Helicopter & Buggy Tour

When it comes to exploring Maui, the sky’s the limit.

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Kahikinui Forest Reserve
A dry summer has left Kahikinui Forest Reserve looking crispy. The lava peninsula in the photo’s upper left corner is part of Nu‘u Refuge, a wilderness area on Maui’s southern coast.

In the comfort of the cockpit, it felt like we were flying above the central valley at a snail’s pace, until Pete pointed out that we were traveling roughly 100 miles per hour. By car, it would have taken two hours to go from the heliport in Kahului to Haleakalā’s summit. We got there in twelve minutes. Did I mention how clear the day was? How unusually calm the winds? I felt like I’d won the lottery on weather conditions and wide-open visibility.

Haleakala
Cinder cones from later eruptions pockmark Haleakalā’s summit. The gap in the crater’s northern wall yields a view clear through to Maui’s north shore.
Maui waterfalls
From our Sunshine Helicopter, we’re privy to this view of Kapi‘a Stream, carving its way down the mountain in the Hāna Forest Reserve . . . after an earlier glimpse of a seasonal waterfall in Kaupō.

We made our way southeast, curving around the Kaupō side of Haleakalā, Maui’s 10,023-foot dormant volcano, where I experienced my most memorable moment. Air space around the summit is strictly regulated; helicopters have to stay at least 1,500 feet above the ground—which makes flying into the crater a no-no. Even so, the view of the summit from that close angle, combined with the nearly vertical, green-encrusted south crater wall, messed with my sense of scale and proportion. I was in awe. Over Manawainui, verdant valleys revealed secrets at every turn. An enormous waterfall here, a series of inviting pools there. Throw in cliff-clinging goats and black volcanic streambeds, and Maui was literally at our feet. Don’t make the mistake I did of staying glued to your phone’s video recorder. Sunshine Helicopters records the whole trip, available via purchasable thumb drive.

As we flew down and out of the wide, lush Waiho‘i Valley above Hāna town, Ka‘uiki Head came into view, flanked by iconic Hāna Bay Beach Park and small, crescent-shaped Kaihalulu, better known as Red Sand Beach. I never get tired of Hāna. Something about the charmingly isolated hamlet tickles a nostalgic part of my brain. The plantation-style architecture, lack of shopping malls, grazing farm animals, quaint historic churches, rural scenic beauty, and rugged shoreline are all a recipe for heaven on Earth.

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