N104CD to Hawaii?

(April 2012)

In the past 6 years since we've had the RV-10, it's taken us to many great places.  We've been lucky enough to actually land N104CD in 47 of the 50 states so far, and we've visited all of the lower 48 with the kids.  While we've actually briefly contemplated a trip to Hawaii in the RV-10, it's so far from realistic to be able to take the entire family along that we ditched the idea...far better than ditching the plane 3/4 of the way to the island!  So giving up on flying N104CD to Hawaii, we did the best we could and took the airlines.  As of the end of this trip, we've all now been to 49 of the 50 states, and landed N104CD in all but Hawaii, Washington, and Alaska.  No worries though, we're going to hit Washington in 2012, and sometime within the next 13 months we're going to make Alaska...we just need to get it all together.  The RV-10 has really proven itself a great family vacation machine.

In a bittersweet compromise to flying TO Hawaii, we did decide that no matter what happened we would fly IN and around Hawaii, and I would land a plane in Hawaii...bringing along the ignition key from N104CD so she could be there in spirit.  Below you will see a couple of pictures, to prove she made it.

Hawaii was a pretty awesome place to go, despite not flying there ourselves.  Highly recommended for everyone!  We took about 10 days, trying to plan a somewhat large activity for most all of the days, and still take in many of the popular sights.  I had a bucket list of things to do on this vacation...a sampling is:

As you'll see in the photos below, we actually did get to most of the things on the list, and a couple of unexpected additions!  If I were to do the whole vacation again, I would definitely lay out the schedule much differently, but it all came together OK, splitting our time between Oahu and The Big Island of Hawaii.

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KMSP's Real Cool Active
Wall Picture
Cool Restaurant at KLAX
Arriving in Hawaii!
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Right away the first day on the island we were amazed by the weather they have in Hawaii.  It's truly incredible.  If you're near the coasts, chances are you're in the sun. But, as soon as you head up to the more central areas of Oahu, you end up under cloudy skies with lots of small rain and mist showers.  On Day 1, we chose to start off with getting one good SCUBA dive in from shore, to give the kids a chance to get reacquainted with SCUBA.  They have been scuba diving in pools, and have dove with us in the Bahamas from an unofficial charter and our own rented boat, but in 2011 they finally went through SCUBA certification and this would be their first chance to actually use their new certification.  The wife and I were both SCUBA instructors years ago, and I owned a Dive Shop for many years, so although the kids had been diving non-certified, that is not to say they were non-trained.  Kids learn things very quickly, and I'd encourage any of you with kids to get them into SCUBA lessons when they are about 12 years old or so.  You can start as early as 10, but by 12 they should have enough comprehension to get it done.  Although the wife and I are certified through PADI, the kids got certified through SDI because they offer a DVD based course that cut their classroom time significantly, and got it done with less hassle.  All it takes is the DVD course, plus 2 days in a pool, and 2 days of diving, so get it done for you and the kids while they can enjoy it for many years.  It's pretty cheap when you compare it to flying!

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When we got to Hawaii, we assumed that SCUBA equipment would be easy to come by.  We needed to rent tanks and weight belts, but we brought all of our other gear, including 4/5/6mm Wetsuits which work great for Hawaii or winter in the Bahamas.  As it turned out though, not only are there not really that many dive shops, but the shops that do exist don't necessarily have lots of SCUBA tanks to rent.  Most of them or at least many of them, only work with dive charter boats.  Luckily we got on the iPhone's and tracked down a few places with Google Maps and found that Aaron's Dive shop in Kailua-Kona http://www.aaronsdiveshop.com, not only had tanks and weights, but would happily rent them and give us tips about the local diving.

We were shocked in talking to them.  They warned us to absolutely lock our cars, leaving NOTHING inside them and don't dilly dally around the car looking like you're tourists.  You even need to bring the key for the car with you.  We hadn't planned on that, planning to dive all 4 at the same time...being used to setting up together and getting in and going together.  We compensated by deciding that we'd just split into groups of 2 and dive in pairs, with one pair watching from shore.  This worked out great, and we didn't really see anything that indicated crime was high in Oahu.  That said, EVERYONE warned us about the high crime rate in Oahu, so definitely beware of that.  Going to the Big Island was FAR more laid back, and they say that crime is almost unheard of there.

