Fly­ing Ad­ven­ture: Big Is­land, Hawaii

If you like to get away from it all and en­joy stun­ning scenery, this is about as far as you can get from any­where

Pilot - - CONTENTS - By Brian Clarke

How to get a great view of the many and var­ied is­land sights? Get air­borne!

Fif­teen hours from London by com­mer­cial jet, ten hours be­hind GMT, 2,500 miles from the near­est con­ti­nent, on an is­land hav­ing eleven of the world’s thir­teen cli­matic zones… where on earth are we? On Hawaii’s Big Is­land! The ex­tra­or­di­nary is­land archipelag­o of Hawaii is the most iso­lated in the world. It is com­posed of six ma­jor is­lands, Big Is­land be­ing the largest with a 266 statute mile cir­cum­fer­ence and ex­tinct vol­ca­noes ris­ing up to al­most 14,000 feet. Hawaii’s com­plex hu­man his­tory in­cludes early Poly­ne­sian set­tle­ment, a pe­riod of Bri­tish oc­cu­pa­tion from 1776 (re­flected in the Hawai­ian flag), fol­lowed by EuroAmer­i­can and Asian im­mi­gra­tion. Then, af­ter the over­throw of the Hawai­ian monar­chy, there was a brief pe­riod as the Repub­lic of Hawaii, which was fol­lowed by ad­mis­sion to the United States as the Hawai­ian Ter­ri­tory, fi­nally be­com­ing the 50th state of the USA on 21 Au­gust 1959.

Hawaii had al­ways been on my list of places to visit. How­ever, with just twelve days of hol­i­day left, I could only do jus­tice to one or at the very most two is­lands, if I in­cluded two days of trav­el­ling out and back from the UK. Hawaii’s Big Is­land is so huge and has so much to of­fer that it seemed sen­si­ble to spend the whole time there. I de­cided to stay at sev­eral B & Bs

around the is­land to min­imise the amount of driv­ing each day to ex­plore the dif­fer­ent re­gions of this amaz­ing place. Hawaii’s weather is fan­tas­tic the whole year round so choos­ing a time to visit was not a prob­lem. I went in Septem­ber when the coastal tem­per­a­tures were in the up­per 20s centi­grade and the tops of the moun­tains still above zero. In the win­ter months the peaks have snow on them yet at sea level it’s still pleas­antly warm.

As I have a US pri­vate pi­lot’s li­cence is­sued on the ba­sis of a valid UK one, this would give me a great op­por­tu­nity to see the is­land from the air by light air­craft. I could have gone for a check-ride to clear me for solo rental but in­stead chose to go up with an in­struc­tor whose lo­cal knowl­edge would en­able me to see things that I might other­wise miss. Rather sur­pris­ingly there are five air­ports on Big Is­land: four civil and one mil­i­tary. The in­ter­na­tional air­ports of Kona and Hilo are class D airspace, as is Brad­shaw Air Force Base lo­cated at 6,000 feet above sea level in the val­ley be­tween Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa. The two other civil air­ports in the north of the is­land are Waimea Ko­hala and Upulo, just north of Ka­paau, which are class E and G re­spec­tively.

I found a train­ing and rental or­gan­i­sa­tion on­line called the Hawaii Flight Academy that was based at Kona’s Kea­hole In­ter­na­tional Air­port (tel: (001) 800-5387590 or (001) 808-329-0018, www. hawai­ifligh­ta­cademy.com) and pre-booked a three-hour slot in a Cessna 150 with an in­struc­tor. On the day of the flight I ar­rived in plenty of time to do the usual pa­per­work but as most of my de­tails were al­ready on file we were out on the apron top­ping up the fuel tanks in no time. My in­struc­tor was called Hawk Rolewicz, a re­ally cool and pro­fes­sional guy; with a name like that you just have to be! Kona’s In­ter­na­tional Air­port has a lot of com­mer­cial traf­fic from the other Hawai­ian Is­lands as well as the US main­land, so at some times of the day it can get busy; how­ever, at 10 a.m. things were rather quiet. Need­ing quite a bit less than the full 11,000 feet of run­way length avail­able, we lined up and de­parted from Run­way 17 for our an­ti­clock­wise cir­cum­nav­i­ga­tion of the is­land. Very lit­tle ra­dio com­mu­ni­ca­tion was re­quired dur­ing the three-hour flight other than oc­ca­sional po­si­tion re­ports to Kona and Hilo In­ter­na­tional air­ports.

