Have you ever flown in a helicopter? This was our first time ever in a helicopter, and we were very excited for the experience! We booked our tour in mid-February, though our flight would be May 2–our fourth anniversary! If you’re looking for a memorable way to experience Maui, this is it.
What to Know Before You Go
- You will want to book in advance. Tours often sell out!
- If, by chance, your tour is not booked to its minimum requirement, Maverick Helicopters will call you in advance to reschedule your tour. This happened to us, but keep reading until the end to see what the fix was!
- For this reason, it’s a good idea to schedule your helicopter tour early in your trip instead of in the middle or toward the end.
- You will need to provide your weight and that of everyone in your party at the time of booking, as well as be prepared to be weighed with any bags or other items you bring with you the day of your tour. But don’t worry, the girls at the counter were very discreet and did NOT announce anyone’s weight aloud! Whew!
- Maverick’s facilities are located at the Kahului Heliport, near Kahului Airport (OGG). Drive toward the airport, and be on the lookout for the signs to the heliport.
- Your placement in the helicopter will be determined at check-in, according to weight and balance.
- Check-in starts 30 minutes before flight time.
- Helicopters have two passenger seats in the front row to the right of the pilot and four seats in the back row; you may not get a window seat, but you will be surrounded by windows!
- We were advised that parking was $7, but we did not have to pay for parking, and we parked right outside the Maverick Helicopter’s building. I’m not sure what we did wrong, but it seemed right to us!
Maybe it’s just me getting older, or maybe it’s because I’m married now and I have so much to live for, but I am finding myself more and more afraid of things. I used to be so gutsy and such an adventurer, but now I can’t help but think of the scary possibilities! But I can honestly say, our pilot, Jake, put us totally at ease and explained some very important safety features of the helicopter. Here’s a quick run-down:
- Jake was a medevac pilot before he was a touring pilot, meaning we were in excellent hands for our flight!
- The helicopter floats! The landing skids are equipped with flotation devices, so we would float on top of the water in case of an emergency, not sink inside the helicopter.
- The propeller on top did not start until we got in, and we did not get out until they stopped. Meaning no worries of beheading or other gruesome accident possibilities.
- Jake told us how to open or jettison (remove) the doors in case of emergency.
- We were given headsets with voice-activated microphones so we could ask Jake questions and talk to each other in-flight; the helicopter would have been far too loud without the headsets!
- Everyone is required to wear a lifejacket in a little pouch strapped to their side. In the unlikely event that you need it, you pull the orange tab and slip it over your head. It’s already strapped to your waist, so that’s one less thing to remember to do! It’s very fashionable as well:
We had perhaps the best travel experience of our lives, and our pilot Jake was awesome! The tour was easy to book, and there were plenty of tours to choose from over Maui and the nearby islands. Everyone we came into contact with at Maverick Helicopters was kind, helpful, and smiling! And it helped that we had an uncommonly calm day with almost no wind at all, making for an incredibly smooth flight! It was a fantastic first helicopter experience!
We chose the Sunset Odyssey Tour, which flies over West Maui, Molokai, and Lanai. However, it was a cloudy day, so we were not going to be seeing any sunsets! So Jake showed us a different route we could take if we wanted, which flew over the Molokai sea cliffs (the tallest in the world, with views of the tallest waterfalls in the world), Molokai’s barrier reef (the second largest in the world), and over the West Maui mountains and central valley. Well, since I mistakenly thought the Sunset tour included the Molokai cliffs and that’s what I was most interested in seeing (whoops!), I’m so glad there would be no sunset and that he gave us the option to change things up so we would still have a phenomenal tour!
The hovering feeling of taking off in a helicopter was unlike anything else I’ve ever experienced! All of a sudden, we were floating! And then we were off like a shot.
Heading to Molokai
I completely forgot all my irrational fears and was suddenly just excited to be there! I’d seen pictures from these air tours before, but being there myself was an even more spectacular experience. As we made our way across the Pailolo Channel from West Maui to Molokai, we saw the iconic “Elephant Rock” off to our right. Jake also explained that the Pailolo Channel is much rougher than the Auau Channel between Maui and Lanai. There used to be two ferry services from Lahaina, Maui: one to Lanai, and the other to Molokai. The trips were the same distance, but the trip to Lanai takes 45 minutes, while the trip to Molokai would take over 5 hours! We definitely preferred the helicopter!
