Friday, June 21, 2019

Hawaii by helicopter: Blue Hawaiian adventure soars above the clouds for hidden treasures


Honolulu's distinctive skyline is even more impressive when viewed from a helicopter.
STUNNING HAWAII VIEWS FROM A HELICOPTER MAKE FOR FABULOUS WAY TO SEE THE ISLANDS

Dole Plantation's pineapple fields make striking patterns from the air.

STORY By CHRISTENE MEYERS
PHOTOS By BRUCE KELLER

SOARING HIGH above the Pacific, Keller leaned over to me in our ringside seats. "We're flying with the birds," he whispered.  It's true. Blue Hawaiian Helicopters delivers a thrilling experience, the closest we'll ever come to flying.  Because we're so much closer to the ground than in an airplane, we see the pineapple fields, the motion of the waves hitting the beach, the high-rise hotels and waterfalls that seem almost touchable.
HAWAII is meant to be seen  from as many vantage points as possible.  The beach is an essential, and a mountain hike is a must.  Snorkeling or scuba, definitely. But flying with the professionals
Blue Hawaiian Helicopters delivers fine views.

high above the land, looking down to admire the jungles and waterfalls that make Hawaii famous, is a treat to be experienced at least once in a lifetime.
"Keller and Cookie" about to board a Blue Hawaiian 'copter.
For decades, Hollywood studios have used Blue Hawaiian to make their films on the islands.  "Pirates of the Caribbean" is one of the most famous films shot on Oahu, followed by a trio of the "Jurassic Park" blockbusters,  several films about Pearl Harbor, "George of the Jungle" "Flight of the Intruder," "Crimson Tide" and many more.
So we boarded one of Blue Hawaiian's T2Eco-
Stars, with seven seats, including the pilot.  The comfy, quiet ride was an hour of bliss and fascination with our expert pilot-guide pointing out movie locations, famous mountains and valleys, familiar buildings and of course, Diamond Head and the Pearl Harbor Arizona Memorial, Honolulu's two most famous landmarks.
"Pirates of the Caribbean" was shot in the lush forests of Oahu.
WE'VE TOURED several times with Blue Hawaiian  Helicopters during its 34-year tenure, but not recently, and never on Oahu.  The highly rated company serves all four principal islands. Hawaii's legendary archipelago has been attracting nature lovers, artists, hikers and adventurers for decades to explore the verdant rainforests and admire its
Diamond Head looms spectacularly. 
cascading waterfalls. We loved seeing the white-sand and black-sand beaches from the air, and sweeping over the turquoise blue Pacific then up to the craters of Hawaii's volcanic badlands.
The helicopter is a great way to compare the differences of the islands, too.
OUR PILOT pointed out historic landings, and explained how Tahitians established permanent settlements on Oahu in about 500 ce. In 1795 Kamehameha I, king of the island of  Hawaii, conquered Oahu and united the Hawaiian Islands. In 1845 the royal capital was moved from Lahaina, on Maui, to Honolulu, on Oahu.  It is now the state capital. We viewed the buildings from on high.
WE ENJOYED a bird's eye view of Iolani Palace, the United State's only royal palace, with its revered history.  Across the street is Hawaii's judicial system, with a building made famous  in episodes of "Hawaii Five-O." (More on that next week.)
It was fun to watch the pilot at his controls, as we lifted off and arose, soaring over one of the country's most beautiful states.
Fun watching the pilot at his command station. 
With seven of us in the vehicle, he skillfully circled at important sightings, making sure everyone had an opportunity to see everything.
Our favorites were the gorgeous pineapple fields, and the cone-shaped outcroppings of lava off Kualoa Point.  Ka'a'awa Valley was beautiful, too, where many fun movies have been shot, including "Pirates of the Caribbean." The North Shore with its famous surfing beaches delighted my surfer.
Having been to Pearl Harbor the day before, it was thrilling seeing the Arizona memorial from the air.   The snazzy orange and yellow "Magnum" helicopters were lifting off near us, so that was fun, too. We opted for the doors of Blue Hawaiian, though.
Our ride was smooth and unencumbered.  Only one criticism could we offer:  it was too short.

Enjoy a calming lagoon for your pleasure, right in the middle of Honolulu.
UP NEXT:  Hidden Oahu.  Come with us to discover a few things you might not know about Oahu. Did you know you can stay in a lagoon right in the city?  Or discover a beautiful hideaway, known as King Kamehameha III summer home. We'll take you to  the best fresh fish in town, melt-in-your mouth poke, little hole-in-the-wall cafes where the locals chow down on barbecue, small museums and much more. Enjoy, and remember to explore, learn and live, while you catch us each Friday.