Af­ter we left Kona’s con­trolled airspace we were pretty much free to go any­where

we fan­cied and soon passed Kailua Kona, the sec­ond largest town on Big Is­land, an ideal tourist base from where to ex­plore the is­land. From there, one evening, we went on an or­gan­ised snorkellin­g trip to swim with gi­ant manta rays that were feed­ing on plank­ton at­tracted to bright un­der­wa­ter lights. It was a great ex­pe­ri­ence to see these huge fish lit­er­ally inches away as they swam in tight som­er­saults be­neath us in the plank­ton-filled water.

A few min­utes later we flew past the Cap­tain Cook Mon­u­ment in Kealakekua Bay where, near this spot in 1779, Cap­tain Cook was killed by na­tive Hawai­ians. That was just a year af­ter he and his crew had landed on the Hawai­ian Is­lands on 18 Jan­uary 1778 while at­tempt­ing to dis­cover the North­west Pas­sage be­tween Alaska and Asia. He named the is­lands the ‘Sand­wich Is­lands’, af­ter the fourth Earl of Sand­wich. An­other minute or so of fly­ing took us over the lovely his­toric site of Pu’uhonua o Honau­nau, also well worth a visit. This was a place of refuge where the Pu’uhonua pro­tected the law­break­ers, civil­ians dur­ing

We could see the smoky haze from the ever-ac­tive Ki­lauea vol­cano

the time of war and the de­feated war­riors. No harm could come to those who reached the bound­aries of the place of refuge. We vis­ited this lovely lo­ca­tion when stay­ing at a B&B in Cap­tain Cook. Just out­side the site is a great snorkellin­g area with easy ac­cess from flat rocks. Pretty much the whole of the cen­tral and south-west coastal re­gion is sub­trop­i­cal where trop­i­cal fruits and cof­fee are able to be grown; the lo­cal Kona cof­fee is re­ally delicious too. How­ever, once past the south­ern end of the is­land you no­tice a dis­tinct change in the ter­rain; gone are the trop­i­cal trees which are re­placed by fields of lava ex­punged from Mauna Loa over the mil­len­nia. We flew over an­cient and ex­tinct cin­der cones now cov­ered in grass near the town of Ocean View.

Our route­ing took us just off­shore where we could see the smoky haze from the ever-ac­tive Ki­lauea vol­cano. As we flew closer to the Vol­ca­noes Na­tional Park we could see how the dif­fer­ent lava erup­tions over many years were marked by var­i­ous shades and colours on the bar­ren land­scape, and in the dis­tance we could see steam and smoke ris­ing from the very coast­line it­self. This is ‘Ocean En­try’ where lava pours into the Pa­cific from un­der­ground lava tubes. Here I handed over con­trol to my in­struc­tor so I could get some pho­tos as we or­bited over the top.

Whilst fly­ing over Ki­lauea it­self is re­stricted for safety rea­sons, flight over an­other smok­ing cin­der cone called Pu’u (of­ten writ­ten Puu Oo and pro­nounced “poo-oo oh-oh”) is not. We headed straight to­wards it, climb­ing all the time as the ter­rain steadily rises some­what im­per­cep­ti­bly. Af­ter fly­ing over de­serted houses left iso­lated by pre­vi­ous lava erup­tions, we ar­rived at Pu’u, a real mini vol­cano! Sev­eral or­bits and tens of pho­tos later we headed back to the coast. There were quite a few he­li­copter sight­see­ing flights also go­ing on in the area so po­si­tion re­port­ing on a com­mon fre­quency was in or­der.

Cut­ting in­land to pass west of Ka­paho we routed around Hilo In­ter­na­tional air­port to fly up the east coast, which is known as the ‘wet’ coast as most of the rain fall­ing on the is­land falls here. The land­scape now turned lush again with an abun­dance of small rivers, around forty in all with a mul­ti­tude of beau­ti­ful water­falls. Our flight took us over Akaka Falls, 420 feet high, which we had vis­ited by car a few days ear­lier. Con­tin­u­ing up the east coast we passed the lit­tle town of Wai­pio north-east of Waimea. From there no roads can fol­low the coast, and it’s only from an aero­plane or boat that you can see the spec­tac­u­lar scenery of many deep cut val­leys whose rivers have carved their way down to the ocean. They looked like scenes from the movie Juras­sic Park!