Molokai Sea Cliffs
The Molokai sea cliffs are the tallest in the world. Molokai used to be much larger, but then the volcano that formed it collapsed a million years ago, causing a tidal wave that went all the way around the world. A contributor to Noah’s flood, perhaps? No matter what, they are epic. That’s the word that keeps coming to mind when I think of seeing them up-close. The tallest part of the cliffs is nearly 4,000 feet tall, and the waterfalls streaming down like tears are just as high, making them the tallest waterfalls in the world. These fantasy-land cliffs are the only sight that have ever rivaled Kauai’s Napali Coast for me. Seeing the Molokai sea cliffs and the Napali Coast are the two most beautiful, most majestic, most magnificent experiences I have ever had in all my travels, all over the world.
If you’ve ever heard of Molokai before (and don’t worry if you haven’t), it’s probably because of the former leper colony on the island’s isolated Kalaupapa Peninsula. This site was chosen because it can only be accessed by sea, since the cliffs are far too tall and rugged to be traversed easily. Because Leprosy was not understood and contagious, the solution was to isolate anyone who had it to prevent the spread of the disease.
Leprosy is also called Hansen’s disease after the Norwegian scientist who discovered the bacteria that causes the disease, and carriers of the disease were sent here to be isolated beginning in 1866. Though there is now treatment and a preventative vaccine for the disease and the last lepers were sent here in 1969, there are still 16 remaining residents who have chosen to stay here, all of whom are taken care of by the Hawaiian government.
The history of the colony is far more involved than that, but knowing even part of the story made me excited to be flying close enough to see it from the air myself.
Over the Mountains to Molokai’s Barrier Reef
It was humbling and almost unnerving how small I felt in the helicopter as we hovered so close to these epic sea cliffs, but then we surmounted them! I could not help but stare, open-mouthed, as we went up and up, over the sea cliffs and the Molokai mountains. I held onto my husband with one hand and tried to snap pictures with the other, knowing no photograph could do these jagged ridges justice.
And as if the experience on the north shore of Molokai wasn’t impressive enough, we caught our first glimpse at the second largest barrier reef in the world, topped only by the Great Barrier Reef. The snorkeling here is noted as phenomenal, because it is largely untouched and undiscovered by tourists. This pristine reef system goes out from shore for a mile, and follows Molokai’s southern coast for 30 miles. If I could only get my snorkel mask to fit correctly…
West Maui Mountains
As you can tell, Molokai left an unforgettable impression on me. But as we left Hawaii’s “Most Hawaiian Island” (also called “Friendly Isle”) behind us, I realized exactly why Maui is nicknamed the “Valley Isle.” We flew past the Kaanapali resorts, the old Hawaiian capital of Lahaina, saw both islands of Lanai and Kahoolawe in the distance, and swung around to the right to explore the West Maui mountains. Almost anything would be a disappointment after experiencing the Molokai sea cliffs, except the lush, cascading West Maui mountains. If the Molokai sea cliffs are epic, Maui’s western mountains are peacefully stunning.
The Plot Twist
You may remember I said that we got the dreaded phone call to reschedule our tour because they need four passengers to make the tour go, and Steve and I were the only two people signed up. This was kind of a big deal to me because I purposely scheduled our tour for Steve’s and my fourth anniversary, as my gift to him. So when I got the call that we’d have to reschedule, I was quite disappointed. Poor Steve saw the look on my face and thought someone had died!
Janelle from Maverick was really nice about it and told me what other times were available, but I was still hoping to make it happen on our anniversary (May 2). So I took a deep breath and asked if they needed four passengers for weight and balance purposes, or if they need four payments for the tour. She told me the amount if I simply paid for the other two seats, but then I got another idea…
Just the day before, I saw on Facebook that our friends Ron and Jane were vacationing on Oahu with another couple. I sent her a message, and since they planned to come to Maui the next day, we decided to get together for a meal. Not only are Ron and Jane our friends, they also did Steve’s and my pre-marital counseling four years ago! Not only that, they moved away for a job opportunity just days after Steve and I married, so we had not seen them in four years! So I thought maybe, just maybe, they would want to go on this epic adventure with us!
So I asked Janelle if I could call her back in a few minutes with an answer to whether we would reschedule or I would pay for the other two seats. I called up Ron and Jane to ask, with no pressure, if they would like to join us. And they were in! I gave Janelle their number to work out the details, and less than 24 hours later, they were picking us up to carpool over to the heliport! God works in such mysterious ways. All these events were much more than a crazy, random coincidence, and I am just so grateful to have had this experience with a couple who means so much to us, on our anniversary!
An amazing experience was even more beautiful with dear friends! I hope you’ll consider a Maverick Helicopter Tour on your next trip to the beautiful Hawaiian islands, and especially Maui! Are you convinced?
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