Dave's Photo & Travelblogue

Photo shoots. World travel advice. Tips on Munich & environs.

Seven Ziplines

When someone says “zipline,” I think of the childhood deathtrap we built in my friend Scott’s backyard, made from one piece of 3/4” nylon rope that we got on sale. It started 40 or 50 feet up in a tree and was held tight to a 4×4 clothesline post with a boat winch. I’ll never forget the sound a (non-locking) carabiner makes as it picks up speed down the rough windings of a cheap nylon rope.

But, I tell you… when a business makes their livelihood from ziplines, they are a bit more serious, and a lot more safe.

I believe it was seven, the number of steel-cable ziplines at the Kauai Backcountry Adventures course. First we geared up:

Gearing up at Kauai Backcountry Adventures

Next, we were taken out into the woods in a serious all-wheel-drive vehicle, to a zipline course over a beautiful forest valley below Waialeale, the highest mountain on Kauai. I was not too stressed, as I figured this is WAY safer than skydiving…

Beautiful view over Kauai Backcountry's zip course

The operation seems quite safe, and they replace the lines (thick steel cable) far more often than OSHA requires. Our guides were really cool, and Chris & Misty really made the day by telling us Kauai stories and jokes. Besides keeping us safe, they showed us how to look cool:

Chris zipping at Kauai Backcountry

I’ve got some videos, but no capability to process them on my netbook. Here’s the next best thing, a view down the zipline:

A bird's-eye-view down the zip course

One of my fellow zippers, getting crazy on the exit:

Getting sideways on the zipline exit

Here’s our guide Misty, looking quite relaxed.

Misty looking relaxed at Kauai Backcountry

And, one last epic view of what you’ll be zipping over:

Scenic forest view of the zipline course

If you’re up for some adventure in Hawaii, I definitely suggest to do a zipline course! I was really entertained by the cool guides at Kauai Backcountry Adventures, and from what I hear, they have the best scenery of any zip course. So, if you’re looking for a bit of adrenaline, give them a try – you won’t regret it!

In case this isn’t enough excitement, I’d recommend skydiving. I didn’t try any of the DZ’s on the islands (as I didn’t have my gear, and am very un-current)… but most of them advertise 13,000’ tandems (avoid the low-alti 10,000’ Cessna places). If the zipline views are this good, just imagine the view from 13,000’ with no obstructions!

Posted 12 years ago at 3:33 pm.


The Most Dangerous Trail

I read a blog that listed the Kalalau trail as one of the world’s most dangerous hiking trails. The Kalalau trail starts in northern Kauai (at the end of the road) and heads up the beautiful Na Pali coast for eleven miles. On May 27th, I only hiked two miles of it, then went up a similar trail for another two miles to the massive Hanakapi’ai Falls. The first section had wonderful views of the Na Pali coast, and the second part to the falls was a bit like being in the world of Avatar.

Here’s the view of Ke’e beach where the trail starts, taken just a few minutes into the climb:

Ke'e Beach, at the start of the Kalalau trail

On the way there, I thought, this isn’t so bad. A bit rocky, but nothing too serious.

Then, just as I arrived at the falls, it rained for one hour.

Hanakapi'ai Falls in Kauai

That little bit of rain was all it took. On the way back, every stone was a slippery potential ankle-breaker. Every patch of dirt became the slipperiest mud known to man. And the stream crossings, which I’d been able to rock-hop across before, were like hopping across polished spheres of greased marble.

Fortunately I made it without injury, though I did choose to wade across one of the streams. My Merrell shoes dried pretty fast when hung in front of the A/C unit at the Kauai Sands Hotel. (note: a pretty low-grade 70’s hotel, with a closed-down restaurant, but it was cheap).

Back to Hanakapi’ai falls. As I mentioned, it was raining. Fortunately there was a rock overhang where one could get a good view and stay dry. To give you an idea of the scale, this is a panorama image made up of SEVEN wide-angle shots on the widest zoom setting. This falls is massive.

Panorama of Hanakapi'ai Falls in Kauai

One can swim there as well. It was a bit cold and rainy for everyone there, though. Even too cold for the twenty-somethings in bikinis and sandals (Hi Stephanie!). I suspect if it’s not rainy, the pool at the bottom of the falls is full of carefree bathers.

I’d recommend the hike to anyone with an adventurous spirit and good fitness. Loose sandals = bad, though you might be OK with tight, closed-toe sandals. It’s best to pick a day when it hasn’t just rained, and isn’t forecast to rain. Of course, in Hawaii, that means anything less than a 50% chance of rain… because it seems there is always a chance of showers. At least they’re warm and gentle most of the time, and leave beautiful rainbows behind!

