Unforgettable helicopter tour over Kauai

Chuck and I celebrated another wedding anniversary in June. Often this time of year, we reminisce about past anniversaries and the many ways in which we have celebrated over the years. For our 10th anniversary in 2007, we spent a memorable vacation in Hawaii. Our itinerary was so jam-packed with places to go and things to see over two weeks on two islands that some vacation memories have gotten a bit ‘fuzzy’ with time. But our helicopter trip over Kauai is one anniversary trip activity we won’t soon forget.

Who could forget the breathtaking scenery over the Garden Isle?  We soared high above Kauai’s spectacular beauty — each sight made us imagine we were dropped onto a page of a Hawaii photography coffee table book, a flashy, souvenir calendar or a colorful tourism website.

Inter-Island Helicopters was recommended by friends and also came highly rated in the tour guide known as the “blue bible” — The Ultimate Kauai Guidebook. We opted for a deluxe tour which landed us at a private waterfall where we enjoyed a break from the loud whirring of blades. Some of us even took a quick dip in a crystal clear pool at the base of the falls. As I understand it, the waterfall landing tour is no longer available, so we feel really fortunate to have been able to go when we did.

Inter-Island is one of a few Kauai helicopters companies to offer tourists door-free rides. It’s one thing to fly a couple thousand feet above the azure blue waters of the Pacific and the lush Hawaiian tropical canopy; think about riding in a helicopter without doors!  After a few minutes getting our heads (and stomachs) adjusted to the motion and height of the take-off, we felt much more at ease. The pilot’s narration and humor helped us to relax a bit more.

Yet as we looked down over the landscape, we were quickly reminded that the only thing holding us in was a combination seat belt/shoulder strap. Our white-knuckled fists stayed firmly wrapped around the nearest grab bar — aka the “Oh-(insert expletive)! handle.”  At one point when the helicopter climbed up out and over the island’s northern cliffs, we glanced back and forth in both directions — we could see up and down the Kauai’s iconic Na Pali Coast. These overwhelming views kept the exclamations rolling off our tongues: “Wow!” “I can’t believe this!” “Incredible!”

Gorgeous landscapes, infinite coastal beaches and dazzling canyons were not the only sights from our Kauai helicopter tour. We also were able to spot wildlife — mountain goats, wild boars and of course, those famous Kauai chickens.

Here are some of our favorite photos and a short video from that unforgettable anniversary helicopter tour.

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Hills of southwest Kauai

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Waimea Canyon

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Along Kauai’s Na Pali Coast

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Monowaiopuna Falls

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North coast near Tunnels Beach

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We landed in a clearing in north central Kauai

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Multiple waterfall sights on Kauai helicopter tour

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Patchwork farmland of south central Kauai

A few of my favorite travel apps

 

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In no particular order and for no particular reason, I thought I’d share some of my favorite travel mobile apps. Having an iPhone 4S, I rely on some of these apps when planning my vacations, after I reach my destination or merely dreaming about my next travel adventure.

1. Glympse

Several months ago, a friend sent me an email with an unknown link. We were awaiting her arrival to our home for a dinner gathering. When I opened the link, up came a Glympse. It was much more than an itinerary. With the wonder of GPS, I could follow her car in real-time as it entered on the freeway, stopped at the traffic lights and turned onto our street. With Glympse, I could see her speed, estimated time of arrival as well as starting point and destination. It’s also possible to send messages with your trip. (For example: “We stopped to pick up something for dessert.”) “Glympses” can be shared with friends through email or social media.

2. FlightTrack

I know I’ll get some flack from die-hard TripIt users, but I’m not a frequent flyer or business traveler so much of the TripIt functionality is a bit too much for me. FlightTrack has many of the same tools as TripIt. I like FlightTrack Pro for its built-in SeatGuru airline-seating layout. The detailed terminal map and legend make it easy to find connection gates, restrooms, ATM, taxi stands, etc. You can see airport flight boards, earth-view flight routes, historical on-time data and so much more.

