piiholo ranch zipline canopy tour: zipping through the trees

piiholo_canopyzipIt’s a drop-dead gorgeous Upcountry fall morning—brilliant blue sky punctuated with puffy white clouds—it just doesn’t get any better than this. My mom Joyce and I are in Makawao for our maiden voyage on Piiholo Ranch Zipline’s Canopy Tour. We’d already stopped at Rodeo General Store to satisfy our caffeine requirements and quell our growling stomachs with cups of robust MauiGrown coffee and delicious egg and salsa burritos. (Another great option is Komoda Store & Bakery where the stick donuts are epic.)

We’ve booked the 10am tour, with check in at 9:15 at the Piiholo logo store/check-in center on Makawao Avenue. After being weighed (not our favorite part) and signing liability waivers, we’re directed to the canopy tour course, which is off Piiholo Road, above their original zipline course. Windows down, we inhale the cool mountain air, and congratulate ourselves for picking the perfect day for this outing: no wind, no rain, all good.

It takes only five minutes to get to the parking lot on Waiahiwi Road, and blue and green flags indicate where to turn and park. As Mom and I step out of the car, we’re surrounded by the peppery smell of eucalyptus.

Piiholo guide Ben greets us. He appears to be in his twenties, and he’s definitely easy on the eyes with charming dimples and a boyish grin. Ben’s instructional orientation is thorough, covering zipping, safety, and equipment. He teaches us two positions to control our speed: “cannonball,” where you tuck everything in and make yourself as small as possible in order to go faster; and “starfish,” where you extend your arms and legs to slow yourself down. Mom is a little nervous, having never zipped before, and being the proud owner of two replaced knees. But at the same time, she’s excited about being able to check this item off her “bucket list.”

Ben is joined by our second guide, Kiki, who’s also very friendly and her voice has a beautiful light Brazilian accent. Ben and Kiki show us where the bottled water is, as well as porta-potties, hand sanitizer, and the spot where we can stow our car keys. They give us pouches to wear around our necks to hold cameras and phones, and help us into our harnesses and helmets.

Joining us on the tour are a family of four from the Bay Area: Mom Christina, Grandma Dawn, nine-year-old Kyler, and eight-year-old Kaden. Piiholo has three canopy tours to choose from: 3 lines for $90 per person; 6 lines for $135; and 9 lines for $165. With their ongoing “Kids Go Free” promotion, where kids 8 to 12 years old go free with a paying adult on the 9-line tour, you can’t go wrong!

Piiholo’s 9-Line Canopy Tour features 3,945 total feet of zipping, including an aerial canopy bridge, and finishes with a zip through a tree tunnel. Once off the ground, you remain high up in the trees, crossing 13 tree platforms, for the duration of the tour. The approximately three-hour adventure takes you soaring through a tropical forest of towering eucalyptus on ziplines up to 930 feet long and 120 feet high.

Our group climbs up to the first platform by means of a fairly steep suspension bridge. Once up top, Ben attaches our safety lines to the “mother ship.” “This is like your umbilical cord, connecting you to the trees and ziplines,” he says. As he gives us our final safety briefing, he quashes any fears we might have about the strength of the lines: “These lines can hold 5,000 pounds. They’re holding you…there’s no need to hang on with a death grip.”

The first line is 200 feet long and designed to be fairly tame so you can build your confidence. Although the landing platforms are relatively small, we are securely clipped to them at all times. Line 7 is only 220 feet long, but it features an exhilarating steep drop at the beginning. Several of the lines have us flying between closely spaced trees, we felt a bit like apes as we swung through the forest.

The last line, coming in at an impressive 930 feet, is the coup de grace. Ben fastens youngsters Kyler and Kaden together—their combined weight will (hopefully) enable them to make it all the way across. But, you guessed it: they don’t quite make it, and they float back to the middle of the line. It’s Ben to the rescue, going hand-over-hand over the deep canyon to drag them back.

All six of us have survived the adventure, and our reward is a refreshment stop at one of Piiholo’s jumbo tree houses. I ask Kyler to tell me his favorite part of the tour. “It was when they tied me to my brother on the last line.” Kaden has a similar sentiment: “It was so fun getting stuck in the middle and having to be rescued by Ben.” From the mouths of babes.

It’s been great fun, and Mom is proud to have persevered. I hope I can accompany her on her next “bucket list” adventure!

–a. freeland

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