Tour The Hawaii Big Island By Helicopter For Another Perspective
Touring Hawaii Big Island by helicopter was at the top of our list of things to do when we visited Hawaii. The weather was a bit off when we arrived but we hoped for a perfect day to fly over the island.
Sadly we did not see all we wanted to do on our helicopter tour. But we got some amazing sights along the Hamakua Coast.
We have a few tips for you to make your helicopter tour more successful!
Planning A Helicopter Tour On The Big Island
When we visited the Big Island in Hawaii, we wanted to do a helicopter tour. Our research found many companies offered helicopter tours from different spots around the island. Unfortunately when we visited, our mobility on the island was a challenge so our options were a bit limited. Luckily the hotel offered bookings for Sunshine Helicopters. Their heliport was close to the resort so there was not a long drive time to get to our flight.
Sunshine Helicopters offered two different tours. The tour we booked was the the 1 hour and 45 minute tour of the full island. It covered the Kohala Hamakua Coast and went up along the coast at Hilo. The big draw of this tour was the tour over the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park and the Mauna Loa volcano. Mauna Loa was very active when we visited and we did not want to miss it before the expected eruption.
The Kohala Hamakua Coast tour was much shorter at only 45 minutes. The tour over the Hamakua Coast showed parts of the Big Island that were hard or impossible to visit in any other way.
We did not book our helicopter tour well in advance of getting to the island so there were limited time slots still available. We really wanted the very early time slot when the weather was typically more stable. But the only time slot available was one tour at mid-day.
We were excited when we booked to explore Hawaii Big Island by helicopter. But we were a bit worried about the single time slot we were booked in.
Weather Can Impact Your Helicopter Tour
Each day we watched the weather on the Big Island. We were in the midst of quite unusually stormy weather. And the weather deteriorated through the day. On the morning of our helicopter tour, we woke and found clear skies on the horizon. From our resort the flight path to the Mauna Loa volcano looked clear. But as we watched, the clouds built.
We were picked up at the hotel by shuttle bus and taken to the heliport. Only when we arrived at the heliport were we told that the pass to the Mauna Loa volcano was closed in and the full island tour was not an option.
There were 6 people booked on the tour. Each of us was offered the option to do just the Kohala Hamakua Coast tour instead. But they needed at least 4 people for the tour to proceed. We checked about re-scheduling the full tour before our departure but sadly nothing was available. But we decided that the shorter helicopter tour still provided a good view of some interesting sights.
Since we booked our tour through the hotel, we had the option to get some of the cost of the longer tour refunded. But we did not check on the refund or the price we would pay for the shorter tour. It was not until later that we found out that the shorter tour was very expensive. The people who booked their tours through other sites were not guaranteed refunds. That was left up to them and the tour providers.
Sadly we were less excited about our tour around Hawaii Big Island by helicopter when we got ready to go. And when we returned home and shortly after saw the images as Mauna Loa erupted, we were doubly disappointed.
Preparing For Our Helicopter Flight
All 6 people agreed to the do the Kohala Hamakua Coast tour. We gathered for a safety briefing and some instructions about being in the helicopter. Then we were walked along the path to the helicopter and boarded.
We paid for First Class seating which meant that David and I were in the front seat beside the pilot. David and I both had a lot of experience with helicopters and small planes. So we knew what to expect and were quite comfortable. Since I had my pilot’s license for small private planes, I wanted the seat beside the pilot. I was almost as interested in watching our pilot Maria fly the helicopter as I was in the scenery.
The other 4 people sat in the back seat. Two of them had never done a helicopter flight before. I was really not sure how much the people in the middle saw. We all got headsets so Maria could talk to us during the flight and we could pepper her with questions.
Once everyone was settled we headed off on our flight around Hawaii Big Island by helicopter.
Tour Hawaii Big Island By Helicopter For Views Over Land
The helicopter took off and we headed away from the Mauna Loa volcano. When we looked back along the horizon we saw the peaks covered in cloud. But ahead of us were blue skies. It was certainly clear why we missed a flight to the volcano this day.
When we looked down we saw deep rifts in the ground. The sharp tears in the earth reminded us of how the island of Hawaii was formed.