3. Hotel Tonight

Relatively new but continually expanding and updating its city database is Hotel Tonight, an app that helps travelers find last minute hotel rooms. Its virtual front desk opens up at noon local time. If you’re searching for local rooms or planning a last minute getaway, this app is for you. For example, I’ll be in London next month and I may want to find a last minute lodging deal  the night before I depart. Those $300 rooms in London’s preferred hotel districts often are available for about $200 or less on Hotel Tonight. (For London lodging options, that’s a great deal.)

4. Kayak

Kayak is my ‘go-to’ app for general travel pricing guidelines — for hotels, airfares, car rentals, etc. When one of my friends or clients asks, “What’s a flight to Hawaii cost these days?” I can usually provide a fairly accurate answer based on my Kayak search. Not all airlines are available through Kayak, though, so I just use as more of a jumping off point, and then I start my search for deeper discounts. Kayak also has discount alert and flight tracker tools.

5. Hawaii Beaches

Okay, I know Hawaii Beaches isn’t really a ‘travel app’ but more of a compilation of beach videos. Actually, I think most of these videos probably have ‘dubbed-in’ wave sounds. But hey, when you can’t get away to the beach, you can make the beach come to you — at least through your mobile device. Click on one of the islands to view a teaser clip of various beaches around one of the Hawaiian islands. Grab an icy Mai Tai, relax in your Arizona backyard lawn chair and experience the beaches of Maui… or Kauai…  or…

6. Surf Report

I’m sure similar apps exist with more features and less bugs but the Oakley Surf Report gives me the info I need in one place. What? Who me? Of course, I’m no surfer. I’m just a beach bunny. Every chance I get, I run to the place where water meets sand. Surf Report provides me with wave size, water temperature, and weather conditions for thousands of beaches around the world. I’m usually on the look-out for warm waters with some ‘mahina’ (low and flat) waves for snorkeling, kayaking and — who knows — possibly trying my skills at stand-up paddleboarding. And if I DO get in the mood to surf, I always can watch the videos — right in the shade of my palapa.

What are some of your favorite travel apps? I’m always looking for new ones…

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Feel a Pacific power blast at Maui’s Nakalele Blowhole

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Considering a spring trip to the Hawaiian Islands? The island of Maui offers a variety of spectacular sights and sounds. Think about hearing the sound of the Pacific Ocean jetting through a lava shelf. Imagine seeing the sight of a huge blast of sea shooting up over 50 feet up above the rocks.  If you can picture these, you’d likely be thinking of the Nakalele Blowhole.

The Nakalele Blowhole is located approximately 16 miles north of Lahaina, just off of Highway 30. This northern tip of Maui claims sweeping views of open fields, majestic cliffs and fascinating rock formations. Near mile marker 38 is a parking turnout and what appears to be an old dirt Jeep trail. Park here and follow this path down to the small lighthouse. Here you will think that the trail ends. You will need to continue following the coast in a southeasterly direction along the rock shelf for about 15-20 minutes. The total distance one-way is probably only about half a mile. There is another, smaller blowhole before you get to the “real one,” so just persevere and eventually you will see – and hear it!

Some visitors park their cars along Highway 30 a short distance past the first turnoff and walk down the hill from the road. That route may be quicker but not as exciting or interesting.

Tips: Wear sturdy shoes, as the rocks are uneven and can be slippery. Wear swimsuits or quick-drying shorts and shirts. Bring towels – plan to get wet!

The hole through rocks is about 18 inches to two feet in diameter, if memory serves. I have learned about accidents at this blowhole that have left visitors severely injured or dead, because they got too close to the opening. New homemade signs now carry the warning. I’d stay several feet back – it’s still possible to feel the thrill and cold spray – and “shoot some footage.”

Read some of the reviews on travel sites like tripadvisor.com and watch a few of the many videos on youtube.com before you go. For the best blowhole shows, try to visit during high tide and high surf.

We recommend using mobile apps such as EveryTrail.com and Oakley’s Surf Report for more information while at the site.