Friday, June 14, 2019

Swimming with sting rays on idyllic Antigua

The sting rays we swam with were friendly and enjoy people. The creature has one or more large sharp barbed dorsal spines near the base of the whiplike tail and is capable of inflicting severe wounds, and even death.  We braved an encounter recently.

Christene Meyers, right, holds a sting ray with help from a naturalist.

GENTLE GIANTS OF THE SEA MAKE HUMAN CONTACT ON BEAUTIFUL ISLAND

The man in blue is the naturalist, guiding tourists
from Germany, Australia and the U.S. 

STORY By CHRISTENE MEYERS
PHOTOS By BRUCE KELLER

IF YOU have never taken a swim with a sting ray, why not stretch yourself a bit, widen your horizons, try something new.
I am not a water baby like much of my family or my part-amphibian partner.
But I love nature and enjoy the bonds I've made with other species.
So I entered the water and for a brief, happy time, making friends with a pair of sting rays off Antigua.
Southern rays are the brightest rays in the
It's believed to be good luck to kiss a ray as they snorkelers do.
Caribbean. As promised, we found them friendly, gentle and as interested in us as we were in them.
According to my partner, photographer Bruce Keller, they have learned to trust humans because they get food from them, and because people treat them with respect.
WE FOUND the experience "a thrill of a lifetime," to use an overworked but accurate cliche.  The cruise line billed it as "a unique opportunity to interact and feed the rays."  What do these graceful guys and gals eat?  Animals that are smaller and live on the bottom of the sea: worms, clams, oysters, shrimp, squid and fish smaller than they are.  They're carnivors, like lions and tigers. Speaking of tigers, a segue to the incident with naturalist Steve Irwin.  His bizarre death by a sting ray was caused because the creature believed his shadow was that of the tiger shark, the ray's greatest predator. That was a fluke. But the byword is still be careful and make slow movements. 
The sting rays are friendly and swim up to humans.
 The lure to visiting Stingray City is two-fold:  besides the sting ray opportunity, Antigua offers some of the most magnificent snorkeling with brilliantly colored coral reefs and wildly colorful tropical fish. 
WE TOOK a bus from our cruise
 Captain Keller
on the boat to 
swim with the rays.

You will be in a group when you venture out to swim with the sting rays.
ship terminal, then boarded a speedboat for a 15-minute ride which whisked us to a shallow pool with a white sand bottom surrounded by beautiful coral reef. You may stand up or swim with the rays. After feeding, snorkeling and taking pictures with our new friends, we returned to our land base for punch and a rinse off. The "city" has a small bird zoo, with disappointing small cages. The sting ray experience is the highlight.
TO CHECK on Antigua travel given recent safety issues, use a free service for travelers or nationals living abroad: Smart Travel Enrollment Program, or STEP, issues updated advisory on global travel safety, sanctioned by the U.S. State Department: step.state.gov.; stingraycityantigua.com


UP NEXT: Blue Hawaii beckons. That's Blue Hawaii Helicopter. Ride with us high above the clouds for a breathtaking adventure. The top-rated helicopter tour of the islands is waiting for you and we'll take you along on our journey above volcanic mountain tops, the city skyline of bustling Honolulu, the gorgeous canyons and beaches that make Hawaii famous -- and beautiful from a bird's eye view. Remember to explore, learn and live and catch us each Friday for a novel look at travel, art, nature and family.  

Friday, June 7, 2019

Magical Montana: Big Sky Country beckons road warriors

The approach to the place we cherish, tucked away in the Beartooths.   
"Montana has the kind of mountains I'd create if mountains were put on my agenda."
 -- John Steinbeck in "My Travels with Charley"

Our little corner of the world, with clouds, trees,
mountains and the sound of the water.