Next, read about ziplining across a lush tropical valley, on my last day on Kauai!

Posted 12 years ago at 3:31 pm.


Beaches of Poipu Kai

May 26th was a day for me to relax, after several weeks of almost non-stop action. I cooked a tasty breakfast at The Villas at Poipu Kai, where I ate on the porch looking at the distant mountains:

Tasty breakfast with Blair's Death Sauce

Afterward I headed to the beaches and found some nice views.

Poipu Kai beach

Lava stone beach at Poipu Kai

Here’s the bodyboarding hotspot, just five minutes from where I was staying in Poipu Kai:

Bodyboarding beach at Poipu

And I met these cute chicks on the beach.

Cute Kauaian Chicks

You have no idea how hard it is to get such a good picture of chickens. At least they’re everywhere in Kauai so there are plenty of opportunities. A local told me that they are a special breed of chickens that is very rare so they’re somehow protected. And since there are no mongooses on Kauai (I think it was mongooses?), which were introduced on the other islands to combat snakes, the chickens pretty much have free reign. Wild.

This cool beach right across from Brennecke’s restaurant & bar has a sand bridge connecting the main island to a rocky/sandy outcropping. It’s pretty sheltered and great for snorkeling, if all the people with snorkels are any evidence (I was too lazy to get in the water).

Sand bridge beach at Poipu

Finally, here’s the Spouting Horn!


As the waves come in, they pressurize a cavity in the porous lava rock. All that pressure gets forced out this inlet, shooting a spray of water several meters in the air. Quite an interesting geological formation.

I’d say Poipu is the perfect destination for a beach vacation. There’s a lot to do in the area, great restaurants, and excellent weather. If you give it a try, or if you’ve already been there, let me know about your experience!

Next up: a huge waterfall in a remote location. Four miles of strenuous (and as I found out, potentially dangerous) hiking from the nearest road!

Posted 12 years, 1 month ago at 3:38 pm.

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Poipu Kai – Relaxing in Style

I’ve stayed in some nice 4- and 5-star hotels and condos before. But nothing quite as meticulously clean and well-thought-out as The Villas at Poipu Kai.

When I arrived in the villa, light Hawaiian jazz was playing on the stereo.

The lights were on, turned down low, as if the villa apartment was setting the mood.

Kitchen at the Villas at Poipu Kai

Orchid blossoms were strategically scattered around, calling my attention to amenities like the personalized guest information book, shampoo & soap setups in the bathrooms, and even a bottle of scented moisturizer next to the kitchen sink.

The Villas at Poipu Kai - orchid blossoms and soap

How could it get any better?

It depends what you’re into. The walk-in closet off the master bath would certainly have space for the bride’s wedding dress.

If you’ve moved past that stage and on to the next, the rock-formation-style pool and hot tub will be a favorite of the rugrats:

Pool at The Villas at Poipu Kai

The floral style of the resort was visible at every turn in the Villas, and all throughout the Poipu Kai community of resorts. Right outside my door I found these:

Beautiful flowers at the Villas at Poipu Kai

I’ve never even seen this flower before:

Flowers at the Villas at Poipu Kai

This lovely couple made me realize: Poipu Kai is the perfect place to be in love!

Birds of Paradise at Poipu Kai

This resort is not a place for adventure seekers who will be driving around the island for all-day, every-day activities, and just need a place to sleep. If you did that, you’d miss out on the amazing vibe of Poipu Kai!

The Villas is a place for: Families. Couples. Relaxation. Easy beach access. A beautiful day sunning by the pool. Barbecuing on the (big, stainless steel) grills by said pool. Drinking Happy Hour Mai Tais at Brennecke’s by the beach, just a five minute walk away. Taking a short ride down to Papalani’s for a delicious Kauaian gelato. Bodyboarding at the beach (or doing any number of other sports) with equipment from The Villas’ storerooms. Sleeping on a big, soft mattress, surrounded by all the pillows you could eat.

Huge bed at the Villas at Poipu Kai

Do you get the idea? You’ll leave this place recharged, ready to face the world again. I certainly did, even after just two days. Imagine what a week at The Villas at Poipu Kai would do for you!

If you want to read more about the Poipu area, tune in tomorrow for views of the awesome beaches and the Spouting Horn. Yeah, you know you’re curious now – what the h#&$ is a spouting horn!?


