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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Sunday, July 28, 2002

An adventure on every island

By Chris Oliver
Advertiser Staff Writer

Viewed from a seaplane, the rugged coastline at Makapu'u Point appears sheared off into the Pacific. From the point, O'ahu's southern shoreline and the Windward Coast recede into the horizon.

Photos by Chris Oliver • The Honolulu Advertiser

When people think of Hawai'i, what comes to mind first are beaches and ocean activities. But if you're looking for something different and feel up for an adventure, hang up the snorkel and fins, put away the beach gear and and try one of these activities for a fresh view over (and under!) the Islands.

Take a seaplane over O'ahu

At the end of Lagoon Drive, where Ke'ehi Lagoon meets the ocean, steel posts mark an old flight lane once taken by Pan Am's China Clippers. In the 1930s and '40s, Hawai'i was the first stop on a trans-Pacific route from California to Asia that left San Francisco, stopping at Honolulu, Midway Island, Wake Island, Guam and Manila.

The clippers are history, but from the floating dock at Island Seaplane Service, passengers can experience how it feels to travel in a small "flying boat" on 30-minute and one-hour tours over central and northern O'ahu.

At 1,000 to 1,500 feet, passengers fly over and past many of O'ahu's landmarks (Diamond Head, Makapu'u, the North Shore pineapple fields) and return past historic World War II sites (Schofield Barracks, USS Arizona, USS Missouri and Pearl Harbor), giving visitors a feel for where things are.

It's the lesser-known views that capture the attention of those who live here: Portlock's rugged coastline that drops into the deep blue; the ordered farms and gardens in the back of Waimanalo; the sand bars and coral gardens in Kane'ohe Bay; the full, flat expanse of red fields on the central O'ahu plain.

First-time seaplane passengers Shannon and Todd Nussey of Nashville, Tenn., thought it was great.

"The color of the ocean was phenomenal," said Shannon Nussey. "You can't see those colors from the beach."

"It's much more comfortable than a helicopter ride, and the pilot's knowledge really added to the flight," Todd Nussey said.

Island Seaplane Service founder and pilot Pat Magie has logged more than 32,000 flight hours without incident in Alaska, Canada, the Arctic and the Caribbean. The seaplanes fly only when weather cooperates for a smooth flight.

"Aviation is a fun industry," said Magie, who flies either a six-passenger DeHavilland Beaver or a four-passenger Cessna 206. "And we have the prettiest runway in Hawai'i."

  • Best thing: Flying into valleys and above waterfalls you may not have seen before. No matter how familiar you are with the island, O'ahu looks different from a small plane flying low enough to pick out your back yard and high enough to see coastlines on opposite sides. Earphones muffle the noise and allow passengers to tune in to flight tower communications as well as the pilot's narrative. Take-off and landing over water registers only as salt spray on the window.
  • If you go: Island Seaplane Service offers 30- and 60-minute narrated tours over O'ahu, daily, depending on weather conditions. The 30-minute Aloha flight costs $89 per person and flies over Waikiki, Diamond Head, Kahala, Hanauma Bay and Kane'ohe Bay, returning through Pali Pass, passing the Arizona Memorial and Pearl Harbor back to Ke'ehi Lagoon. The 60-minute Islander flight costs $139 and includes these sights, as well as Kahuku, Waimea, North Shore beaches, Hale'iwa, pineapple fields and the central plains of O'ahu. Kama'aina rates available. Flight information and reservations: 836-6273.
  • Directions: Island Seaplane Service, 85 Lagoon Drive, Honolulu, HI 96820.

Duck into a cave on Maui

Touring the island by air gives passengers new perspectives on nearby places, such as inside Koko Crater.
How do you go about buying a sea cave? Cave enthusiast Chuck Thorne on Maui can tell you. Six years ago, Ka'eleku Cavern, a dry two-mile-deep, 50-foot-high lava tube at Hana came up for sale.

"The original owner had never been interested in even going down there," Thorne said. "When he put it up for sale I immediately bought it with the intention of starting caving adventures on Maui."

Thorne had long been fascinated by caves.

"Growing up (in Indiana), we often went on family trips that included visiting caves." he said.

Training as a mechanical engineer furthered an interest in minerals and geology. After completing thousands of dives in underwater lava tubes, Thorne wrote "Divers guide to Maui" and now conducts tours of Ka'eleku daily, except Sunday.

"Ka'eleku is one gigantic cave big enough to accommodate a six-story building," Thorne said. "It's the 18th-largest lava tube in the world and still not fully explored. ... We're still finding new passages and offshoots to the cavern."

Thorne said recent dating estimated the tube to be about 1,000 years old.

"Seventy percent of visitors to the cavern have never been in a cave in their lives," Thorne said. "I thought when I started I would get a lot of caving fanatics but it's not the case. Some people have been in limestone caves, which are completely different. Those formations are caused by minerals (accumulating) slowly over the years. These lava caves were formed comparatively quickly, probably over a two-year period."

Thorne has fashioned steps into the cave and smoothed a trail to make it easier for visitors. He's had no accidents during his six-year operation.

"There's no mosquitoes down there," he said with a laugh, adding, "and no bats, either."

  • Best thing: Below ground, it's a different world that folks above ground don't have a clue about, Thorne said. To begin with, it's a cool 64 degrees.
  • If you go: Maui Cave Adventures in Ka'eleku Caverns operates two to three tours daily, with a maximum of 20 people on each tour.

