saw a jagged ridge of mountain coming down to the sea – and as we flew around, the entire Na Pali coast opened up before us. It was spectacular, breathtaking.
Impossibly razor-thin jagged mountain ridges stood majestically with their feet in the brilliant blue water and their heads shrouded in the clouds. We flew deep into the narrow space between two of those crazy ridges – green walls going straight up on either side – and learned that the very first Hawaiians lived here.
Here, in this rugged inhospitable area of crashing waves and stormy weather and vertical terrain.
People were just tougher back then.
We flew over Hanalei – a gorgeous bay with a huge reef protecting it, all turquoise blues and royal purples – and then up the Hanalei River valley, back across the verdant green island with its iconic cone-shaped volcanoes, and finally enjoyed a gentle put-down back at the helipad.
Bursting with exuberance, I leaned over and planted a big ole kiss on the cheek of the very-surprised pilot, then tumbled out of the hole where the door should have been and danced wildly around with Martin, whooping it up and waving my arms. We were grinning ear to ear.
I highly recommend it.
Well, not the hanging-out-of-the-helicopter part. I recommend you stay in the helicopter.
Hear that, husbands and photographers and other screwballs?
Inside the helicopter.