The Magic Carpet Ride

Article by Linda Nagata

Take a look at a map of the island of Maui and you'll see two weathered volcanoes joined by a wide, flat isthmus. Notice the roads. They cross the isthmus in a couple places, encircle the two mountains, and on East Maui, one highway winds its way to the top of Haleakala. There are no roads though – not even four-wheel drive tracts – exploring the West Maui Mountains, or most of the great expanse of Haleakala. Despite the world-class resorts along the coast, most of Maui is still inaccessible wilderness, and the only practical way to see it is by helicopter.

Flying in a helicopter is an altogether different experience than flying in a plane. Think of it as the magic carpet ride of ancient tales come to life – or think of it as the best seat in the house.

Take a tour of West Maui and you will float over knife-edge ridges where people have rarely ventured on-foot. Rainforest clings to the near-vertical slopes below you, in valleys so narrow there doesn't seem room for your helicopter to descend… yet it does. Mist drifts along the cliffs as your pilot wends his way to the valley's headwall, where you discover a spectacular waterfall, a thousand feet or more in height, plunging into a splash pool that is still far above the valley floor.

Or venture east on a tour of Haleakala and peer over the crater walls at a stark volcanic wilderness of cinder cones and lava flows. Your pilot won't be able to take you over the crater – it's a National Park and a wilderness area – but he will show you the rainforest of the windward slopes, along with breath-taking sea cliffs and waterfalls.

It's true that a helicopter tour isn't cheap... but is it worth the money? Let's just say that most visitors describe it as the highlight of their trip – an experience as thrilling and unforgettable as the island of Maui itself.

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