More publicity has been allotted to magnificent Waimea Canyon, located in Koke'e State Park, than perhaps any other landmark in the Hawaiian Islands. It is on the island of Kauai also known as "The Garden Island".
Like the other Hawaiian Islands, Kauai is the top of an enormous volcano rising from the ocean floor, with lava flows dated to about 5 million years ago; Kauai is the oldest of the large Hawaiian Islands. Roughly 4 million years ago, while Kauai was still erupting almost continuously, a portion of the island collapsed. This collapse formed a depression, which then filled with lava flows.
The words often attributed (mistakenly) to Mark Twain describe it best. This is the "Grand Canyon of the Pacific," a breathtaking spectacle from any angle. There are a few ways to view Waimea Canyon; several tour companies offer helicopter or airplane tours. For this flight we hooked up with a Pilot named Jack Harter who was a Vietnam combat chopper pilot. He was found by contacting the Connoisseur at the Marriott in Lihue, Kauai.
Jack was the coolest guy I have ever seen in a chopper cockpit. He was very laid-back and just gave us a feeling of floating on the clouds for our ride. He also gave us a nice long ride and pointed out the things that all of us tourists love to hear about. He passed over (and pointed out) the waterfalls that were used in the making of the film "Jurassic Park". He even banked and turned several times so that we could get a shot of a rainbow as we flew over the wettest spot on the planet.
The flight was very smooth, not at all like I remember my chopper rides in Vietnam. Well... (and the fact that no one was shooting at us either helped)! We loved the views that this flight offered and Jack's comments made it all the nicer. Many people however, choose to make the trip to the canyon by car (which we actually did too a couple of days later). Outdoor enthusiasts often choose to camp in the park. But we chose the chopper ride and the stay at the Marriott in Lihue.
Waimea Canyon is the largest canyon in the Pacific and truly a dramatic sight to behold. The canyon measures 10 miles long, 1 mile wide, and more than 3,500-feet deep. It was carved thousands of years ago by rivers and floods that flowed from Mount Waialeale's summit. The lines in the canyon walls depict different volcanic eruptions and lava flows that have occurred over the centuries.
Even though smaller than the Grand Canyon of Arizona, Waimea Canyon rivals the beauty. Numerous lookouts and hikes offer terrific views of every aspect of this natural wonder. The canyon is protected by the Koke'e State Park, which encompasses 4,345 acres of land and has 45 miles of trails that run through the canyon and the nearby Alakai Swamp. The Ranger's Station is located at the Koke'e Museum has hiking maps of the area. There are no gas stations along the 40-mile Waimea Canyon Road so be sure to fill up before starting this trip. The main park area provides restrooms. The elevation makes the air 10-15 degrees cooler than in the valley and by afternoon many areas are often shrouded in clouds.
In the time since, rainwater from the slopes of Mount Waialeale have eroded Waimea Canyon along one edge of the collapse. The cliffs on the west side of the canyon are composed of thin lava flows that ran down the surface of the Kauai volcano. On the other side of the canyon, the cliff walls are built from thick lava flows that pooled in the depression. Over time, the exposed basalt has weathered from its original black to bright red.
Waimea Canyon State Park encompasses 1,866 acres (7.5 km²) and is a popular tourist attraction on the island. It provides a wilderness area with numerous hiking trails. It can be accessed from Waimea on Hawaii state road 550, which is 18 miles long and leads up to Koke'e State Park.
The perspective from either car or helicopter is quite different, but either way, it is a BEAUTIFUL place. By the way, Jack is still around and still doing his thing! If you get a chance, Jack gets the LZ "approval" rating!"The whole object of travel is not to set foot on foreign land; it is at last to set foot on one's own country as a foreign land."
-G. K. Chesterton