Round the World – The Pacific, Part 10

Round the World – The Pacific, Part 10

The next morning we made our way out to the airport again. Before departure to Maui, I had an appointment with an airworthiness inspector from the US Federal Aviation Authority’s (FAA) Honolulu Flight Standards District Office (FSDO). He would perform an inspection of the aircraft and, hopefully, issue my flight permit for the trip from Hilo to the mainland.

The distance from Hilo to the California coast is much too great for Planey to fly it in one go without performing significant modifications to the stock fuel system. There is nowhere to stop between Hawaii and the mainland which means that an aircraft must be capable of flying a minimum of 2,050 nautical miles non-stop to make the flight. In stock configuration Planey can do about half of this; hence the requirement to install the ferry fuel system consisting of a 160 gallon bladder tank behind the front seats, with transfer pumps to take this fuel into the main aircraft fuel system.

Planey on the apron in Honolulu

All of this extra fuel weighs a considerable amount; when fully fueled for the flight to the mainland, the aircraft is about 20% over the certified maximum take-off weight. To operate overweight legally one must apply for and receive a permit from the FAA, and the aircraft inspection is part of this process. I had submitted the paperwork to get this process started a couple of months earlier. The inspector assigned was responsive and helpful, but it seemed that he hadn’t worked on a permit for a small aircraft before; my weight and balance calculations were returned to me with the suggestion that I replace the (correct) density I had used for avgas with the value for jet fuel.

The inspection was quickly completed and the FAA rep promised to send through the completed permit for me to print before departure from Hilo. The power in the FBO had been off when we arrived and had still not come back on, so they noted down my details to complete the invoicing later, and we were on our way.

Climbing hard, we departed north from the airport. After gaining enough altitude to clear the mountains between our position and the west coast of Oahu, we turned west and crossed them, tracking north along the coast. We descended past a scattered collection of satellite dishes towards Dillingham airfield for a touch and go; this airfield is one of the main GA fields on the island and has a high level of tourist sky-diving activity. From here we headed east along the coast, passing the Marine Corps Air Base at Kaneohe before striking out across the water towards the island of Moloka’i.

The water in the Ka’iwi channel between Oahu and Moloka’i had been whipped up by a stiff breeze and did not look very inviting. A single freighter could be seen plying its way across the waters. At 25 miles in width, the crossing did not take long and we were soon coasting in over Moloka’i, the fifth largest of Hawaii’s islands. The island is book-ended by two volcanos, imaginatively known as West Moloka’i volcano and East Moloka’i volcano. The island was home to a leper colony which operated for over 100 years, from 1866 to 1969. More than 8,500 people were exiled here during this time, to live out the rest of their days with no visitors or other contact with the outside world.

We didn’t stop on Moloka’i, continuing instead to the nearby island of Lanai. A little smaller than Moloka’i, Lanai comes in at sixth in size out of the eight main islands of the Hawaii chain. Also known as Pineapple Island, due to its history as an island-wide pineapple plantation owned by Dole, the island is now 98% owned by software billionaire Larry Ellison with the remaining 2% held by the government or private homeowners.

Flights along the Hawaiian islands

We stopped on Lanai, parking up and calling the island’s only taxi. It was a short ride to one of Hawaii’s top attractions (in my opinion) – the Lanai Cat Sanctuary. The sanctuary started its activities in 2004 with efforts to sterilize Lanai’s street cats, protecting the local bird population from too many felines on the hunt. The sanctuary relocated to its current location in 2009 and is now home to over 600 “Lanai Lions”. Since 2014 they have taken in more than 1,800 cats, with around 1,000 of those being re-homed through adoption.

Describing itself as a “purradise”, the sanctuary welcomes visitors 365 days a year, with no entry fee. They even give every visitor a bag of cat treats to distribute to the residents. The sanctuary sits on 4 acres of land, with 25,000 square feet of fenced-in living area for the cats divided across 6 enclosures. This allows a division of the population into groups who get on well, minimising the risk of cat fights!

After a happy and relaxing couple of hours bonding with new furry friends we were picked up by the taxi and dropped off back at the airport. We took off to the southwest and turned left along the south coast of Lanai, before crossing the Kealaikahiki channel to Maui.

Like Moloka’i, Maui is an island of two volcanos joined in the middle by an isthmus. The airport sits on this central lowland and is one of the busiest in the Hawaiian chain, as befits the island’s role as second largest, and third most populous. We were cleared to land straight in against a stiff headwind, tucking in behind a Hawaiian airlines commercial jet. General Aviation parking is on the opposite side of the airport to the commercial terminal and was almost full, but after consulting with a local mechanic we found an open spot and tied Planey down.

To exit the airport we had to call security and wait for them to come and unchain the gate. This done, we caught an Uber to the rental car facility and picked up a Tesla Model 3 from Avis. This was the first time I had driven an electric car and I was impressed, although the island definitely needed better charging infrastructure to make it truly useful! As it was, we made it everywhere that we wanted to go without needing a charge, making it back at the end of the visit with 8% battery remaining.

We had made reservations at a hotel in the downtown of Lahaina, an historic town on the west coast of Maui. After a short drive along the coast road we settled in to our room before wandering along the main street to check out some of the art galleries and enjoy dinner.

The next morning we drove a little inland to attend the Maui Pineapple Tour, at the Maui Gold Pineapple Plantation. About 15 of us were bundled onto a little tour bus and we set off, stopping first at the pineapple processing facility. Here they talked us through the pineapple processing steps in detail, as well as briefly sidetracking to discuss their view of the best Pina Colada recipe. The pineapple farmers, we were told, would split their time between work in the processing plant, and much more physically demanding tasks out in the fields.

At the end of the plant visit we were each presented with a freshly picked Maui pineapple to take with us. We all trooped back onto the bus and headed up the hill into the fields, to see the growing pineapples. It takes a few years to grow a pineapple plant to full maturity. We learned how the largest pineapples come from the younger plants, and as a plant matures its fruit becomes successively smaller but sweeter. The guide brought out several pineapples and a machete and treated us all to freshly cut pineapple chunks before giving us a bit of time for pineapple photos before we returned to the bus, and the tour came to a close.

Back in our Tesla Model 3, we decided to drive out to the east of the island along the famous scenic route “The Road to Hana”. This 50 mile coastal road features more than 600 curves along its length, taking over 2 hours to drive not including stops at the many impressive viewpoints. We took it slow, regularly stopping to take photographs, and then pausing for longer about halfway to try some banana bread at Aunty Sandy’s Banana Bread stand. Unfortunately they were all out of banana bread, something of an oversight given their name. We satisfied ourselves with hotdogs instead before carrying on to Hana.

Hana is a very small town. After a failed attempt to visit the nearby lava tube, due to their “cash only” policy and lack of any nearby ATMs, we drove down to the seafront instead and spent a while enjoying the sun and sand. We had hoped to continue along the highway beyond Hana, making a full loop of the volcano, but the road further on was closed due to landslides so we turned around and drove another two hours back the way we had come. It wasn’t a waste though, as the views in the opposite direction were just as beautiful.

We made it back to the hotel in Lahaina in the mid afternoon and spent another pleasant evening, our last one here, exploring the town. What we couldn’t have known was that this would be the last time we could ever experience this version of Lahaina; just weeks after we left, devastating wildfires razed almost all of the town to the ground.

Click here to read the next part of the story.

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