The final leg of the cir­cu­lar trip took us along the South Ko­hola coast past the re­sort beaches near Kawai­hae, and back to civil­i­sa­tion. Es­tab­lish­ing ra­dio con­tact again with Kona Tower I was told to call when on long final for Run­way 17. Eleven thou­sand

Deep cut val­leys carved by rivers on their way to the ocean — just like Juras­sic Park

feet of run­way that’s also 150 feet wide can do weird things to the run­way per­spec­tive that you learn to in­ter­pret when land­ing on small airstrips, how­ever, I was de­ter­mined to do a per­fect land­ing even when ther­mals ris­ing up from the run­way were try­ing to throw me all over the place! Safely down we tax­ied back to the ramp to re­fuel for the next lucky pi­lot. It was a truly great way to see the is­land and was made even more en­joy­able by tak­ing the in­struc­tor along as a speak­ing au­topi­lot.

So what is the ‘must do’ list for Hawaii’s Big Is­land? Firstly, rent a 4 x 4 ve­hi­cle (SUV) and not a reg­u­lar car as this gives you ac­cess to some of the more in­ter­est­ing roads. Stay at sev­eral B & Bs, ide­ally for two or three nights each so you can ex­plore the lo­cal area with­out an ex­ces­sive amount of driv­ing. I would sug­gest stay­ing near Waimea in the north to ex­plore the Ko­hola coastal ar­eas and the Ob­ser­va­to­ries at the top of Mauna Kea. Check with your ve­hi­cle rental com­pany that you are cov­ered to drive to the top for which an SUV is ideal. The sum­mit is at al­most 14,000 feet and it’s sug­gested that you rest at the vis­i­tor cen­tre at 9,200 feet for an hour or so to ac­cli­ma­tise to the al­ti­tude be­fore con­tin­u­ing to the top. We re­ally did no­tice the lack of oxy­gen at the top so any­one with breath­ing prob­lems should be very cau­tious.

Stay around Kailu­aKona on the west side of the is­land to do some of the fun touristy trips, such as whale-watch­ing, snorkellin­g with manta rays, and also to see some of the Na­tional Mon­u­ments as well as that scenic flight from Kona In­ter­na­tional.

Hilo is a great base from which to visit the Vol­ca­noes Na­tional Park. You will prob­a­bly want to go there on two days as there is just so much to see and do. In the south­east cor­ner of the is­land, the Puna dis­trict, there are some lovely drives along the coast and fab­u­lous nat­u­ral rock pools at the Ka­paho tide pools to swim and snorkel in. Be sure to visit the geother­mally-heated pool at Aha­lanui too, where some lit­tle fish gave me a foot spa! North of Hilo are many water­falls to visit and trek around, such as the Akaka Falls, Rain­bow Falls, Pe’epe’e Falls, and the triple falls of Umauma, to name just a few.

Hawaii is a heck of a long way from any­where but it’s re­ally worth the ef­fort of get­ting there, be­lieve me. If I had stayed for a few weeks or longer it would have been worth do­ing a full check-out for solo air­craft rental so I could have ex­plored the rest of the Hawai­ian Is­land chain. Wouldn’t that have looked cool in my log­book!

Awe­some views into the caldera of Pu’u (the in­struc­tor was fly­ing here) Be­low:

Above: Ocean En­try where lava pours into the Pa­cific from un­der­ground lava tubes Red hot lava ap­pear­ing by the road­side — as close as you can safely get to Ocean En­try on the south coast

Ap­proach­ing Pu’u, a cin­der cone in the eastern rift zone of the Ki­lauea vol­cano

Newly fit­ted-out Cessna 150 hired from Kona

An­ti­clock­wise cir­cum­nav­i­ga­tion of Big Is­land from Kona Air­port in a Cessna 150

Deep river val­leys cut into North Ko­hala’s Ha­makua coast­line north-east of Big Is­land. The only way to see these is from ei­ther an aero­plane or boat

The tran­quil­lity of the west coast at the Honau­nau Na­tional His­toric Park from where the gen­tle slopes of Mauna Kea can be seen ris­ing de­cep­tively to nearly 14,000 feet

The Hawai­ian Is­lands might be part of the USA now but their na­tional flag gives away the pre­vi­ous oc­cu­piers!

Ob­ser­va­to­ries on Mauna Kea at al­most 14,000 feet about sea level; the is­land of Maui can be seen in the far dis­tance

This is Mauna Kea Beach, among the beach re­sorts near Kawai­hae on the is­land’s north-west coast­line on Brian’s final sec­tor back to Kona In­ter­na­tional air­port

Lit­er­ally the last house stand­ing, where a whole com­mu­nity was wiped out by a lava flow

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