Disclaimer: this article is a promotion for The Villas at Poipu Kai. However, all my opinions of the Villas and the Poipu area are unbiased judgments based on my experience, which was truly fantabulastic (it was so good I had to invent a new word for it).

Posted 12 years, 1 month ago at 3:43 pm.


Hot Younger Sister

Waimea Canyon, nicknamed the “Grand Canyon of the Pacific,” is not as old as the Grand Canyon. She may not have the same great tan color either, but at least Waimea hasn’t yet lost all her trees. This first view is from the Canyon Trail on May 25th:

View of Waimea Canyon from the Canyon Trail

Another angle from the Canyon Trail:

View of Waimea Canyon from the Canyon Trail

A nice “partly cloudy” shot from one of the roadside lookouts makes for interesting contrasts.

Waimea Canyon from a viewpoint

Kokee Park at the top of Waimea Canyon has some truly amazing vistas and great trails. Just beware, the signage along the trails isn’t the best, and in many spots I had trouble figuring out where the trail went. On dirt areas there were often no blazes, and in wooded areas there were frequently multiple paths that looked similar, again with no blazes marking the real trail.

In the evening I arrived at the Villas at Poipu Kai, where I stayed in a true luxury villa for 2 nights. After the “Evil Dead” vibe alone at Camp Sloggett, a little relaxation was certainly in order! Tomorrow: how to relax in Poipu.

Posted 12 years, 1 month ago at 3:27 pm.


Miles to go before I sleep

My plan for May 24th: hike the Na Pali overlook trails in Kokee Park. Signposted at 9.3 miles (not including another mile to some viewpoints and 2 miles along the road back to the car). The trail had a good bit of up-and-down, probably a couple thousand feet of vertical.

Was it worth the blisters? Absolutely! This is almost the same view I got from the helicopter, though I got there under my own power. Of course, it took a whole day, so I’d still wholeheartedly recommend the heli tour to see 20 views like this in an hour. Let’s face it, most of us don’t have 20 days to spend hiking in Hawaii, though we may wish we did.

Na Pali Overlook Trail view down the coast

There were so many great shots from this day, so I have a feeling I’ll do a whole piece about this hike later on. Here’s a nice spot below one of the overlooks; props to the couple who took the photo for me. My wireless remote isn’t good that far, as I found out.

Relaxing on the Kokee Na Pali Overlook trail system

By the time I returned from this killer hike of roundabout 12 miles, the general store at the top of the canyon had closed. I wasn’t about to chill for 6 hours alone at Camp Sloggett, so I went to town to check out a microbrewery and stock up on food. On the way I found this:

Rainbow over Waimea Canyon

While in town, I added shrimp to the menu, in addition to the remainder of my canned food. Howzabout this for campfire cooking, with zero preparation or planning?

Campfire Cooking at Camp Sloggett

Here’s my shout out to Blair’s Death Sauce crew. It was the only spice I had besides non-dairy-creamer, and I figured the creamer wouldn’t help shrimp & tamales too much. It was damn tasty on both the shrimp and the tamales!

Salsa de la Muerte around the campfire

Next came an experiment that failed. This is what happens when one invents a recipe idea while alone in the woods with limited ingredients, after having a few beers. Recipe: sliced apples. Guinness. One packet of sugar. A square of Lindt 90% dark chocolate. Cooking time: however long it took me to clean up the kitchen and take a shower.

Failed experiment: Guinness-chocolate apples

Flavor of the apples in the center, which didn’t get burned to the side of the can: err, well, edible. No, let’s go with the ever-popular… “interesting.” Alright, enough food stories, it’s time for bed!

Posted 12 years, 1 month ago at 3:57 pm.

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5 Hawaiian Surprises

May 23rd was a day full of surprises.

First, my sunburn was healing faster than I expected, so I was able to do a short hike up a mountain nicknamed The Sleeping Giant.

The Sleeping Giant overlooking Wailua River

Second, I found some guys kitesurfing – I had to stop and take a couple photos for my buddy Marius. To the dude I talked to on the beach (also named Dave), hope your shoulder’s OK. If you want a full res photo just let me know.

Kitesurfing near Lihue, Kauai

Kitesurfing near Lihue, Kauai

On my way between The Sleeping Giant and Waimea Canyon, I stopped for an ice cream at a gelato stand that was featured in a magazine article. Papalani Gelato did not disappoint! POG (Papaya, Orange, Guava) is one of the best ice creams I’ve ever tasted, and Kauai Crunch is up there too.

