Originally published: 8/2/2003; 11:00:28 PM

What a day! We woke up this morning with no set plan other than our 9:00 helicopter ride we arranged yesterday with Island Helicopters through Activity Warehouse (get the number from the Hertz drive guide or one of those tour brochure counters). We couldn’t bring ourselves to shell out for the hotel breakfast, so we hit the road and stopped at McDonald’s in Kapaa, about 20 minutes away.

Napali Coast from the Helicopter

We got to Island Helicopters at the Lihue heliport in plenty of time. After the safety briefing (here’s how your life vest works, don’t walk into the rear rotor), it was go time. As luck would have it, Christy got the front middle seat and I got the seat next to her.

The chopper ride was incredible. I can’t imagine coming to Kauai and not doing this. There are parts of the island you just wouldn’t otherwise get to see. The guide was very informative. He pointed out the numerous places that were sacred sites, and those used for movie backdrops (Jurassic Park, Six Days & Seven Nights, Islands in the Stream, South Pacific, Indiana Jones).

One of the most stunning landmarks was Waimea Canyon, what Mark Twain called the Grand Canyon of the Pacific. The pilot pointed out a road that runs along a ridge. After the flight, Christy and I decided to try it out.

Waimea Canyon

The driving along 550 was really nice. Lots of scenic overlooks. At the end of the highway is a lodge and a museum. We picked up a travel guide, a bag of chips, and a couple of cokes and then hit the trail.

We chose an easy trail. It was an out-and-back of 2 or 3 miles to Waipoo Falls. The falls were anticlimactic but it was about the journey, not the destination. [As it turns out, we didn’t actually reach the falls–only a smaller waterfall that wasn’t on the map.]

After the hike we drove back through Waimea on the way to Poipu. In Waimea we stopped to pay homage to Captain Cook’s landing spot at the mouth of the Waimea River.

Christy found a tip on “the best beach in the state” in the Frommer’s Guide. The catch was that we had to drive about 3 miles on the most Godforsaken road ever. It was worth it, though! The sand and scenery were perfect. Only a few others were on the beach and that counts a young monk seal, one of only 25 on the island and a kite-boarder or two. If you go to Mahaolepu, note that the gate closes at 7:00 PM.

For dinner, we had Benneck’s on Poipu Beach. Incredible view and pretty tasty but twice as expensive as Zelo’s. I had broiled mahi mahi. Christy had scampi.

It was a long drive home–close to an hour-and-a-half.

Next time, (1) wear a dark shirt on the chopper ride to reduce glare. A majority of our in-air shots suffered from severe glare. The vibration in the helicopter made it difficult, if not impossible to push the lens right against the glass or shoot at an angle; (2) Get lunch in Waimea before making the route 550 drive.

On to Hawaii Day 3 — Kauai