Zipping Across Maui's Treetops
We stepped up to the launch box of the first zipline, and I looked around, wishing I hadn’t passed up that bathroom at the bottom of West Maui's mountain. It took 20 minutes to get to this spot above Kapalua—at 1,900 feet elevation—in a mid-1970s-built military machine outfitted with eight gears, called the “uni-mog.” Blue gum eucalyptus scented the air. Christmas berry trees surrounded the clearing and molasses grass covered the ground. But there were no restrooms, not even a port-a-potty.
Until recently, the land on which we gazed at the base of the mountain was a Maui pineapple plantation. After almost a century of continuous production, Maui Land & Pineapple shut down its pineapple operations at the end of 2009. Now, the high-vitamin C and low-acidic fruit that you find at restaurants, grocery store shelves and farmers markets relies on private farmers working 1,000 leased acres. It’s a laborious and time-intensive harvest, taking 18 to 24 months from hand-planting to hand-picking.
My eyes landed on Justin, our “sending guide.” He sported a tattoo of Saturn on one arm and Jupiter on the other. “Nerves,” he said.
I remembered hearing that one of only two fears a baby is born with is falling and loud noises. I’ve never outgrown either.
Justin demonstrated the starfish, the technique to slow down before slamming to a stop—55 mph to 0 in one second—at the other end of the valley, some 1,000 feet away. Then, he planted both feet together and glued both arms to his side. This was the pencil, he said, the body position that would make you go faster. I didn’t think I’d be using the pencil.
Dina and Greg stepped up first. Justin clipped them onto the cable and adjusted their tethers. He called to Eric, our receiving guide, on the other side of the valley. Whooo-hooo. A second later, Whooo-hooo boomeranged back at us. Justin opened the gate and counted down, “Three-two-one.” The sound of the trolley sliding along the cable rang out across the valley, reminding me of the vibration that a high-powered electric tower puts out. Ziiiiiiiingggggggggggg.
When we’d arrived at Kapalua Adventures, we were cautioned to leave our SLR cameras with interchangeable lenses, wallets, phones and backpacks behind--or risk them slipping out of our pockets or getting tangled in gear. We were instructed to wear sunglasses and closed-toed shoes, for safety reasons. They gave us a bottle of water, a helmet, harness and a 13-pound trolley to tote around. I’d signed up for the Upper Mountain Loop Adventure; it included crossing the highest and longest suspension bridge in Hawaii and five parallel ziplines. The longest zipline was 2,300 feet in length; the shortest 800. All ziplines “sky-surfed” across valleys a couple hundred feet above the ground.
We slithered into harnesses so complicated and sturdy that I thought we might be packing parachutes and be forced to base-jump off a cliff at some point. Thankfully, that wasn’t the case. The harness, pulley and three-quarter-inch cables on which we zipped are designed to accommodate 30,000 pounds, Justin said. So, that Crab Cake Benedict I’d splurged on for breakfast at Plantation House wouldn’t put me over the weight limit.
Ten-year-old Nick and his father Emmett went next. Then, Jennifer and Greg.
I gazed down the mountain to the coastline. A blazing sun angled for the horizon. Behind me, the peak of the mountain sat shrouded in clouds. Rain? According to Justin, this area—Puu Kukui Watershed Preserve atop Mauna Kahalawai —is the second wettest place in the United States, collecting 400 inches of rain annually and providing 75% of Maui’s water. Seven miles as the crow flies, Lahaina receives 12 inches of rain annually. The name—Puu Kukui—translates to English as “hill of enlightenment.”
Finally, it was my turn. Where was that bottle of water? My parched throat ached for something wet. Butterflies tickled the insides of my stomach. Justin clipped me into the cable. He tightened my six tethers, one at a time. He called to Eric; Eric called back. Justin opened the gate. “Three-two-one.” I took a deep breath.
When I slammed into the coiled braking system 1,000 feet away and Eric steadied my swinging body, he asked, “How was that?”
“Too short,” I said. “I want to go again.”
Outfitter: Kapalua Adventures
Location: Kapalua, Maui, Hawaii
Tour: Upper Mountain Loop Ziplines
Current rate: $185