Papalani Gelato in Poipu, Kauai

When I arrived at Camp Sloggett, I was the only person there. A huge bunkhouse and several lodges were all empty. I felt a wee bit of that “Evil Dead” vibe, but I survived it. By the way, I now have a chainsaw mounted on the stump of one arm.

Bunkhouse at Camp Sloggett in the Waimea Canyon

Finally, I had a nice dinner of Bush’s Grillin’ Beans and Hormel Beef Tamales. I was surprised that eating from a can could taste so good. A touch of Blair’s Salsa de la Muerte didn’t hurt, either. Since a photo of canned food isn’t so exciting, I’ll just throw in the sunset from Kalalau Lookout near the top of Waimea Canyon instead.

Sunset from Kalalau Lookout in Waimea Canyon, Hawaii

That’s all for today! Hope you can make it to Kauai to experience all this yourself sometime…

Posted 12 years, 1 month ago at 3:15 pm.


Kauai by Helicopter

Going to Hawaii? I hope you will visit Kauai, known as “The Garden Island.”

It’s perhaps the most beautiful place on earth.

Great, you’re visiting Kauai? You have to go on a helicopter tour. Seeing the entire island by helicopter is a must, even if it means saving for another month or two before making your trip.

Island Helicopters - maintaining the aircraft between every flight, polishing the HUGE windows

Now… you’ve found out there are a dozen helicopter tour operators. Which one to choose? Take my advice, because as a skydiver, I have a lot of small aircraft experience. I’m very safety-oriented, and you should be, too. So don’t go for the cheapest tour (that often means cutting corners to cut costs!).

After my experience this week, I can recommend 100% that you fly with Island Helicopters. Their prices are very reasonable, considering you are flying with one of the safest operators on the island. You will fly in a well-maintained aircraft piloted by the best, and it’s all organized very professionally.

Island Helicopters - photo of my flight crew :-)

Thanks to the whole staff, especially my pilot Isaac! Even with a bit of turbulence, I felt completely safe with him at the controls.

Now, what will you see? Everything. The tour circles the entire island! Many of the areas are inaccessible by car, and would take days of tough hiking to reach by foot (if possible to reach at all). I did manage to duplicate one of the helicopter views while hiking – it was 11 miles on foot and nearly a whole day. There were dozens of views like this in under an hour on the heli tour!

Here are a few key vistas that really struck me, although you might have a different favorite spot.

The archway that James Bond flew through in “The Man with the Golden Gun,” on the nearly-inaccessible Na Pali coast:

"The Man with the Golden Gun" plane-through-tunnel scene

Manawaiopuna Falls, a private waterfall used in the beginning of “Jurassic Park”:

Manawaiopuna Falls on Kauai, also known as Jurassic Falls

You can also take a helicopter tour that lands at Jurassic Falls, and have your picture taken there. This tour is only available through Island Helicopters, as they have an exclusive deal with the private landowner!

The tour with the landing costs (as of this writing) $299 on Spring Special, as opposed to $178 for the standard 50-60min “Deluxe Tour.” But if you’re a movie buff, waterfall fan, or just want to do something special – this waterfall landing tour is for you!

Here’s another unreal coastline view:

Amazing coastline view on Kauai, Hawaii

And in case you need more convincing, here’s Wailua Falls. I had driven there the day before. The view from the lookout (where you see the road in this photo) was really disappointing, so I was thrilled to have this amazing view from the helicopter!

Wailua Falls on Kauai, Hawaii

Why do I recommend a helicopter tour? Because it’s the most amazing thing I’ve done on the islands so far!

Why fly with Island Helicopters? Their excellent safety record. A fantastic helicopter with the biggest windows. Custom left-side pilot seat so you get a better view (flying clockwise around the island). Their focus on safety throughout the trip. Friendly and professional staff. BOSE noise cancelling headsets with pilot narration. Exclusive Jurassic Falls landing. Did I mention great safety record?

There must be a reason that this company has been hired to fly camera for movies such as Jurassic Park, Tropic Thunder, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Six Days/Seven Nights, and many more. Good enough for feature films = an awesome tour for your digital SLR! Note, all the pictures in this article were taken by me on the tour with my Nikon D90 / 18-200mm VR. So with a bit of care, you can really get some great shots.

If you do go to Kauai and try a helicopter tour, please let me know how you liked it! I hope you’ll have the same amazing experience that I did with Island Helicopters.


Disclaimer: this article is a promotion for Island Helicopters. However, all my opinions of the flight and the operation are unbiased judgments based on my experience.