Our recommended dive site for the day, with the winds the way they were, was "Electric Beach"...on the SouthWest side of Oahu, named because it is across the street from a power plant, and the dive from shore leads you out to two massive warm water outlets from the power plant.  Fish swarm around in that area, hanging out to eat things in the warmer waters.  Some folks had seen sharks, but we only saw a sea turtle and many varieties of fish.  It was very cool swimming around the water outlets, but you have to stay low to the ground when swimming in front of them or the water will WOOSH you up to the surface dangerously fast...so stay clear of the water currents.  The dive went well and we headed back to turn in our rented gear.

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With more time to spare after the dive, we decided we wanted to hike the jungle and see a waterfall.  We did a little google work and found out that we could actually have a great hike at Manoa Falls, not too far North of our hotel on Waikiki Beach.  By the way, we stayed at the Aston Waikiki Beach and it was a reasonably good place to stay, with their park-and-stay special, which saves some of the $27/day valet parking charge.

The hike at Manoa falls takes maybe 45-60 minutes each way, up a jungle trail that is scenic all on it's own.  We stopped for some pictures in a stand of Bamboo trees, and saw many huge Banyan trees.  The Banyan trees have a cool history all their own that you should check out.  The kids were thrilled in the parking lot to find vines hanging from one of the trees, and they decided to spend some time swinging like Monkeys.  I was impressed that the vines were that strong, so I tried one myself and sure as heck they even hold a big lardo like me!

After we were done we also took a scenic drive on the Eastern side of the island up the mountains, and saw some other sites along the way.

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The next day we got up bright and early to get to the rental plane for our flight.  We had arranged for our rental and instructor through George's Aviation, in Oahu, at PHNL. The instructor part has it's own interesting twist to it.  While I was thrilled that you can rent a plane and fly in Hawaii fairly easily, it was also a bit sad that you have a pretty extended checkout to do to rent one.  If you want to rent a 172 and fly around a bit, you first have to do a 1.5 hour check flight with an instructor.  The plane costs you something near $200/hr, plus you pay the instructor.  But we didn't just want to rent a plane and fly around Oahu, we had really wanted to get out and fly around Kauai'i or the other islands.  To do any off-island flights in Hawaii requires a 2.5 hour X/C check flight with an instructor.  This wasn't appealing at ALL to fly a 172, because not only am I plenty capable of flying to and from a location on my own, but I didn't want to waste a WHOLE day flying first by myself in the a.m. and then later with the family.  If it were only 2 of us, it would be easy, but with 4, I'd need at least 5 seats if I wanted to take everyone with for the check flight.  The idea hit me and sure as heck it's plenty do-able.  I'd never had any multi-engine training or time, but always wanted to.  What better time to take a lesson than now!  I got hooked up with Hugh, an instructor locally at HNL, and we agreed to do a flight in a Piper PA-31-325 Navajo (N325CC).  On George's website it lists as a non-club rental for $395/hr (although for some reason when I got there they changed the price to $450), PLUS a fuel surcharge due to the high cost of 100LL at HNL, PLUS the instructor. At any rate, it was the perfect sized plane for the trip, having 6 seats (4 passenger + 2 crew) and a huge baggage area.  It also provided a 2nd engine for that overwater flight time.  Hugh was great, giving me the controls for 99% of the flight...only taking over for the taxi time to and from the parking area to the movement area on the ramp.  I got to do the takeoff, the flying, and the landing!  I'll tell you one thing for sure...flying that Navajo did one big thing for me....it made me REALLY appreciate how nice an RV-10 is.  The Navajo is too cramped in the legs for a guy my height, it climbs slower than the RV-10, cruises slower than the RV-10, and takes twice the fuel of the RV-10.  The only thing it maybe does better is have a ton of baggage area, but not only was the panel far more primitive than my RV-10, but the view out the windows wasn't nearly as nice.  That said, we did spend 1.7 hours flying around Molokai, Maui, Lanai, and Oahu, seeing some fantastic sites from the air.  Looking at the Big Island and Maui, it's really incredible how different the terrain is.  Since they basically have very large volcanos on them, the land is a fairly flat but uploped hillside coming down on all sides from the volcano....not nearly the big rugged cliffs like Oahu and Kauai'i would have.  Real neat to see though, and Molokai was fantastic!  Heard a great story about a Leopracy colony from Hugh as we flew...real interesting things about these islands. 
And definitely, as you can see, we brought the key from N104CD.  She couldn't see it, but she was there.  It was a great way to see things and get a flight in, albeit a little expensive at a little over $1100 for a 1.7 hour flight!  One thing I learned though is that in Hawaii, if you have a family of 4, basically everything you want to do for major activities, will cost you $1000.  So just get used to spending over $1000-1300/day in cash burned and you can have a blast.

