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Fish Express

The pick-up counter at Fish Express in Lihue. Photo by David Lansing.

If I had to eat at just one place on Kauai for a month no doubt my choice would be The Fish Express on the road headed north out of Lihue. Every time I go in there, my mouth starts watering and I am just paralyzed trying to figure out what I want. And that’s just not the way I usually operate. I’m one of those people who picks up a menu and makes a decision within two minutes. But at Fish Express it’s like, Do I want the wasabi poke or one of the bento boxes or fish tacos or….It’s all good. And incredibly fresh. All the seafood comes in from local boats. Which is why you can’t plan on getting your favorite mahi mahi sandwich because they might not have mahi mahi today.

And here’s the thing: As good as the food is here, you have to get it to go. There’s no place to sit down and eat. Not even outside. Which is just punishing because as soon as they hand you over your Hawaiian plate of kalua pork with lomi salmon and rice, you want to dig in. But no can do.

Still, the place is always jammed. And almost exclusively by locals. There are these big burly road construction workers and nurses from the hospital across the road and all the cable and electric service guys. There are secretaries coming in and picking up orders for the whole office and surfers who, like me, can’t seem to make up their minds. But god it’s good.

So after my helicopter tour I was starving and immediately headed for Fish Express. Since it was almost two, there weren’t too many people in there (the back kitchen, or “Da Grill,” as they call it, only operates from 10 to 2 Mondays through Fridays). Like I said, I wanted to order one of everything but eventually my choice came down to furikake crusted ahi over Kilauea greens or their special of the day, ahi poke rolls. Eventually I went with the furikake ahi. I took my bulging Styrofoam container up to the Wailua Falls overlook and sat in the shady parking lot pigging out. That furikake ahi broke da mouth, bro.

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Flying over the Napali Coast

Winging it over the Napali Coast. Photo by David Lansing.

I have hiked along the Napali Coast from the end of the road on the North Shore to Hanakapiai Beach and I have zipped along the coast in a Zodiac but the only real way to get the big picture and see how formidable that stretch of Kauai’s coast really is is by hovering over it in a helicopter.

The trouble is that often the Napali Coast is socked in with clouds and you only get glimpses of its beauty. But the weather on our flight was magnificent. In fact, Isaac said before we took off that the conditions were a nine out of a possible ten. “One of the very, very rare days.”

And he was right. Everything was crystal clear, there was little wind, and the colors of both the sea and the landscape just popped out at you. The only thing that would have made the flight better is if I’d been able to sit in the front of the chopper with better sight lines for shooting. As it was, I had to contend with the glare from a narrow side window and the constant elbow action of the grandma sitting next to me who was constantly pushing herself across my seat to get a better view of the scenery below us. I couldn’t blame her. I would have done the same.

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Landing at Jurassic Falls

Kauai's Jurassic Falls. The only way to see it from the ground is to take a helicopter ride. Photo by David Lansing.

After flying over Poipu and Hanapepe, Isaac banked the helicopter sharply to the right and we started to fly up the Hanapepe Valley following the course of the river below us. I’ve got to admit that the flight is both exciting as hell and a bit freaky, mostly because you are just so low in the valley and zipping by the sides of the mountains on either side of you.

About halfway back to the falls, Isaac puts on the Jurassic Park theme music which is a little hokey but actually does add a little ambience to the final fly-in. And then there it is right in front of you: Jurassic Falls.

Isaac landed the bird on a very small grassy landing and we got out and walked just a short distance to the falls. Which were amazing. I asked Isaac if it was okay to get in the water in front of the falls and he said, Well, you can…but I don’t recommend it. The force behind that water is so incredible and you can only imagine what would happen if you got nailed by a rock or a coconut coming off the falls.

So we all had our picture taken in front of the falls (of course) and then hopped back in the bird to fly over the rest of the island.

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To Jurassic Falls

Linda from Island Helicopters called me shortly before noon. “Can you make it to Lihui in about an hour?” They’d had a cancellation and there was a seat on a chopper with my name on it if I could get myself there around one.

When I arrived they asked me to get on a scale. They even told me to hold my camera if I was going to take it on the helicopter. “We need exact weights,” she said. A few minutes later they shuttled me over to the heliport just north of the Lihue airport. As I’m sitting there putting on my inflatable vest (“in case of a water landing”), the shuttle van pulls up with the rest of the group on my flight: a couple of young honeymooners from California and a family that includes grandma and a two-year-old toddler. Which sort of surprises all of us, including the guy giving us instructions on how to board the helicopter and what to do in an emergency.

“Did you book the child?” he asks the mom. Oh, sure, says the mom. They knew. The thing is, says the guy, it’s a six-passenger helicopter and now I’ve got seven people. He’ll sit on my lap, says the mom. It’s not a problem.

The helicopter employee scratches his head and says he’s going to have to go talk with the pilot about the situation. A few minutes later he’s back and says, Okay, the kid can go, but he has to wear his own inflatable vest. Which is a problem because the minute the man tries to put the orange vest on the kid, he starts thrashing and crying in his mother’s arms. He wants nothing to do with it.

Meanwhile I’m thinking: Wait. They insist that I stand on the scales holding my camera so they know the exact weight on the helicopter and now we’ve got a kid sitting on his mother’s lap? Does anyone know how much the kid weighs?

Anyway, we load. The honeymooners get the primo seats in the front so they have unimpeded views of everything in front of them. I sit next to grandma in the back. The pilot, whose name is Isaac, makes sure we’re all properly strapped in and that our headsets work and then, bang, we’re off. Floating like a seagull high above Kalapaki Bay, on our way to Jurassic Falls.

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The falls on Kauai

Most of the waterfalls on Kauai are impossible to get to short of a helicopter ride, but Opaekaa Falls is viewable right from the highway. Photo by David Lansing.

If Kauai wasn’t called The Garden Isle they’d have to call it The Waterfall Isle. How many waterfalls are there on the island? Too many to count. Most of them are unnamed (and almost impossible to get to). They plunge off the many side of Mt. Waialeale, one of the wettest spots on earth (100 years’ worth of records show that rainfall on Waialeale has varied from a low of 244 inches in 1993 to 683 inches in 1982). And all this rain has to eventually make its way down the 5,148-foot peak to the ocean.

One spot on Mt. Waialeale is called the “Wall of Tears” because there are so many waterfalls plummeting down the deep, tropical green sides of the mountain that it looks as if it is crying. But the only way to really see the Wall of Tears is by helicopter and even then you have to get lucky since the area is usually socked in with clouds.

I’ve been looking into taking a helicopter tour. There are quite a few companies that offer you a ride up to Mt. Waialeale but the one that has got my attention is Island Helicopters. According to their web site, they’re the only helicopter tour company that will not only take you up to Mt. Waialeale to see the Wall of Tears but they also will take you to the 400-foot-high Manawaiopuna Falls, also known as Jurassic Falls because this is where the helicopter bringing Laura Dern and San Neill lands and they get into the vehicle that takes them into Jurassic Park. Better yet, the helicopter actually lands at the base of Jurassic Falls and lets you hang out there for awhile. And they’re the only tour company that can do that.

So this afternoon I called the helicopter company to see if I could go up tomorrow. They told me they were fully booked but if I wanted they’d put me on a wait list and give me a call in the morning if they had a cancellation. So now I’m anxiously waiting to see if I’m going to make it on a flight. I figure that if I’ve truly made amends to Ganesha through my offering at the fruit stand, I’ll get the call. If not, I guess I’m still on the outs with the elephant god.

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