Here in the northern hemisphere, the days are growing shorter. The skies are leaden, there’s a chill in the air, and the last of the leaves have dropped from the naked branches. It’s the time of year when a person could be forgiven for getting lost in fantasies of tropical islands, ivory sand, and emerald bays. Fortunately for sim fans, relief from the winter blahs is only a mouse-click away. Let’s kick off our shoes, grab a cold one, and head down to the beach…
The Forgotten Hawaii
Who among us hasn’t dreamed of buying their own private island? In 1864, Elizabeth Sinclair managed to make her dream a reality when she purchased the small Hawaiian island of Niihau from King Kamehameha V for (get this) $10,000 in gold. The Robinson family, her descendants, retain that holding today, making Niihau the only one of the Hawaiian islands to be entirely privately owned.
The handful of modern-day inhabitants are almost all Native Hawaiian, and it’s one of the only places in the state where their language is still the official tongue. Access to the island is strictly controlled, and there is basically zero tourism. Fortunately for FSX fliers, a new bit of scenery from a developer known as “Ironhand” that covers the entire island in photoreal terrain. A quick flight over the island reveals the true ancient character of the islands, before the advent of white people, trade, and the inevitable flood of foreign species of plants and animals: just like its neighbors used to be, Niihau is fairly arid, covered in short, scrubby vegetation. It’s a far cry from the lush rain forests that mainlanders associate with Hawaii these days. From the air, the red clay is revealed in large bare patches that are seasonal lakes, reminiscent more of the Australian outback than the Aloha State.
The easiest way to get there is by air from the western shore of the neighboring island of Kauai. Try Port Allen as your takeoff point. On a reasonably clear day you can see Niihau off to the west. If you’re planning on landing there, remember to either take a whirlybird or an STOL-capable plane with tundra tires, as there’s no airport to speak of. I hear Ironhand is working on a photoreal Kauai as well, which should make a nice companion to this island and Megascenery Hawaii.
Par-tee! Par-tee! Par-tee!
Niihau might be a little forbidding to outsiders, but the Spanish Mediterranean island of Ibiza welcomes them with open arms. With its balmy climate and miles of beaches, Ibiza has become known as a party island, a hotbed of drinking, dancing, and doing the nasty. Every year, planeloads of tourists flock to its shores for a little unwinding, and it’s only fair that we sim geeks should be able to get our wild on there, too.
Aerosoft recently came to our rescue with Ibiza X, which is actually for both FSX and FS2004. The scenery covers the entire island and its sister island of Formentera in 50cm/pixel photoreal terrain. The autogen is very well done as well, with the settlements and vegetation clearly placed carefully by hand.
The main airport, LEIB, is clearly well-equipped to handle the throngs of tourist-laden airliners. Normally, I’m more of a GA flier, but the scenery is so detailed and frame-rate friendly that I might just have to do a few flights between the Spanish mainland and Ibiza in my much-loved but seldom used MD80. In the meantime, just slewing around the islands and taking screenshots put me in the mood for a tall umbrella drink and a people-watching perch at one of the outdoor cafes.
Hawaii and the Balearics are two popular spots for island-hopping. Another is the Caribbean, with its string of island jewels. Caribbean masters FlyTampa have just released a beautiful package of tropical scenery covering the country of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines.
Truthfully, before reading about this scenery, I knew next to nothing about this minuscule nation. What I’ve learned since starting to fly around it can be summed up in a word: gorgeous. FlyTampa have really captured the feeling of a lush, tropical paradise. The download contains photoreal terrain with full autogen and custom mesh for seven islands: Bequia, Beliceaux, Mustique, Canouan, Mayreau, Union Island, and Carriacou. On five of those dots of land, you’ll find lovely little airports with the myriad of small details that we’ve come to expect from these developers. One more thing you’ll get: sloped runways! And in the case of a couple of them, very sloped. Flying into one of these short, curvy strips definitely kicks the challenge up a notch.
This is the same scenery package that I talked about a few weeks ago in my post about lighting, and having flown around it for myself, I’m even more impressed. In addition to packing the airports with character and island charm, they’ve paid careful attention to the smallest details. One of them that made me giggle was the dirt bike propped against a hangar on Union Island (or at least I think that’s where it was…)
My favorite part of this scenery is that the islands are close enough together and airports small enough that it makes sense to cruise from one to the next in my A2A Piper Cub. Now that is a great combination.
So until next week, here’s wishing you happy tropical daydreams and clear blue skies.