BASKING IN BEAUTY OF BIG SKY COUNTRY


STORY By CHRISTENE MEYERS
PHOTOS By BRUCE KELLER

NO MATTER HOW far we wander -- to the fjords of Norway or the deserts Down Under -- we are no more excited than when we answer the call of the Big Sky sirens and return to Montana.
I'm a fourth generation native of the Treasure State and I love traveling the world.
But my heart soars and my breathing quickens when I glimpse the meandering Yellowstone River out the airplane window and see the Rimrocks framing the town of Billings.
Home.
And it's no more beautiful  than this time of year, when the lilacs are still pretty in the high country and the lupine and mountain phlox are about to bloom.
Yes, it's a real cowboy -- not a rhinestone one.  Working ranches mean
working cowboys to move cattle, deliver feed, check for problems.
OUR LITTLE corner of the Beartooths is dear to my heart.  As a kid growing up in the 1950s, I traveled with my parents on regular trips "up country" to visit cousins in Roscoe and friends in Red Lodge.  My grandparents played bridge with chums at a cabin on the West Fork of the Stillwater River near where 30 years later I'd buy property.
I rode my first horse on the Beartooth Ranch between Columbus and Absarokee, which my grandfather Gus owned a few proprietors back. (He called it "Sunnyside Ranch" and I have photos of me on the ancient horse, Peanuts, riding down the same road we see from Highway 78.)
Red Lodge boasts many restored Victorian homes, a treasure
to behold in Livingston, Billings, and other Montana towns.
For those of us grounded in the natural world, there's nothing more pleasing than spring after a brutal winter.  While I can't claim to have suffered through the snow and chill, I've kept up on the miseries, stress and hard work of our rancher neighbors, and I feel grateful for their endurance and spirit. Nothing makes me happier than to have to stop the car while a cowboy moves cattle to summer pasture. "These are my people;  this is my country." Corny, but true. Sometimes I even belt out the state song: "Montana, Montana, glory of the west.......        M-O-N-T-A-N-A, Montana I love you."
YES, OF ALL the states from coast to coast, it's easily the best. I love my part-time California life, world travels and regular visits to Seattle, San Francisco, New York, Atlanta, Miami and Boston. But there's no place like home. The aging Yorkies love Montana, too. Nick and Nora romp and hike and get in shape, just as we do. Home on the range will always be dear to our hearts.
Cookie and Keller, Nick and Nora hike the East Rosebud.
Sioux Charley splendor
We love our Montana based road trips to Glacier and Yellowstone National Parks, forays to Red Lodge, Livingston, Bozeman, Butte,
Glacier Park is part of our summer itinerary, with an annual road trip.
Missoula, Harlowton, to visit friends and catch up on theater and dining. I spent the first years of my life in Bozeman where my parents were university students, and it's been fun to watch the Gallatin Valley grow and change, still feeling like part of the real West.
The little western towns in between are fun, too. Big Timber, Roundup, White Sulphur Springs, Harlowton, Lewistown, Cody, Wyo.

ONE OF OUR recent thrills is the opening of an internationally known art and music center just a few miles away.  Tippet Rise, built by the heirs to the Grey Goose vodka fortune, is a masterful creation presenting concerts by world-renowned classical musicians. The patron Halsteads commissioned stunning contemporary outdoor sculptures by famous artists to enhance the connection between land and art. More on Tippet Rise
We've written about this grand accomplishment for national venues and are fortunate to score a few cherished tickets each season. Places to stay if you come visit?
Mark di Suvero's "Beethoven's Quartet" is inspired by the string quartets of  the great composer.
The fascinating piece is one of several world class sculptures at Tippet Rise Art Center. 
Yes! Many gorgeous digs await visitors. Blue Ribbon Run Fishery, for instance, offers a tranquil, handsomely appointed vista on the Stillwater, fine fishing, abundant birds and wildlife (check it out at airbnb.com).
Montana is a place where people still greet one another on the streets.  When we mow the front lawn, neighbors wave and honk. Our love of nature bonds us to Montana where we have cherished family and friends. "Summer people" arrive and that's fun, too -- from Texas, Oklahoma, New Mexico, Washington, Florida, New York. And we catch up with the "locals," those tough people who stick out the winter there.
DO I MISS city life?  The ocean, plays, nightlife, tango shows, watching Gustavo Dudamel conduct the Los Angeles Philharmonic, Greek food, sushi on demand, ocean hikes, Macy's and Nordstrom's within walking distance.  Yes, I suffer temporary withdrawal. But we have Shakespeare in the Parks, Tippet Rise Art Center, my pianos, guitars, saxophones and talented voices to sing show tunes.  Peace and joy, happiness in the mountains, reunions, contentment in the serenity,, plus the bonus of reading and reflection. Lucky are we.


Swimming with the sting rays made for a memorable afternoon recently.

UP NEXT:  Manta rays! Come with us to swim with the rays in Sting Ray City, Antigua. We booked a day with these fascinating and beautiful creatures, escorted by trained nature guides. What evolved was an exciting  encounter with some of the ocean's most graceful inhabitants. The carefully choreographed aquatic adventure made one of our most memorable days, happily spent with southern stingrays, as we snorkeled and even fed them. Remember to explore, learn and live and catch us each Friday.