Thursday, April 12, 2012

Crossing off Hawaii by flying Kauai

Plane: Cessna 172
Instructor: Bruce
Route: LIH, Local 
Weather: Scattered clouds, 77 degrees, wind 170 degrees at 7 knots

Whether it is a conscious thought or not, I believe that flying in all 50 states is a bucket list item for many pilots. So you can imagine what thoughts popped into my head when Gina and I decided to spend a week in Hawaii over her spring break. I researched and found out that there weren't too many options on the small island of Kauai. In fact, I only found one outfit where I could rent a fixed-wing aircraft from - Wings Over Kauai, located at Lihue Airport. We exchanged emails over a couple-week span and ultimately scheduled an afternoon flight in their 172. My thinking was simple... why pay to ride along on a sightseeing flight when I could fly the plane myself?

The video is long, but it's worth it - this place is beautiful!

They allowed me one passenger so Gina came along and took all the amazing photos you'll see in this post. Click on any of them to open up a slideshow view, by the way. We arrived a few minutes early and met the owners - Ellen, who runs the office, and Bruce, the pilot and CFI who would be in the right seat. He was an excellent tour guide, too! After the FBO fueled the plane we all climbed in and Bruce handled the radio work while I taxied out to the runway.

Lihue's smooth 6,500 foot runway was far longer than we needed in the small Skyhawk; we were off the ground quickly and I climbed to about 500 feet before a left turnout over the Pacific to head north along the shoreline. The plane is a newer 172S model (it's a former ERAU airplane, actually) so it has a bit more get-up-and-go than the older one I usually rent at Stewart. Nice panel, too. We flew along the coast for a bit then turned to the NW to cross over a ridge and head towards the North Shore.

Takeoff on Runway 17 at Lihue Airport

Kilauea Lighthouse on the North Shore

Shoreline and the Makai Golf Club in Princeville

I don't have a ton to say about the flying because - let's be honest here - it's really all about the scenery. There is a reason Kauai is known as the Garden Isle; it is lush, rugged, and just downright beautiful. Words can't even begin to describe how incredible a sight the Nā Pali Coast is. It's a sight you can only see from the air (or water) because it's so rugged there are no roads. I will note, however, that we seriously lucked out in flying on a day with such light winds that the usual turbulence off the mountains was nonexistent.

Princeville and Hanalei Bay

Hanalei - certainly not the worst place in the world to live

The beginning of the Nā Pali Coast - just stare at all the photos, it's beautiful!

Tracking equipment on the cliffs at the Pacific Missile Range Facility

Yeah... those views are amazing, aren't they? We did of course have to continue our journey and skirted the airspace around the Barking Sands Pacific Missile Range Facility while turning southeast towards Waimea Canyon. Although you would be hard-pressed to ever top the views along the Nā Pali Coast, the scenery was still spectacular as we passed over peaks and valleys and saw more waterfalls.

Next stop - Japan! (Well, technically Midway or something, but I digress...)

Passing over Waimea Canyon, a.k.a. the "Grand Canyon of the Pacific"

You might recognize this waterfall from the opening sequence of Jurassic Park

The terrain fell away as we turned back out towards the ocean. I descended down to 1,500 feet and we flew just offshore, passing by the town of Poipu and our hotel. The lighting here was just spectacular, lighting up the shoreline and flatland in vivid color against the mountain backdrop. We also saw at least one whale spout off under the right wing. I followed the coast northeast as we made our way back towards Lihue.

Turning east along the coast on the south side of the island

Our hotel, the Grand Hyatt Kauai, is the one with the green roof

I think she was having a good time!

Unfortunately, all good things eventually come to an end. We crossed over the final ridge and descended into a right downwind for Runway 21. I was in a little close to the airport so our downwind-to-final was a continuous turn, but I rolled out right on centerline. Perhaps inspired by all the amazing views of the past hour, I made a very smooth landing in the left crosswind and taxied over to the hangar. We thanked Bruce for the great tour (he shared tons of interesting information as we flew around the island) and headed back to the hotel.

Passing over Lihue, the second-largest town on the island, shortly before landing

Short final - and proof that I have indeed flown in Hawaii!

Well, time to color in my ninth state on the "where I've flown" map. I may still have a long way to go but I have made it to what is arguably the hardest one to reach! Although I've included tons of photos in this post, it still doesn't really do the island justice. So if you have the opportunity to visit (and fly!) don't pass it up - you certainly won't regret the journey.

Today's Flight: 1.1 hours
Total Time: 211.5 hours


  1. DUDE. That is awesome. Did you get to log that as PIC?

    1. Indeed, all 1.1 are under PIC in the logbook!

  2. No way. I literally just did this same flight with Bruce a few weeks ago!

    1. Small world - where are you based out of?

    2. I live in Springboro and split flying between MGY and HAO. We were in Kauai 3/31-4/7.

      I totally agree that Bruce was a great tour guide. He did the same with me letting me do all the flying. Including the landing (I wasn't overly disappointed with my performance after a year away from the Skyhawk).

    3. Wow, it really is a small world. Funny story - a couple from Centerville had actually flown with them (regular tour) the morning of the day that we flew in the 172. Guess it was the right time of year for all of us Ohioans to go to Kauai!

      I wonder if I've ever run into you at before - I live just north of MGY. Flying-wise, I almost always rent from Stewart (40I) in Waynesville.

  3. Sweet!! I added Hawaii to my list by flying out of Maui in Sep.

  4. Excellent! I've been waiting for these since the FB teaser - you didn't disappoint. Congrats to Gina on the splendiferous photos! (sometimes you need to make up a word to really capture what you're trying to say)

  5. Breathtaking photos and video. Looks like an amazing flight experience!

  6. Absolutely Awesome shots!!!

    Yes, Hawaii is on my bucket list along with Alaska before I go tango uniform.

  7. Incredible. Simply put, Incredible. Now I have a new bucket list item to add to my bucket list on


  8. Great shots, thanks for sharing! I love Kauai, gotta try that next time I go!

  9. Fantastic! What else can I say to express my amazement in your flight and the scenery? The pictures alone can not give justice to the beauty of Kauai! Thanks for sharing this great experience of yours!

  10. Congrats Steve! (Not only is Hawaii a beautiful place to fly, I am sure you learned some tricks flying in those unique, windy island conditions.)

    Keep going on the coloring in the map!!

    1. Yes and next time, fly a Cirrus in Maui. Visit

  11. My wife and I flew the same tour with Bruce, in June 2012. First she flew it (with me in the back seat), then I flew it (with my wife in the back seat). It was a great trip.

    Bruce's price was the price. The helo tours quote a base price, but add an outrageous fuel surcharge.

    1. Very cool. He was a great guy and they run a great little outfit. I'd definitely recommend them to anyone visiting the island!

  12. I see the first time, pictures taken by the Plane. Nice to see all the snaps. Lihu is a best place in USA and to see tourist spots in this manner is really good