Clients ride high on Skyline Eco-Adventures tour

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HALEAKALA RANCH -- Skyline Eco-Adventures has the newest and most talked-about activity on Maui. Indeed, the Haleakala Skyline Tour, which opened in March, is the only one of its kind in Hawaii. So far.

Modeled after an eco-friendly adventure in Costa Rica, the tour begins with a trek through rugged upcountry Maui, with its eucalyptus trees and lush ravines.

The part of the venture that causes talk is this: You fly over 70-foot deep gorges on a 300-foot-long cable, reaching speeds of 35 mph in heart-pumping communion with nature.

The guides outfitted us with helmets and harnesses. A safety briefing followed, during which they taught us the proper technique for landing as well as which parts of the equipment not to touch.

They also pointed out that each 3/4-inch, galvanized steel cable has been tested to hold 14,400 pounds, and all harnesses, pulleys and tethers have a minimum breaking strength of 5,000 pounds.

Another short hike brought us to the first launching platform. (Though the trekking is mild, visitors should be aware that it does take place at an altitude of 4,300 feet, which can leave people winded.)

After a few more instructions about landing on the other side of a gaping ravine, it was time to begin.

The most difficult part is stepping off the platform.

There's something unnatural about throwing yourself into thin air over a gulch, even though you're strapped-in, hooked to the line and don't even have to hold on.

The first two trips were slower than I had expected and made for unique sightseeing, giving me a chance to examine the vegetation and view the surrounding trees the way a bird might.

As long as you follow directions and keep your legs moving, the landing is quite smooth. But one of those strong young guides is always there to catch you if you have problems.

I found the attraction perfectly manageable, as did the two other women in the group, even one who is uncomfortable with heights.

Our small group size enabled us to move quickly. The entire tour took about an hour.

With a larger group -- the maximum number of participants is 12 -- a typical trek lasts about two hours, our guides said.

Walking between each landing platform infuses an educational element into the thrills. That's when the guides talk about the surrounding trees and plants, let you experience the natural beauty of the land and leave you with nuggets of information about the history of the islands without overdoing the "eco" angle.

The attraction has been so successful that founders Danny and Buck Boren are constructing two more ziplines to add to the four existing steel cables, according to one of our guides.

The new lines are expected to be 130 feet above the ground and 600 feet long, which means the maximum speed will exceed 35 mph.

Skyline said 10% of its profits go toward preservation. One of its current projects is restoring a forest of rare, native koa trees on the slopes of Haleakala.

Book it: Haleakala Skyline Tour

Requirements: Closed-toe shoes are required; long pants are recommended. Minimum age is 12. Minimum weight is 80 pounds, maximum 280 pounds. It's also best to be comfortable with heights. There also is a hiking-only option for participants ages 6 and up ($35).

Fees: $69; $59 for advance registration online. For more information, call (808) 878-8400 or visit www.skylinehawaii.com.

To contact the reporter who wrote this story, send e-mail to [email protected] .

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