Blowhole is the upper right corner

Blowhole is the upper right corner

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Soak like Hawaiian royalty at Kauai’s Queen’s Bath

Start of trail to Queen's Bath was fairly dry during June

Start of trail to Queen’s Bath was fairly dry during June

On our first trip to Kauai, one of the first beach excursions we mapped out was the short walk to Queen’s Bath near Princeville. This 15-minute jaunt gave us an immediate (and cautious) appreciation for the Pacific’s power — the force of its waves, as well as a healthy respect for the seasonally changing coastline trail conditions.

Queen’s Bath is a tide pool along the rocky north shore. It can be a great place to try out or practice snorkeling. We made the trip during the summer, when Kauai’s north shore is calmer and a bit drier than in the winter months.

The trail location can easily found from various web resources; one of these is HawaiiGaga.com. Many of these websites will also alert visitors to safety precautions. As first time visitors from the desert, we weren’t accustomed to walking along slippery, muddy trails laced with protruding roots.  I’m glad we did a little research before our vacation and invested in good set of sturdy hiking sandals with heavy tread. With snorkeling gear and a light backpack of snacks, water, camera and tow, we started out fairly early. This turned out to be a good plan, because there is limited parking for hikers along the residential street. The warmer part of the afternoon will draw the bulk of the tourist crowd.

Following the trail, we walked past a couple small waterfalls and came through an area of lush tropical growth.  (As desert dwellers, we always appreciate any kind of vegetation deviation from creosote bush and cactus. Thicker, greener: better.) And just as we were starting to love this dense little thicket, the trail opens up to a full view of the rocky Kauai north coast. Waves come crashing on the black lava rocks, sending up the salty spray. To see this part of Kauai up close for the first time is exhilarating, exciting!

Soon we realized we are stepping gingerly along the lava rocks along the shore. Walking became a bit more “tricky,” as we kept one eye on the ocean waves and the other on the rocks below our feet. After exiting the wooded trail, we stayed to the left (West), following the rocky coast for a few hundred yards. We passed two other lava rock tide pools that reminded us of the photos we had seen of Queen’s Bath, but they were not our intended destination. Finally, we recognized Queen’s Bath as we approached, knowing it was the same iconic sight plucked from postcards and brochures, the same place we’d seen in the popular Hawaii guidebooks and websites.  It’s the only tide pool that’s almost completely surrounded by rock walls. There is only one narrow ocean outlet against the water’s edge. Several nice rocky benches and ledges on the near side of the pool made perfect places to sit down, spread out our gear and enjoy the “bath.”

Kauai’s Queen’s Bath actually is named after another site on Hawaii (the “Big Island”) that was swept away by destruction after Kilauea Volcano’s 1983 eruption, according to Wikipedia. That particular “bath” site was reserved only for Hawaiian kings and queens.

Spending an hour soaking up Kauai’s sunshine, floating effortlessly in a crystal-clear tide pool and noshing on a picnic lunch with fantastic views of Kauai’s north shore is indeed the “perfect day in paradise.”  And it’s surely enough to make any Arizona desert rat feel like Hawaiian royalty.

Waterfalls and pools along the trail

Waterfalls and pools along the trail

Beautiful Pacific Ocean views along the trail

Beautiful Pacific Ocean views along the trail

Walk past other pools along the shore trail to Queen's Bath

Walk past other pools along the shore trail to Queen’s Bath

Use care walking along those slippery rocks!

Use care walking along those slippery rocks!

We spotted a sea turtle or two in the open water

We spotted a sea turtle or two in the open water

You'll know when you've come to Queen's Bath - it's almost completely enclosed

You’ll know when you’ve come to Queen’s Bath – it’s almost completely enclosed

Queen's Bath is a great place to try snorkeling or brush up on your skills

Queen’s Bath is a great place to try snorkeling or brush up on your skills

Spectacular views of Kauai's north shore while relaxing at Queen's Bath

Spectacular views of Kauai’s north shore while relaxing at Queen’s Bath

 

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‘The Descendants’ movie prompts Hawaii trip memories

 

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Secret Beach on Kauai’s north shore. Not every day can be sunny.