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After our time flying around the islands, we had the afternoon to burn, so we headed down to Waikiki Beach for some Surfing.  Now he's an activity to balance out the high cost ones....Renting a surfboard isn't expensive at all, and they have tons of them on the beach.  We rented a couple boards for 2 hours and got to try it out.  The waves don't look that big, but I was actually able to get one of my first waves and get stood up and get a real good long run out of it.  Pretty incredible feeling actually, and it's a really "pure" enjoyment sport....when you're riding a wave, it's just you, and the wave, and there's no reason to be doing it than the fun of it...so it's a great activity to get your thoughts off of work and other things.

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After spending a few days on Oahu, we had a slower day planned, because in the evening we were flying out to the Big Island, so we started the day with a drive to the North side of Oahu, where we could drive around the island to the East along the shorline.  We went past the Dole plantation, and then on up to the very North shore, and spotted some skydivers coming down, followed by a Cessna Caravan.  The wheels started turning in my head and we zipped over to the skydive outfit, to check on minimum age requirements.  As soon as they're able, we're going to get the kids out for some skydiving...not that we've ever done it ourselves, but we're going to go WITH them of course!  Well, it was still a few years too early to get them jumping, but just down the field we also saw gliders being aero-tow'ed into the sky...and although the wife and I have been in gliders (and I even have < 1 hr logged and have done an aero-tow), we never had the opportunity to get the kids in one.  Sure enough they had availability right away, and had a very nice guy as the glider pilot...really friendly and a real hoot!  We got them set up in the back seat of a 3 passenger (if you're 2 kids in the back) glider, and soon they were being aero-tow'ed into the skies of Hawaii for a nice ride.  After the ride we were told the beach across the road was one of the places LOST was filmed, so we headed over and enjoyed a few minutes on the North beach.  It really is amazing how different the various sides of these islands are.  The waves, and everything else, was COMPLETELY different on the North side than on the South.

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Cruising around the East side you quickly get into Surfing country, and many of the famous beaches where all the professionals go.  We saw some whales off the shore, and saw some dogs fighting hard to swim back to shore after being pummeled by some waves as they were swimming.  Those dogs sure were having a blast while their master was surfing.  We stopped at a bunch of places along the way, including the Valley of the Temples where we saw a replica of the 950 year old Byodo-In temple in Uji, Japan.  It was a pretty cool place to see, and then continued down the shore.  As we got to the South East part of the island, the shoreline again changed completely, and soon we were in Haunama Bay.  After a bit more sightseeing, it was to the airport for our trip to the Big Island.
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Once on the Big Island, our first day there we had an afternoon and night dive scheduled that was to be one of the biggest highlights of the trip.  But with the morning to waste, we decided to drive inland and see how far we could drive up Mauna Kea, one of the two big old volcano's on the Big Island.  It was a really cool drive, and if the rental car company had given me the Jeep Grand Cherokee that I'd hoped for, we'd have even had a better time.  When you drive up to Mauna Kea, you get up in the 9,000+ foot range and then the road turns to gravel for the rest of the ascent.  Driving in the low (6500') lands, we were actually already IN the clouds in some areas, having passed through the almost Desert like West flat lands, up into the high country mid-island.  The lava fields up there were over 100 years old, and it was amazing to see.  As we went past the station around 9,500' on the mountain though, it turned into 4x4 terratory, mainly because it's so steep in places that coming down you need to use 4-Low to keep yourself slowed down and off the brakes.  Well, our Ford something-or-another was a front wheel drive vehicle.  I figured I'd go a ways up, but turn around if it got nasty.  A while later we passed a jeep wrangler on the other side of the road with a blown tire.  I'm betting it was blown from the heat from the brakes.  We kept going a little further, with the goal being to get above the clouds.  Back at the station lower we had seen that it was all clear and above the clouds (see the photo I snagged from the net down below from their webcam) so we wanted to get that high.  But, as we passed into the mid-10,000's we finally gave up, because I didn't want OUR brakes to overhead on an extended descent.  So we turned around and headed back.