Posted 12 years, 1 month ago at 3:48 pm.


The Green Flash

No, it’s not a superhero. It’s a phenomenon.

When it comes to the green flash, there are four groups of people.

  1. 1. Those who have never heard of the green flash
  2. 2. A few who know what it is, but never saw it themselves
  3. 3. Fewer still who have seen it and recognized it
  4. 4. A tiny handful who have photographed the green flash

For readers in group one, you’re about to join the esteemed second group! What is the green flash? When the sun sets over the ocean, just as the disc disappears completely below the horizon, you can sometimes see a green flash. It depends on the right conditions, and usually requires a rather clear sky. Kind of like this Hanalei Bay sunset from May 22nd, though I was worried the clouds would mess it up:

Sailboat Sunset over Hanalei Bay, Kauai

I noticed as I was photographing the sunset that the green moment (one second, really) had arrived, and held down the camera shutter button. The first two or three photos actually have a bit of green visible! You really have to zoom in, but here it is:

Green Flash over Hanalei Bay, Kauai

This photo is highly cropped, but has no color adjustments of any kind.

So now you know about the green flash. The next time you’re viewing a clear sunset over the ocean, watch for it! If you have a D-SLR, try to catch it in pixels. Just hold down the shutter in high-speed-shooting mode, and look at your pics later to see if the rim of the sun looks green as it disappears underwater.

What else did I do this lovely day besides join the ranks of green flash photographers? I rode a helicopter around Kauai with Island Helicopters! This outfit is fantastic, and I wouldn’t have changed a single moment of the tour. A truly impressive (and safety oriented) operation. I’ll be writing a full article about the tour shortly, but here are a few teaser pics to get you drooling.

Waimea Canyon, the Grand Canyon of the Pacific:

Waimea Canyon, the Grand Canyon of the Pacific

The Na Pali coast, inaccessible by roads:

Kauai's Na Pali Coast

I would say a helicopter tour is a MUST for anyone visiting Kauai, provided you can afford it. And remember, there are a few areas where you never want the “cheapest available” – medical services, used cars, and small aircraft flights. I’d spend the extra few dollars for a safety-oriented, professional tour operator like Island Helicopters.

As I’m writing this, I’m feeling rather isolated as the only person in Camp Sloggett, a cool but currently empty campground near the top of Waimea Canyon. That story, however, must wait for another day.

Posted 12 years, 1 month ago at 3:41 pm.


The Garden Island

Kauai is known for its beautiful, green nature. Compared to Oahu, it’s virtually deserted – which is just fine by me. Food is less expensive (in restaurants as well as supermarkets), and the vibe is much more local than touristy Waikiki.

About May 21st: I’m not going to lie. It was all about the sunburn, which is by far the worst I’ve had in my life. Every movement was painful, and I probably looked like an 80-year-old each time I stepped out of the car.

That said, I made an effort to get out there and see a few driveable sights. I visited two waterfalls, but need to HDR the pics due to the lighting. So I’ll go with a few shots from the historic 1930’s Kilohana sugar plantation.

Free rum tasting at Koloa rum shop – the dark rum is fantastic, and the gold is not bad either. The rum fudge sauce was fantastic, though a bit pricey at (what was it?) $15 per small bottle.

Koloa Kauai Gold Hawaiian Rum

Interesting art at Sea Reflections. I saw this and immediately thought of a German friend of mine who has chickens, to get her own fresh eggs. One turned out to be a rooster!

Roosters at Sea Reflections at Kilohana

For the artsy among you, there is a Clayworks at Kilohana. Here’s the proprietor making mugs:

Making mugs at Clayworks at Kilohana

Attaching the clay mug's handle

Tasty local meals of the day: Kalua Pig (similar to pulled pork BBQ, but in this case with rice and eggs). Dani’s restaurant has realistic prices for anywhere, and is quite the price-value find for Hawaii, though the atmosphere is nothing special. The Kalua Pig comes with free Kona coffee!

Kalua Pig at Dani's in Lihue

A perfect end to the evening: seared sushi-grade ahi fish tacos with fresh tortilla chips and a Negro Modela. Mmm! I highly recommend Monicos Taqueria.

Ahi fish tacos in Kauai, Hawaii

Tomorrow, weather permitting, I’ll go on a helicopter tour of Kauai! Subscribe by RSS or email (orange buttons in the left sidebar) to hear more about the ‘copter tour!

Posted 12 years, 1 month ago at 3:30 pm.

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