"Both tours are visually wonderful, with lots to explore — lava stalactites, stalagmites, formations," Thorne said. "(They) graphically illustrate how the lava flows make the history of the island come alive."

Guides are specialists in geology and operate under "cave softly" guidelines to protect the environment. Minimum age is 6. The Scenic Walking Tour, a 75-minute walk, costs $29; the Wild Adventure Tour, a 2 1/2-hour tour, is more physically demanding, closed to children younger than 14. Costs $69 per person.

Thorne supplies all the gear required for both tours, such as hard hats, gloves, flashlights and hip-packs with bottles of purified water.

Reservations are required: (808) 248-7308, 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., www.mauicave.com.

  • Directions: From Kahului, take the Hana Highway toward Hana. Pass mile marker 31 and turn left on Ulaino Road to Ka'eleku Cavern visitors Center (less than half a mile).

Hike Kaua'i's Alaka'i Swamp

For those preferring to keep their feet on the ground rather than below or above it, hiking in the cool uplands of Kaua'i is said to show hikers the "real" Hawai'i. The central depression of Kaua'i's main volcano spans 12 miles. Lava that flowed into this natural reservoir, helped by the heavy rainfall, became 30 square miles of bog, the Alaka'i Swamp. Hiking the swamp trail is to glimpse into a cool, misty, cloud-covered wilderness at the 4,000-foot level that's home to Kaua'i's rare birds, ferns and dwarf plants.

Water draining from the Alaka'i forms muddy bogs divided by clumps of dense grass, stunted trees and heaps of mosses. Come prepared for rain. Around 460 inches falls annually, and the hike was once a mudfest of sloshing through the bog. Now, a boardwalk makes it easy.

The good news is, there are no reports of mosquitoes in the swamp area.

Each year in October, the misty Koke'e is where residents re-create Queen Emma's 1871 journey from her summer home in the Lawa'i Valley to the Alaka'i Swamp's Kilohana lookout in the Eo o Emalani Alaka'i (Queen Emma Festival). After mourning the loss of her son (for whom Princeville is named) and her husband, King Kamehameha IV, Queen Emma rode to Koke'e on horseback, then traveled four miles across the swamp. Her 100 retainers laid down a road of tree-fern trunks, paving the way across the swampy ground. The festival, now in its 14th year, attracts hundreds of visitors for the re-enactment and performances by hula halau and Hawaiian musicians.

  • Best thing: The Alaka'i Swamp Trail is one of the great places to go truly Hawaiian and immerse yourself in nature.
  • If you go: Koke'e Natural History Museum is a cluster of buildings 16 miles from Waimea. The museum also is the information area for hikers in the area. From 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily, you can get trail information and orient yourself with the museum's topographic maps and view a three-dimensional map of the area. Museum exhibits focus on native and introduced birds of Kaua'i and fine botanical illustrations by Francis Sinclair. Hikers can phone the museum to get a weather update before hiking, (808) 335-9975.
  • Directions: The Alaka'i Swamp trailhead is off Mohihi (Camp 10) Road, just beyond the forest reserve entrance sign and the Alaka'i Shelter picnic area. From the parking lot, the trail follows an old World War II four-wheel-drive road. Make sure you stay on the boardwalk to protect the fragile plants. At the end of the 3 1/2-mile trail there are great views of Wainiha Valley and Hanalei from the Kilohana Lookout. Another access to the Alaka'i Swamp trail is at the Kalalau Lookout at the end of the Koke'e State Park road.

Do Lana'i in one day

The best way — in fact, the only way — to explore parts of Lana'i is by a four-wheel drive vehicle. One of the best ways to spend a day is to combine a ferry trip from Lahaina, Maui, to Manele Harbor on Lana'i with a four-wheel drive rental for a day that lets you discover Lana'i at your own pace.

The one-hour ferry trip between the islands is exhilarating, and there is plenty to see on Lana'i to fill the day: Drive the Munro Trail, visit Garden of the Gods, beachcomb along Shipwreck Beach, view the Luahiwa petroglyphs and enjoy a picnic and snorkeling at Manele Bay.

Maui-based tour operators, Expeditions, offer an Explore Lana'i package that includes round-trip ferry service between Maui and Lana'i and four-wheel-drive rental for the day.

"It's one of our most popular trips," said Steve Knight, president of Expeditions. "People can take the earliest ferry at 6:45 a.m. to Lana'i, spend the day there and return to Lahaina by the last ferry at 6:45 p.m.

"It's a full day."

The phone number for Expeditions is (808) 661-3756.

  • Best thing: Great value for independent travelers and the ferry trip (often accompanied by dolphins) is a delight.
  • If you go: Expeditions' ferry service runs five round trips between Maui and Lana'i, daily. Cost is $25 one way; $20 for children 2 to 11 years old. Kama'aina rates available. "Explore Lana'i" package costs $169 per jeep and includes one round-trip ferry ticket. Extra passengers pay only for the ferry. Reservations: (808) 661-7566, www.go-lanai.com.

Correction: The phone number for Expeditions is (808) 661-3756. Tthe phone number was incorrect in a previous version of this story. Also, Paradise Balloons has suspended its hot-air balloon tours on the Big Island. A previous version contained outdated information.