Regarding driving around these islands, NONE of the distances are very far.  Going from Kona to Hilo is somewhere near 90 miles, but none of the roads are all that straight, nor 4-lane, and you often get behind slowpokes, so every drive you do takes more time than you'd think.  That said, the estimates we were given were always high...we usually beat that time.

Coming back down the coast by Kona we saw something really interesting that I'd never seen before, and actually can be seen on the new movie "the Descendants" that was filmed all over Hawaii.  In the black lava fields along the highway there are apparently many white rocks mixed in with the black lava.  People pick out these rocks and lay them out in words against the black background. It's amazing as there are miles and miles of these words and names and things laid out.  It was tempting to leave our own but we didn't.   So back to Kona we went, to get on the dive boat.

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This is where the adventure got really cool!  We had a 2:30pm dive that went really awesome with the girls, seeing eels and tons of fish and geez I can't even remember all of the things.  It was their first time on a big "cattle boat" (which wasn't at ALL a crowded cattle boat.  We were diving with a great outfit called Kona Honu Divers, one of the many dive operators in Kona that offered Manta night dives.  We scheduled ourselves for Tuesday night where you do a 2-tank dive, one in the afternoon and one at night.  The schedule varies by day, so call ahead for sure. We also booked a Friday a.m. dive.  Well, the dive went really well, with the girls getting some great sights in, heading down to a bit over 60'.  A great easy dive for the afternoon.  While the reef was really cool and the fish were awesome, the reefs of the Bahamas that I've been on were nicer, being in the sand.  The reefs in Kona are all black rock, and the sand that covers things is black.  It's pretty in it's own way, but not something that rivals many other places.  What DOES rival other places are the large pelagic animals that come to Kona.  Our 2nd dive site, the one used for the manta dives, was the perfect place for it.  Located on a western point, the currents flow from both the North and South and meet right at that location, driving the water up that is rich in plankton, causing a perfect feeding location for the Manta Rays. 

Outfitted with dive lights for everyone, there were a few boats of divers and some snorkelers, who showed up.  The water was about 40' deep, so the snorkelers miss out on the bottom activity, but they still get quite a show, as when I jumped off the boat, there was a manta directly, as in 1' or so, below me.  They were ALL OVER the place.  I think we had 24 or so show up that night, and we had heard that the night before about 34 showed up. Truly amazing.  Wherever your dive lights shine, the plankton are attracted to the light.  This means that if you hold the light in front of you, the mantas will come swooping in, often doing summersaults or swimming head-on into other mantas, only to swoop up belly to belly before hitting, as they gather gulps of plankton.  It is beautiful and graceful to watch, and it really was probably everyone's biggest highlight of the trip.

All of the dive related underwater photos on this page were all just screen clips from my Contour+ HD helmet cam, so they aren't actual photos, but video clips, which is why the quality is a bit poor.  The video itself is much nicer.  I had bought an underwater housing for the cam for about $40 that works plenty deep for any sport diving you would do, and armed with a night dive light, it did a fine job catching the mantas swarming us.

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The following day we topped off the gas tank (see below) and paid the most I've ever paid for a gallon of auto gas, and headed up the coast to the North side of the Big Island for a Zip Line tour with BIEA - Big Island Eco Adventures.  They have an awesome zipline all put together, with 8 ziplines that you go along from one to one.  They drop  you off in a military transport vehicle, and come pick you up when you're all done, and provide you with 2 guides for the trip.  They do an awesome job and you fly through the canopy of some really cool jungle valleys.  It's a 3-4 hour activity, so you need a good half-day to go do this.  Back to Kona for the afternoon to play on the beach a bit, we stopped at a beach park along the West Coast.  In Kona, by the way, we stayed at the Mariott (aka the Courtyard King Kamehameha's Kona Beach Hotel) which was actually PERFECT for us, located near many restaurants and easy access to everything we did on the island.  If you go there, that's a great place to stay.  Walking down around the town at night, we stopped in to buy some of the famous Donkey Balls that are made in Kona.  You can't go to Kona without having Donkey Balls!