 

 

Last weekend we watched the movie, “The Descendants” starring George Clooney. It’s from Alexander Payne, the same director whose film “Sideways,” received an Oscar for Writing, Adapted Screenplay. Shortly after “Sideways” was released, a surge of “movie tourism” brought fans and wine lovers to the Santa Barbara, California vineyards. And just since “The Descendants” was released last fall, there have been numerous websites, blogs and travel news pages, dedicated to describing these movie locations to Hawaii visitors. Having traveled to some of the destinations seen in “The Descendants,” it prompted memories from past Hawaii vacations.

Anyone who has seen “The Descendants” (released on DVD last week), and has also been to any of these places in the film, will probably understand how easy it is to feel a close connection to Kauai, its beauty, history, culture and mystique.

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St. Regis Resort Beach, Princeville – on Kauai’s north shore

 

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Princeville Resort in 2007, before major renovations

In the movie, the King family stays at the St. Regis Princeville Resort while visiting on Kauai for a few days. Even if you’re staying at another hotel on Kauai’s north shore, I recommend stopping by the St. Regis, even just to take a tour of the lobby area and surrounding grounds. Have some lunch or do a spa day there. It’s luxurious! If it’s too steep for your wallet, consider stay in the Westin Princeville Resort Ocean Villas, which were also featured in the movie, then you can take the shuttle to the St. Regis.

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Sunset scene from St. Regis

 

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St. Regis beach front view of Hanalei Bay

 

In “The Descendants,” much of the time Matt King and his daughters spend on Kauai is in either Princeville or Hanalei. While visiting Hanalei, you could walk out on the pier, stroll along the beach, browse through the quaint shops, cafes and restaurants, such as Tahiti Nui, where George Clooney  has a drink with his cousin Hugh, played by Beau Bridges. Incidentally, Beau Bridges is a part-time Kauai resident, and word has it that he spends time at “da Nui.”  Find information about those Hanalei cottage rentals on the Hanalei Land website.

Waikiki Beach, taken from the Sheraton

 

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Waikiki from Diamond Head

 

In the final scene from the movie, Matt King and his daughters, Alex and Scottie are floating in an outrigger canoe with the tall Waikiki hotels on the Oahu horizon. The ocean in the movie looks extremely calm — almost too calm, but it was definitely not filmed in a tank assures Shailene Woodley, who plays Alex.  While on Oahu, other movie sites include the hospital, private school and exclusive neighborhood where the King family resides. These are not places I’d want to spend my valuable Hawaiian time exploring, but more information about these and other locations from the movie can be found on these websites and blogs:

Garrett on the Road

USA Today Travel Destinations

Readers: Just from gathering research for this blog, I was really surprised how popular “movie tourism” is. I’d like to know — how many of you have seen a movie, then wanted to travel to its filming locations. If so, what was the outcome?

 

 

 

Hike to Hanakapi’ai Beach shows Kauai’s beauty

The formidable and intimidating Kalalau Trail. Just the thought of considering a hike along this very challenging trail on Kauai’s Na Pali Coast was overwhelming. On a recent trip to Kauai, we had thought about making the long hike, but without overnight permits, camping equipment or the ‘moxie,’ we decided to hike only the first two miles of the 11-mile Kalalau Trail to Hanakapi’ai Beach.

View of Na Pali Coast from Kalalau Trail

Most hikers in fairly good physical condition will find the first, short piece of this 11-mile hike is an easy to moderate hike. It may be muddy, with some rocky creeks to plow through, and crowded, with the occasional traffic jam while some hiker ahead lingers to gaze out over Ke’e Beach or snap some photos of the coastline. Oh, wait — that was me. However, all the slippery mud, knee-skinning boulders, high density traffic conditions are far surpassed by the spectacular coastline and majestic mountains of Na Pali Coast, and beautiful Hanakapi’ai Beach and Valley.

