For the Birds Radio Program: Hawaii Flight, Part II

Original Air Date: March 8, 2000 (estimated date)

An hour after Laura landed from her longest flight, she took the shortest flight she’d ever taken, from Honolulu to Maui, and the plane was low enough that she could see whales!

Duration: 4′20″


The shortest airplane flight I ever took in my life, from Honolulu to Maui, happened barely an hour after my longest one, from Minneapolis to Honolulu. When we arrived in the Honolulu airport in late afternoon, we had to rush to pick up our baggage at the Northwest baggage office, lug everything to a tram which we took to the Hawaiian Airlines ticket counter, buy the tickets we’d reserved and recheck our luggage, and then catch our plane. We hadn’t realized that Northwest could only check our luggage all the way through lo Maui if we had written confirmation of our flight beforehand—we had made our reservation on Hawaiian Airlines over the phone, and they’d never sent us anything in the mail. Having to recheck our luggage was an inconvenience compounded by the short layover time- we barely made it to the Hawaiian Airlines gate in time. But as much of a rush as it was, I was still basking in the glory of my first Hawaiian lifer. From the tram I’d seen a couple of Zebra Doves perched on a phone line.

Hawaiian Airlines flights between islands don’t have reserved seating. You buy a ticket and then sit wherever you find a seat. Since we were last in line, I had totally given up on getting a window seat, but it turns out most airline passengers prefer the convenience of an aisle seat to the fun of looking out a window, and all five of us ended up getting our own window seats. While they were still loading luggage beneath, I found my second Hawaiian lifer- two pairs of Mynas hanging around the luggage trains.

The sun was close to setting as the plane took off for Maui. This was the loveliest plane ride l’ve ever taken in my life. From my side of the plane, two or three different islands were in sight, and the gorgeous shapes of the islands against the glowing sky’s brilliant oranges and reds and pinks and the deep blue sea were breathtaking. The water between the islands is shallow by Pacific Ocean standards thanks to the volcanic activity that produced the Hawaiian Islands, and the plane was flying low enough that I could actually pick out two small groups of whales down below. Most of the world’ s humpback whales spend the winter near Hawaii, safe from sharks who avoid such shallow water—this is where the whales safely deliver and nurse their babies before returning to the rich arctic waters for their annual pig-out. We were planning a whale-watching cruise in the morning, but I never imagined I’d see them from the plane first.

I searched the water carefully but couldn’t pick out an albatross—this was perhaps a foreshadowing of just how difficult it would be on the whole trip to see seabirds.

Streams of light emanated from a cloud as l watched a thick shimmery ball of sun drop into the sea. Hawaii is so much closer to the equator that the sun sets at less of a curve than what a northerner is used to, and it surprised me how quickly twilight and then darkness set in. This short flight not only transported us from Oahu to Maui, but also from afternoon into night. So I didn’t see any more birds my first day in Hawaii. But l didn’t need them on this day filled with other kinds of natural riches.