Don’t Look Down: Kapalua Adventures

Kapalua's Mountain Outpost takes adventure to new--gulp!--heights.

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Kapalua Adventures is also following through on a commitment to reforest the area in native plants. Mirroring the whole resort’s move to recycle and go green, the mountain is kept free of litter and garbage. Quinn says that 10 percent of the adventure program’s profit is donated to the Pu‘u Kukui Watershed Preserve.

The protected mountaintop tropical forest at Pu‘u Kukui provides an intriguing parallel to the terrain where zip-lines were conceived. “It started as a way for researchers to access the forest canopy in Costa Rica,” Domeck says. “It wasn’t long before someone recognized the opportunity. There are now more than 300 zip-lines in Costa Rica.”

Domeck adds that the first zip-line tour in the United States was Skyline Eco-Adventures, founded in 2002 and based on Haleakala Ranch. My family had so much fun at Skyline on one of Mark’s previous birthdays, we decided to give Kapalua a try.

After the ropes course, the zip-lines seemed tame. Of course, Mark and his buddy Ikaika made their bodies as streamlined as possible to maximize their speed. “Penciling” is what the guides call it. When the wind is right and the body mass is heavy enough, it is possible to eclipse speeds of sixty miles an hour. I hit at least forty mph, while Mark and Ikaika may have reached fifty while streaking over gulches, meadows and a bit of former pineapple field.

As we neared each landing area, the guides waiting there motioned for us to perform a “starfish” maneuver to slow down. By spreading our arms and legs wide like echinoderms, we increased wind resistance before our trolleys hit the sophisticated block-and-spring braking system that brought us to stops smoothly and evenly. Each arrival was announced with a loud clack that put an exclamation point on the ride.

The zip-line trolley and harness systems used by Kapalua Adventures are a big part of what makes it so fun and comfortable. Each person’s trolley uses two six-inch-diameter carbon-fiber wheels. Imagine a pair of industrial-grade skateboard wheels. That makes for a smooth and quiet ride down 2,500 feet of steel cable. Zip-lines are set up in pairs so family members and friends can take in the scenery side-by-side, or even hold “pencil” races.

In its effort to cater to a new breed of traveler, Kapalua has responded to the challenge with a business based on boldness and perceived risk. So far, the oldest zip-liner to accept their challenge was an eighty-six-year-old woman. Ridership has grown “exponentially” each month since the soft opening at the beginning of this year. It makes you wonder what the folks at Kapalua Adventures will dream up next.

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