By Joey Gerardi
EAS Adventure Trip Report: Waimea, Hawaii
If you have read my articles in the past, then you know I love out-of-the-way airports, airlines and aircraft. I would do almost anything to explore a new city or fly on a unique, rare aircraft type. So in this new series, which I will call “EAS Adventures”, I will start the trip at a larger airline hub, fly out to an Essential Air Service community and return to the same airport I started at, usually on the same aircraft that brought me there. What is the point of this you ask, if you have some time to kill at a hub during a long layover or if your flight gets delayed excessively, try venturing out to an EAS airport and seeing somewhere new during the downtime?
For this EAS Adventure, I will be starting at Hawaii’s second busiest airport, Kahului International on the island of Maui, and flying to the EAS community of Waimea located on the Big Island of Hawaii. Waimea is the smallest and lesser known of the three airports on the Big Island of Hawaii, the other two airports are Hilo, H.I. and Kona, H.I. I will be flying this adventure on Mokulele Airlines, which is now operated by Southern Airways Express, on an 8-seat Cessna 208B Grand Caravan.
I started my day in Honolulu in the early morning flying a Unique Connection Series trip report through the EAS community of Kalaupapa on the island of Moloka’i, the trip report of which can be found here. My flights out to Waimea, H.I. and back were the fourth and fifth flights of the day, out of a total of seven I had planned on this day. In addition to this being the most flights I’ve ever started and completed in a single day, it is also the most EAS Airports I have been to in a single day. Both records which, I do have plans on breaking in the near future.
Day of the Flight
As mentioned previously, these flights to Waimea were in the middle of a day of flying so I was already in mid-air when check-in time opened. I was coming into Kahului from Hoolehua, H.I.’s Airport located on the island of Moloka’i and my connection was 35-minutes. Under normal circumstances, you really shouldn’t plan on arriving later than 30-minutes prior to your flight and luckily mine landed earlier so I did have more time than that.
At Kahului, H.I.’s International Airport, Mokulele Airlines operates from the commuter terminal similar to Honolulu, which doesn’t have TSA or any security checkpoint, so the connection was a breeze. It is a really nice open-air terminal with seating just in front of the counters that double as a gate area.
As like with any other airline that operates smaller aircraft, they asked about my body weight so they could seat me properly and safely in the correct row. Not long after I arrived, they called my flight over the P.A. system and we went to the gate, which here is simply the side of the building near the fence gate.
Much to my excitement, the aircraft for the flight to Waimea would be N2150, a special livery aircraft that used to do tours of the Big Island with Big Island Air, however, those tours stopped at the start of the Covid-19 pandemic and the plane was taken possession by Mokulele. The side of the aircraft describes Hawaiian Folklore and the two sides aren’t identical and feature their own artwork.
Because this aircraft was an aircraft, specifically for tours, prior to Covid, it actually features an extra ninth-passenger seat in the back where the carry-on bag storage usually is. That ninth seat doesn’t need to get used on this flight as there were only four passengers headed to Waimea total, but someone did get assigned that row as the plane was a little nose heavy. On the airline’s very popular routes, that ninth seat does get used very often. I was assigned the fourth row for weight and balance, but we could choose the side, I chose the right side as that is the best going to Waimea for the best views overall.
Now came the fun part of the journey, the views on the flight to Waimea. Due to Waimea being on a different Island and we had to go over the open ocean with a single-engine aircraft, meaning there was no cruising altitude. Instead, we spent roughly half the flight gaining altitude and the later part of the flight descending.
The flight was very scenic with spectacular views of the Hawaiian landscape. Small plane, so obviously no service, and there was a magazine but who needed to read it when you got views like these to experience.
I spent the entirety of the flight with my face, and camera, pressed against the windows of the aircraft.
The max altitude we reached during the flight was roughly 9,500 feet. As we came closer to the Big Island, the Mauna Kea volcano came into view. This would be the tallest mountain on Earth if measured from the sea floor at roughly 33,500 feet, but the dry elevation of the volcano is only 13,803 feet. It does have snow on the peak of the mountain, despite being in Hawaii, but the elevation does help with the snow accumulation.
This next part is usually frowned upon especially on small planes, I moved seats while in flight. The pilot turned around and told me I would get better shots if I were on the left side once we got over the Big Island, so with the blessing and suggestion of the pilot in command I moved across the aisle to the seat on the left side of the plane in the same row.
Not long after moving, we passed by the Kohala Forest Reserve and the flight got really turbulent. This turbulence was due to the fact the airport is in a valley, between the forest reserve and the Mauna Kea Volcano.
The runway then came into sight, which sits in the middle of an empty grassy area next to the community of Waimea.
We touched down on the runway at the Waimea-Kohala Airport, the total flight time for this leg was just 35-minutes. The runway in Waimea is unusually long for the Cessna 208’s that it regularly receives at 5,197-feet, this is longer than the 5,097-foot runway in Key West, Fla. that sees Boeing 737s on a regular basis. The reasoning behind this longer runway in Waimea is that, according to airport employees, the airport did receive regularly scheduled DC-9~30 and Dash-7 flights up until the mid-1990s.
That previous amount of service is also what accounts for the unusually larger terminal building for an airport that now only receives two, eight-seat Cessna 208’s a day. There are also actual airport employees at this airport, rather than at the other EAS Airport in Kalaupapa the pilot was assigned that job due to the low number of passengers. This was the 38th EAS airport I have visited, and my second in the state of Hawaii.
Unfortunately it wasn’t long before it was time to head back out to the same aircraft that brought me here, which looked fantastic with the Hawaiian backdrop and the mostly clear skies.
I and the three other passengers got on the aircraft. The engine started, and we taxied out to the runway for our flight back to Kahului — with me sitting in the fourth row on the right side. Despite the amount I walked around the airport, we were only on the ground in Waimea for about 28-minutes.
Just after departure, we made a 180-degree turn, and I got a great view of the airport we had just taken off from, and we went almost directly over it giving us a near bird’s eye view of the runway.
Another great aspect of the larger windows is that you can look behind you at where you have been, in this case another fantastic view of Mauna Kea, and this time we were able to see the observatories on the top of the volcano.
The pilot did offer me to move to the other side again halfway through the trip but I turned it down, as I opted to look instead at the empty water. Sometimes passengers are able to see whales if they look hard enough which is what I was hoping to find, but on this flight, I didn’t end up seeing any.
Despite seeing only water for this leg of the trip, it was calming looking at an empty blue ocean for the roughly 30-minute flight back to Kahului. Before I knew it the aircraft began descending from our max altitude of 8,400 feet into Kahului on Maui.
We did fly downwind of the runway before landing, meaning we flew in the opposite direction of our landing direction, parallel to the runway. This gave those on the right a great overview of the airport below us before landing.
We then landed on Kahului Intl. runway 2 after the 35-minute flight back from Waimea on the Big Island. From the time we left Kahului, until the time we got back it was 1 hour and 38-minutes.
It was a fun little adventure, and despite the fact I didn’t leave the airport grounds in Waimea I still got to see some amazing sights along the way. EAS flights, and especially those in smaller unpressurized aircraft like these, offer some amazing sightseeing opportunities along the way to your destination. So next time you have extra time at the airport or if your flight gets delayed by a couple of hours at a hub, look for an EAS adventure, you may just like what you see.
A video account of my trip to Waimea-Kohala can be found below