Sometimes the only way to get a handle on Hawaii’s immense natural beauty is to rise above it. Happily, clients have a number of options for aerial explorations of the islands. Here are five of my high-flying favorites.
Paragliding over Maui
Paragliders Over Maui
I admit it, I was nervous about trying a tandem ride with Proflyght Paragliding School. However, the company prides itself on its safety record, and clients are securely fastened to a certified instructor before taking to the skies over the 10,023-foot dormant volcano of Haleakala. Tours take place first thing in the morning during a two-hour window or so, when the winds are right. After running a few steps, the breeze caught our sail and away we flew. Once airborne, I thrilled to the feeling of flying with the wind and marveled at views of landmarks like the West Maui Mountains, Kahoolawe Island and the sunken crater of Molokini. By the end of the 15 minutes, I was ready to go back up and try it again.
Gliders Over Oahu
I found flying in a glider to be a very personal activity. There were no noisy engines and no giant blades whining, just the quiet air whispering over the wings of the aircraft. The experience was made all the more enjoyable because I could communicate with my pilot at all times. The Original Glider Rides offers flights above Oahu’s North Shore where the northeast tradewinds create some of the best updrafts in the world. From the bubble-top aircraft, every seat was a window seat, and the views of the mountains, beaches and ocean were out of this world.
Ziplines Over Kauai
There’s a good reason that ziplines are popping up around the islands: simply put, they’re a blast. My pet pick is the Backcountry Zipline Adventure by Kauai Backcountry Adventures, with its series of seven ziplines descending down a mountainside. Each time I took that leap of faith off the platform, I rocketed along as 5,148-foot Mt. Waialeale towered above me, while streams, forests and historic irrigation tunnels provided the scenery below. Along the way, guides chatted about the island’s history, culture, flora and fauna. Two additional thumbs up for the post-zipline picnic of wraps, chips, cookies and water, enjoyed in a private bamboo grove by a swimming hole.
Seaplanes Over Oahu
After standing in countless airport lines in recent years, I have long relished the idea of simply walking out onto a small floating dock, stepping into a seaplane and taking off within a matter of minutes. With Island Seaplane, the experience lived up to my expectations, and then some. The pilot pointed out Oahu landmarks like Diamond Head, the reefs of Kaneohe Bay, the waves of the North Shore and the outline of the sunken USS Arizona in the harbor. The takeoff and landing might have been my favorite part, as the craft smoothly skimmed the ocean’s surface.
Helicopters Over the Big Island
Kilauea Volcano just won’t quit. Continuously erupting since 1983, it’s a powerful force on the Big Island and, in my opinion, one that’s best witnessed from the air. Since volcanic output varies hour by hour, Blue Hawaiian Helicopters earns high marks for tailoring its tours to the most current areas of activity. I found it to be a thrilling way to reach some of the region’s most remote realms — not just the volcano, but dramatic waterfalls, tropical rain forests and black-sand beaches. Better yet, the pilots did a great job of sharing information about the history and culture of this island still in flux.