Spectacular views along the trail

Before our party of four started out, we packed up our gear. Although hikers will travel this short piece of Kalalau in about 3-4 hours round-trip, we thought we’d spend more time at the beach. So we packed some fruit and sandwiches and filled up our 100-ounce Camelbak MULE packs. (This isn’t really an endorsement, but we’ve had these well-used packs for about 14 years now and they’re still in very good shape.) We were also equipped with our Keen sandals, which we found gripped the mud-slippery boulders well, and one walking pole each, to add that “third leg” of stability and balance.

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Ke’e Beach seen from first half mile of Kalalau Trail

We arrived at the trailhead early in the morning before the Ke’e Beach parking lot overflowing. If we had waited until late morning, we would have been driving around in circles until someone left. Hikers may find additional spaces in the overflow parking by the caves, which is just a five-minute walk from the trailhead.

Sand, surf, sky at Hanakapi’ai Beach

After the first half mile on the trail, we stopped and looked back to see we were far above the coast. We could almost see the full-length sandy expanse of Ke’e Beach, until it curves around to the northeast. We then marched onward, following the trail and the single rank and file of hikers up and down through stream beds, over ridge lines and around hillsides. On the final descent to Hanakapi’ai Beach we could hear the crowd who had already arrived, plus the crash of breaking waves.

Spend some time at Hanakapi’ai Beach relaxing in the shallow pools

Hanakapi’ai Beach is a small spread of white sand with the creek from the mountains spilling in to the Pacific. Upon arrival, we immediately kicked off our sandals to soothe our feet and ankles in the fine sand and warm pools. (We visited during June.) We staked out several large boulders to set up lunch and watch the skilled surfers in the waves. It’s safer to stay out of the open ocean here, since the rip currents can be treacherous. Hikers have been reminded many times, online, at the trailhead and with signs along the trail. We decided not to add a few more hours to our trip by venturing upstream to Hanakapi’ai Falls. That side trip, plus the next nine miles of the Kalalau Trail will have to be added to a future Kauai vacation itinerary.

Hawaii State Parks’ website has the official information plus a detailed, downloadable brochure.

2012 vacation goals: Ring in the new and old — destinations

2012 arrives at AZGetawayTravel with annual resolutions, new household budget, new business prospects and new travel plans. Each January, my husband and I reassess our vacation plans. This year, we’d like to set our sights on Europe, Central America or the Caribbean. And as we have learned, there are always a few leftover items from the ‘to-do’ list of past travels. So we’d also like to return to a few of our favorite places and complete the itinerary. Here’s a sampling:

1. San Carlos, Sonora

We once dreamed of having the means to explore the small coves and inlets, around Guaymas and San Carlos in our own 42′ foot sailboat. Now, it’s more realistic for us to buy a couple of seats on a tour boat, or brush up on our kayaking skills. We still imagine ourselves in those isolated coves, only the method of access is changed. Maybe this year, we return to San Carlos — for gunkholing the Sea of Cortez.

View of Playa Piedras Pintas from Zorro Cove trail

Southern tip of Playa Algodones near Marina Real

Tetakawi Mountain and Zorro Cove near San Carlos

2. Kauai

We love the Hawaiian island of Kauai, and its numerous small, tucked-away beaches. These may be hidden, but they’re certainly not secret. Yet some of the access trails are a bit challenging, so they help to prevent overcrowding by most tourists. We’ve visited several of these seemingly obscure beaches, but there’s a few we missed and someday, we hope to return.

Queen's Bath on Kauai's north coast, is a pool carved into the island's lava shelf

A catamaran takes visitors to Nualolo Kai on Kauai's Napali Coast

Our doorless helicopter ride was a thrill. Maybe this year we'll get a closer look at Kauai's beaches.

3. Cancun and Riviera Maya

We spent one week in Cancun in 2006. One week was not nearly enough. Our stay was filled with sight-seeing, beach time, snorkeling, boating, but several side trips had to be postponed. Maybe this year we can return to explore the Rivieria Maya, or visit nearby islands of Isla Mujeres and Cozumel.

Chichen Itza is one of several Mayan ruin sites on the Yucatan

Cancun beaches are fantastic -- remember to save time for side trips

Folk dancer entertains tourists near Chichen Itza, Yucatan