This post originally appeared on View from Here, September 27, 2011
1. Choice. These days, there are choices to be made when it comes to zip-lines around Hawaii. On Kauai, there are two. On Maui, three. And, now, on Hawaii Island, there are also three. On a recent trip to Hawaii Island, I chose Kohala Zip, primarily, for the new tour operator’s environmental practices. And, also, because, while the name is different, Kohala Zipline is owned by Hawaii Forest & Trail, a company that promotes its tours as entertaining, educational and responsible. Responsible in this case means clearing just a few trees from the forest to create the course and, then, using those felled trees to build the structures–milled and crafted on-site. It also means installing the structures with minimal penetration into the tree itself and designing the platforms in such a way that they can be loosened to “grow” with the tree. Unique engineering. So much so that I found myself taking pictures of the physical structures–like wrap-around decks–so I could show my ingenious, MacGyver-esque husband.
2. Place. North Kohala. A 15-minute Pinzgauer ride takes you right by the original Kamehameha the Great statue, celebrating the king of Hawaii’s birthplace, and through a macadamia nut forest in the valley of Halawa. At our debarkation point–with a magnificent, sweeping view of the blue Pacific Ocean miles below–Peter, one of our two guides, announced, “Once you step across this bridge, you won’t touch ground again for an hour-and-a-half.” And, with that, we entered the rainforest canopy of eucalyptus robustus trees, in some places more than 100 feet off the ground. Did I mention I have the slightest fear of heights. Nothing irrational, mind you, but “healthy” is what I call it.
3. Flight school. At the check-in barn, we had stepped into a harness, adjusting and cinching straps galore, donned helmets and plunged our hands in to heavy-duty leather gloves–about 8 pounds worth of gear. It had pretty much just hung off of us and got the way, especially when trying to fasten the seat belts in the Pinzgauer. Now, though, this gear would be our lifeline. “I’ll be getting intimate with you all morning,” Jessica, our second guide, said. She reached for the pulley contraption hanging from my waist and clipped it into the zipline. She clipped something else. And something else. “We clip,” she said. “You zip.” She went through a whole spiel of how all we’d have to do to start would be to lift our legs off the platform; how we should watch Peter for signals on when to slow down, how we could slow down by placing a flat hand–and she emphasized flat, not cupped–on the wire and pressing; how we needed to learn to use the parking break, spin and pull ourselves hand-over-hand, in case we stopped shy of the platform. And how we should never, ever, ever touch the gear–never even think about clipping or unclipping anything. Never. Ever. Ever. Jessica would send us, Peter would receive us. As soon as the words slipped out of her mouth, I tucked them in some unconscious part of my brain, a pocket, to be pulled out later, when needed. And, yet, I managed to lift my feet, zip, slow, break and pull myself to the next tree–and pass flight school. There was no turning back now. (Well, there was, but it wasn’t easy. In fact, it looked to be more hairy than simply zipping.)
4. Camaraderie. After two zips, everyone started to get chummy. We were, after all, standing all over each other, hugging trees together. And these were big trees–at times big enough to require three of us, hand to hand, to wrap our arms around. A retired woman from Texas sort of claimed me, because we were the only two on the tour without a family member or friend–my husband was back on Kauai working, and her husband had sent her off with a kiss on the cheek and an unsaid message of “Better you than me.” Ziplining isn’t for everyone, apparently. We got to know each other–names and a bit of history. We gave each other nicknames–Gigi, Mimi, Sissy, Sassy, Mr. T, Tall T. I think it all had to do with conquering our fears together. Truth be told, though, many of my zip-mates possessed absolutely zero fear. The father and son team. The retired firefighter. The member of the Air Force. The twins celebrating their 50th birthday–who decided to time each other using their Flip video recorder. Only one expressed fear. “Not a single one of my friends would do this,” Mimi said. “Not even consider it.” But Mimi did great, zipping right along, yelling, wheeeee, and smiling the whole time. And, then, we got to the….
5. Bridges. After five zips, those of us who weren’t 100% confident at the start, we got our game on. With ziplining. And, then, a series of three bridges came into focus between the dappled light of the tree canopy. “You mean there are more suspension bridges?” I asked. Ziplining I can do. The speed negates my fear of heights. But suspension bridges–that sway and move, with space between planks–do unnerve me. If I’m being honest here. Turns out, we still have four more suspension bridges to cross. Really? Heavy sigh. And while we were strapped into a safety line, there was plenty of slack and space that would make a mis-placed foot more than just a stumble. But there was something about the confidence built from the zipping and the confidence of a 19-year-old young man behind me and the twins and their fun-loving mother. Not to mention the bravery of Mimi. And, so, with a deep breath, I stepped out, one plank after another.
6. Rappelling. “Rappelling? Really? I didn’t know anything about rappelling,” I said. And Peter said, “That’s why we call this the ‘challenge course.” Damn. The things I get myself into. Sometimes, I ask the same question that famed travel writer Bruce Chatwin proclaimed and used as a title for one of his books, “What am I doing here?” Turns out, I liked rappelling.
7. Speed. The last zip–the longest at some 1000+ feet–is a double line. Pick your competition carefully and practice the pencil–lean back, straighten your legs and assume a streamlined position. You just may notch speeds of 45 mph. Some of our zippers bet lunch on the result of their runs. Not only was our group friendly and confident, they were competitive, as well. The father and son duo did, and the father won by a hair. The twins live their lives in competition, and they finished in a dead-heat.
8. Finish. 9 zips. 5 suspension bridges. 2 rappels. O fails. Everyone performed like ziplining rock stars. Even me.
9. Warning. If you don’t like speed. If you don’t like heights. If you don’t like trees. If you don’t like people. If you don’t like to push your edges. Then, you might not want to sign up for the Kohala Zipline.
About the Author
Kim Steutermann Rogers blogs about visiting, living in and experiencing the Hawaiian Islands as the editor of OutriggerHawaii.com. This isn’t her first ziplining adventure. Read about “Zipping across Maui’s Treetops.”