Armin Engert is the owner and sole pilot for Hang Gliding Maui. When you reserve your flight training time he will tell you to ignore the weather forecasts and make the drive to Hāna no matter what you hear. There is good reason for that. It may rain in Kahului and much of the way to Hāna. That may make you think your ride will be rained out, but that is NOT SO! Most of the rain falls further inland from Hāna leaving the airport and your ride area clear. So do as he says and NOT listen to weather reports. 99.9% (Armin’s estimate) of the time it will be clear in Hāna’s skies while raining in Kahului and along the Hāna Highway.
My wife and I were waiting at the airport and wondering where he was. There were no signs announcing Hang Gliding Maui and not a soul around. It was 8:50AM (we were staying at Koali Ranch Cottage just outside Hāna) and we had a 9:00AM flight time. We were wondering if we were stood up. Then a small, single-engine prop plane approached for a landing. We watched it land and joked that it might be Armin as it taxied towards us. Well, the joke was on us! It was him! As he taxied by he pointed repeatedly to a hangar down the taxiway. So we walked down to meet him.
After the initial greetings, which were very warm and friendly, we learned that he lives in Kahului. He quickly noted that flying here is quicker than driving, especially with all us tourists on that road. Armin is a lively character who never seems to have a dull moment around him. He sincerely learns everyone’s name and where you’re from, which is all done in between his constant joking and laughing. It would seem that his personality is quite magnetic and disarming, which should make even the coldest of hearts warm and friendly.
When he offers it, be sure to opt for the $70 video of your ride. This is because he will tell you that 1 out of 7 DVD’s do not burn correctly and to prevent a total loss, he will also shoot a roll of stills during your ride. That way, if the DVD fails, he will throw in the stills. The best part about this deal is that he will give you the stills if the DVD records correctly. So you end up with both for $70. And Armin gladly releases ALL rights to the stills and video for you to use as you choose.
If you ask Armin to let you take your own camera, he will tell you no. He says he does not want anything in your hands that may get loose from you. And since the propeller is behind you, whatever gets away from you is very likely going to impact on the prop causing damage. So, do not bother asking.
I will not go into the details of the aircraft, but I will tell you that it is a weight-shifted control powered hang glider with a rocket-deployed emergency parachute. When asked if he’s ever had to deploy the chute, he confidently and proudly replies, “No.”
After suiting up in the supplied leather flight suit and helmet, he gave me a briefing on the aircraft and an overview of what I could expect. He gave me basic flight instruction and questioned me on previous experience. Then we loaded up and he connected the two-way communication system. After a quick check to make sure the two-way volumes were good, we were taxiing out.
I am now nervous with anticipation. That’s because my wife and I have explored this beautiful coastline many times while staying in Hāna and have always pondered what a flight over it would be like. And after our wonderful ultralight flight over Nā Pali and Kalalau Valley on Kaua‘i, we just knew this was the answer here. And as if that is not reason enough, it is now peak humpback whale season and I’m hoping we will see at least one. So this flight is a very special occasion for me as I will have a very unique observation post.
Armin accelerated down the runway. At about 65MPH, he pushed forward on the control bar and the craft easily pulled away from the ground. We were off!
You can see for miles around from up here. Looking back towards Kahului, it looked cloudy and rainy. But here we had blue sky with scattered clouds. The voggy haze had subsided and the sun shined brightly on the coastline below. It was a beautiful day.
We first set out along the coast going over Wai‘ānapanapa State Park, Hāna Bay, Hāmoa Beach and then ‘Ālau Island. All the while he was giving instruction on the mechanics of the aircraft and flight in general.
Then he turned the control over to me.
I just did the basic turning maneuvers to get the feel of the aircraft. They were simple, slow turns. He wanted me to get comfortable with the delay aspects of weight-shifted steering. For a non-pilot like me, it’s an odd feeling. If you want to bank left, you push the control bar to the right to dip your left wing. But do not push it too far or too long. As soon as you start to get the banking turn you desire, draw the control bar back to center. If you leave it there, your weight is balanced and you remain in the banking turn. To level out, perform the opposite maneuver. Armin was always there to correct any problems.
We were now headed towards ‘Ohe‘o Gulch and Waimoku Falls.
There has been a drought over this entire area for the last two months and the rivers bear the evidence. I told Armin that we had hiked up the Pipiwai Trail, which was right below us now, the day before and saw that Makahiku Falls was dry, but Waimoku Falls was still running lightly, which seemed to be why ‘Ohe‘o Gulch had little water flowing in it. I also mentioned that on the drive into ‘Ohe‘o, we saw that Wailua Falls was completely dry as were many of the falls along the Hāna Highway. Armin says it’s the driest he’s seen them all in 20 years.
After the ‘Ohe‘o fly-over, we then turned makai (towards the ocean).
This was prime humpback whale season. I had hoped we would see one and be able to fly over it. Sure enough, much to my pleasure, there was a humpback just ahead. Then, as I looked towards shore, I could now see Koali Ranch Cottage. This was amazing to me because it seemed as if this whale was in the same vicinity as one we had viewed from Koali’s lanai. If that was the case, this whale had been in nearly the same area of ocean for three days. What are the chances?
We were at about 1,100 feet and began a gentle circle around the whale. I’m not familiar enough with these whales to estimate their size, but considering our altitude and distance, this humpback seemed quite large. He was gliding along, just under the surface. But from this vantage point, with the sun fully illuminating him under the clear blue water, he was easy to see. He looked like a big, long bird flying under water with his long, white pectoral fins on each side gently moving up and down in unison. Then he surfaced, exhaled his characteristic cloud of vapor, and began a dive. As if waving goodbye, his tail came above the surface for just a brief moment. Then he disappeared down into the deep blue water.
That whale sighting made my day! And maybe even this whole two-week trip. After all, that was why we chose this time of year – to see the humpbacks. And what a special sight this was!
Armin then changed course and headed inland. He powered up the motor and we began climbing. We leveled out around 4,000 feet with a cloud below us. As we circled over it, we had blue sky above with the sun shining brightly. However, looking down into the cloud revealed a unique phenomenon to me. Our shadow in the cloud had a distinct rainbow aura around it. Armin, who was nowhere near as interested in it as I was, attributed it to sunlight bending around the aircraft and interacting with the water vapor. I guess he’s seen it a million times, but whatever the cause, this refraction produced a very beautiful sight. I wish I could have taken a photo of it.
We were now back near the Hāna Airport and my hour was about over. Armin cut the engine and started a glide path back down. Usually he glides all the way back and lands sans power. However, today there was a stronger-than-usual cross wind blowing. As a safety precaution, he restarted the motor and let it idle as he made his approach.
Armin’s skill shined through as he softly touched the wheels to the runway. He then commented something about not needing the motor running after all. I was just glad that he chose safety over bravado.
Now it was my wife’s turn. She suited up, strapped in, and off they went. Upon their return, I asked her, “Was it a good thing you took the Dramamine?” She replied, “It wasn’t bad at all.”
For those who may think these aircraft are not safe; all I can say is that I’m no pilot and never felt threatened by anything here. It was a smooth ride and very enjoyable. I will further say that this aircraft offers a far superior view than any helicopter or airplane. The field-of-view is unmatched, and I have done helicopter tours over other islands, both with doors on and off. So if you want to experience an incredible ride with an unmatched bird’s-eye view of the Hāna area, you must take a spin with Hang Gliding Maui.
A hui hou aku!
PS, I will be posting my video of this ride on TA. Stay tuned!
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.