Into the Mist: Exploring Hawaii's Oahu by Helicopter
To say it’s difficult to drag yourself away from the infinity pool at Hawaii's Sheraton Waikiki is more than just hyperbole. The fault lies with their floating beanbags. Deeply comfortable, they swallow you whole. Luckily, before turning lobster, I manage to execute a semi-elegant dismount by employing the gently undulating steps into the water.
After a morning of care-free floating and watching the nearby surfers catch waves, it’s time to start exploring Honolulu and the rest of Oahu...
The island’s densely tropical vegetation has rendered parts of the island inaccessible by car. Sacred Falls, which I am particularly keen to see, is even closed to hikers. So, with limited time, and in the home of Magnum PI, what better way to figure out the lay of the land than with a doors-free helicopter ride?
Safety checks diligently taken care of, our pilot Raphael first whisks us past Waikiki Beach – I can pick out the aforementioned infinity pool thanks to those bright yellow beanbags – before heading to Diamond Head, which frames the south shore of the island.
Viewed from the ground, the cliffs of this pretty peak reach 231 metres into the sky and stretch out into the sea, but its volcanic characteristics are not immediately apparent. While you can hike to the top, from the air, you really appreciate the sheer scale of Diamond Head’s crater. Its 1,066m circular diameter is truly impressive. The weather affords us great visibility of the cone and of the remains of another volcano nearby, whose collapsed walls now encircle Hanauma Bay. This almost completely protected beach offers easy access to some of the most pristine snorkelling on the island.
We fly past Sandy Beach, which former US President Barack Obama frequented as a youth, and, next up, atop a rocky stretch of coast, we spy Makapu’u Point Lighthouse overlooking Rabbit Island and the Kaohikaipu State Wildlife Sanctuary.
As we continue along the coast, the clouds gathering along the rim of the mountainous interior drift towards us. Flying through the mist and above the lush, forested hills below, our ride becomes truly atmospheric.
Turning away from the coast, without ever really losing sight of the water, Raphael prepares for the trickiest part of the flight: the Sacred Falls fly-by. We drive deeper into one of the island’s steep gorges, and I catch my breath. As we round one of the sheer walls, the torrent of the slim falls comes into view, plunging into the invisible below. Raphael gets us really close, as near as is safe, before turning away from the cliff face and circling back again to afford us one last view.
We push on to a valley that Raphael tells us was made famous by the first Jurassic Park movie. Somewhat irrationally, I feel slightly exposed in the open cabin at the alarming thought of a flock of pterodactyl emerging from the mist alongside us. It turns out that Honolulu is the Pacific’s answer to Hollywood and has been since the 1950s. Along with the blockbusting dinosaur franchise, Godzilla and Kong: Skull Island, not to mention the enigmatic television show Lost, have all been filmed here.
As quickly as it retreated, the sun returns in time to cast a golden light across the vast crop fields of Dole, the fruit producer, as they pass beneath us on our way to Pearl Harbor. A monument to the fallen sailors killed in the infamous attack sits poignantly astride one of the sunken vessels, and from the cockpit you can see the full length of the submerged remains. Heading back to the airport, this is one place in particular we vow to return to when we’re back on solid ground...