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The following day we had to rise and shine as we had a morning slot for a helicopter tour of the volcanos, and it takes off out of Hilo.  We zipped across the island, this time the clouds were a little higher over the high country, and headed for Hilo.  The helicopter tour we chose Paradise Helicopter Tours, we chose for it's smaller helicopters, so we could be in with just our family.  It was a great way to go.  You could pay extra and have the doors off the helicopter, but gladly, we didn't, as the morning temps were cooler with the overcast skies in some areas.  The Big Island has areas on it that are Deserts that receive almost no rain, jungles that rain almost every day of the year, mountainous areas, farm-type land, and almost everything in between. 

Heading out via helicopter, you could see the lava field that took out one of the main highways a few years ago, where lava still flows today in underground tubes, down to the oceanside, creating the black sand beaches that are known down the South East coast.  Circling around the lava field, we spotted a couple different hot spots with lava just pouring and flowing out.  Really amazing to see!  Then we headed up to the volcano top and circled around the boiling cauldron of heat, before heading back down to the lower lands to see some waterfalls.

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Finished with our helicopter tour, we decided to drive the South route around the island back to Kona, so we could stop Volcano State Park and see the volcano and lava tubes, and continue on to the famous black sand beaches of Punaluu.  As we'd heard, there were sea turtles there waiting, and the sand was truly a unique experience to see.  Both of those are great places to stop and visit.

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While we were at the Black sand beach, one of the kids was talking about wanting to see the GREEN sand beaches.  They had some sand samples of green sand from the beach for sale at the black sand beach, so we wanted to go check it out.  Driving there, we weren't sure how close we'd get, as the lady told us that we'd need a 4x4 for sure.  We turned down a road that led to first a sign saying that we were on military property and that we had to stay ON the road.  That made me leery of going by 4x4 to the beach.  We continued on the road, and came to another sign that said we were at the Southernmost point in the USA.  We walked over to the water's edge and we were stunned to find some of the most beautiful clear water with some cliffs that were about 50' high!  It was spectacular.  We love jumping off the cliffs every year at a swimming quarry we visit while at OSH, but these cliffs were NOTHING like that...they were HUGE!  I saw a family snorkeling in the water and we verified that it was indeed as deep as it looked there.  So knowing I wasn't going to hit bottom, we ran and grabbed our swimsuits.  Now the only worry was, could we do this without some injuries? :) One passer-by asked how high it was.  I said I'd bet it was over 45 and probably 50'....he thought it was probably that and more.  So satisfied that we were indeed crazy, I decided to go first. It took a while standing at the ledge, contemplating the pain, but I got the nerve up and jumped. It was a spectacular free-fall!  The impact was acceptable, so it was time to pursuade the kids into following my insanity...and after a short time, they both had lept in too.  It was a real rush, and a fantastic place to swim.  If I ever go back to the big island, I'm definitely taking this in again.

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Back on Oahu, we decided to take a couple days of more wrap-up tourism to complete our vacation.  We did the hike up Diamond Head, which was hot but nice, did some more surfing on Waikiki, and spent some time touring Pearl Harbor.  For the Pearl Harbor part, we went to a couple exhibits and the Arizona Memorial, which were very cool to see...such a solemn place.  Then we took a tour of the Battleship Missouri.  That was a pretty cool tour in itself. It was fairly familiar having toured the Aircraft carrier while in South Carolina, but it's a very neat self guided tour, well worth the admission fee.  And with that, we wrapped up the vacation and jumped on a Delta flight home.  BTW, if there is ever something that will talk you into flying an RV-10, it's flying the airlines.  The Delta flights I took were HORRIBLE for legroom.  I can't even sit in the seat with straight legs, but can only fit my knees into the armwrest slots in the seat ahead of me.  Hawaiian Airlines was a bit better.  From now on, I'm comparing the seat pitch between the various airlines when I fly somewhere, and going with whoever provides the best seat pitch for their coach rates. If you ask me, the airlines are now over the edge of reality, increasing seat pitch, and the baggage fees encouraging everyone to carry on LARGE carryons.  It's insane, and enough to make me never want to fly domestic flights again.  I'll use airlines for international flights, but no more of the rat race for these domestics.

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