Zip-lining with Teenagers


My family just returned from a week on the Big Island of Hawaii where, although we did not visit the Mauna Loa Volcano (the largest in the world — and still active), we did spend a day zip-lining. When we got home, I discovered an article in the new Los Angeles Times Saturday section about local zip-line adventure outfits, so thought that my experience might be worth chronicling if indeed we Southern Californians are going to spend more time zipping around local forests and mountainsides.

Watching your teenagers flip upside down a few hundred yards off the ground is not the most relaxing part of a vacation (though the celebratory Mai Tai on the beach when everyone is safely back at the hotel is a fine antidote for Mom and Dad).  But the grins on the kids’ faces before/during/after the adventure is worth the anxious parental second-guessing that precedes the trip. Once I was securely in my harness, confident that the hulking, handsome Hawaiian guides could save me from bodily harm, I could focus on the strange combination of pleasures that zip-lining presents.

First and most obvious is the thrill of speeding through the air and doing something that you were not sure your body would tolerate.  Second is the immersion in the natural surroundings. We cruised above multiple waterfalls, sped alongside beautiful stands of skinny tall trees over wide, cow-studded fields and looked down a long set of fields to the Pacific.

“Zip-lining” developed from Canopy Tours of Tropical Rainforests in destinations such as Costa Rica, that provided tourists a view of flora and fauna of the rainforest from above. What began as an eco-tourism bonus has become into an increasingly lucrative revenue generator around the US and Hawaii.Which means, it will become more common for your kids to either ask you to go zip-lining or be invited to go with friends. Safety of these courses becomes an issue. Whether you choose a tour that is weighted towards education or thrills, be sure you choose a vendor that is safe! Here is a link to the Association for Challenge Course Technology that lists appropriate questions to ask before you strap on any equipment.

So how does it work? We pulled a harness up over our torso, and hoisted straps over our shoulders. I had to get a special carabiner to strap my camera onto my body and we were all fitted with helmets. Then, we set out on a jeep ride to the site and climbed up our first tower. The guides were super-friendly, accustomed to handling the fears and anxieties that most novices carry with them, and demonstrated the multiple clips onto the trolley in a way that instilled confidence, at least in me, that we weren’t going to drop off the line. Pushing off the platform was harder for some in our group, and a person with a serious fear of heights might choose to avoid this adventure.

Speaking for myself, I was more worried about stopping than starting, and had the braking system explained to me several times (much to my son’s chagrin).  Our tour included nine different lines, and the first was a gently sloping, relatively slow line to get us accustomed to the basic operations. Of course, the kids were better at remembering everything they were told, and my husband had to be reminded to keep his face away from the trolley (which he hid behind on the first run!). Each successive line was more challenging, but we were all comfortable quickly and had a great time. I am still sore, days later, from the jolt of the landing pad, but no bones were broken and the family bonding was terrific. Go for it if you have the chance. Your kids will be impressed, especially if you’re brave enough to flip yourself upside down.  And, being separated from our cellphones for three straight hours made it all worth it.

I loved the trees – these eucalyptus groves are all over the eastern side of the Big Island and we learned that they were planted by the government in a foiled attempt to start a paper industry, but remind me of a place that a Myazaki movie might take place.

As for the rest of the island, it’s a perfect spot for a family vacation – from the fire of the volcano to the ice of snow-capped Mauna Kea to the rainy side of the island to the solidified lava rocks of the dry side of the island, there are many adventures to be had. And many climates to explore – even along the fabled Kona coast, some hotels are always sunny and the more southern ones will usually see rain on a daily basis. Alas, we couldn’t do everything in one trip! We eschewed the typical luaus, and instead got off the hotel property to explore the incredible island. We saw sea turtles and manta rays, and took a great hike down to the black sand beach at the mouth of Pololu Valley, and detoured on the way back from the zip-line adventure to look out at the sacred Waipio Valley. Our favorite spot to hang out in was cowboy country, Waimea. Check out the crazy breakfast at Hawaiian Style Cafe and don’t miss the Tropical Dreams Ice Cream, a local product found in most little coffee or lunch shops.

Next trip, I want to visit the Observatory on the top of Mauna Kea itself, which is other-worldly by all accounts.  Apparently, to do it right we’ll have to make an all-day trip of it, and go with a tour outfitter that offers down-parkas for the cold night air! We’ll get to the 13,796 summit, where all the observatories are stations, have a meal a bit lower down and have a star gazing party.

Sand to snow, that’s the paradox of the Big Island.

This local zip line company was mentioned in LA Times article and looks cool to me: Navitat Canopy Adventures in Wrightwood