We saw rolling hills as we travelled along the island. When we approached the Kahua Ranch, we saw large herds of cattle in the fields when we looked close. They appeared unfazed as we flew past.
Our flight path along the land provided an interesting first glimpse on our tour around the Hawaii Big Island by helicopter.
Valleys On The Hamakua Coast
The helicopter crossed the Kohala Mountains and arrived on the Hamakua Coast. We came along the Waipi’o Valley and then turned back into the valley for a better look. We saw the black sand beach and the Waipi’o Lookout high above the valley on one side. This was one of the few spots accessible by car on the Hamakua Coast.
On the other side of the Waipi’o Valley was the Muliwai Trail (often called the Z Trail). This path was used to hike to Waimanu Valley. Our trip with the helicopter was much faster to Waimanu Valley.
Marie took us on an exciting trip through the different valleys. Many of the spots like Pololu Valley had narrower valleys and much steeper sides than the earlier views.
As we flew, Marie dipped us as low as she could. And swung the helicopter to make sure the sights were visible from both sides. I was not surprised that the “terrain warning” indicator was on for most of our flight! An exciting ride for sure.
Waterfall Views In The Valleys
The Hamakua Coast was a lush tropical rainforest with 80 to 100 inches of rain each year. This rainfall created stunning waterfall sights along this coast. Hi’ilawe Falls in Waipi’o Valley was the tallest waterfall in the state of Hawaii somewhere between 1,200 and 1,600 feet tall. Waimanu Valley had many waterfalls that descended over 1,000 feet. Waihilau Falls was the third-tallest waterfall in Hawaii.
As Marie took us through the valleys on the Hamakua Coast, we saw several high waterfalls. It had been quite dry in Hawaii and many of the waterfalls were high but not mighty. We knew this would be a much wilder sight in the rainy season.
When we came up out of the valleys over the land, we got a great view of the lush tropical rainforest that covered this part of the Big Island of Hawaii. We were sure the rainforest offered other adventures to try on a future visit.
We were delighted we saw the valleys on the Hamakua Coast on our tour around the Hawaii Big Island by helicopter.
As we moved along the Hamakua Coast between the valleys we got stunning views of sheer cliff walls. Along the water we often saw black volcanic beaches. At one point we saw three large rocks in the water. We later learned these were actually islands – Paokalani, Mokupuku and Pa’Alalea.
In many spots we saw waterfalls cascading down the sides of the cliffs into the water. Even with low water flows it was interesting to spot areas with multiple falls.
Much of the Hamakua coast was only accessible by boat. So we were delighted we got an aerial view on our tour around the Hawaii Big Island by helicopter.
Kohala Coastal Views
When we headed off the Hamakua Coast, we went back up the Kohala Coast. On this side of the Island, the shoreline was much less sharp and steep. And as we flew over we got views of crystal blue waters. We sure wished we planned some underwater adventures on our visit to Hawaii.
Marie took the helicopter over the Westin Hapuna Resort where we stayed. It was fun to see it from the sky.
As we headed back to the heliport, one final site was pointed out on the Kohala coast. The Pu’ukohola Heiau National Historic Site memorialized the tale of two great warrior chiefs – Kamehameha and his first cousin Keoua Ku’ahu’ula. From the air we saw the temple built by the king and his warriors. The site remained a symbol of unification and lasting peace for the Hawaiians. This spot went on our list of things to explore more on a return visit to the Big Island of Hawaii.
From the coast we headed back inland and landed. We were happy we saw such a variety of sights when we toured around the Hawaii Big Island by helicopter.
Things To Consider When Planning A Helicopter Tour
We loved to see a new place from a different perspective. A helicopter tour was a very expensive adventure but often provided stunning perspectives. And in the case of our tour along the Hamakua Coast, a helicopter was one of the few ways to really see this part of the Big Island of Hawaii.
If you are planning a helicopter tour, there are just a few things to consider before booking:
1) Pick Your Sights
Know what you want to see and pick a helicopter tour that spends most of the time where you want to go.
2) Start Your Helicopter Flight Close To Your Sights
Pick a helicopter company located closer to what you want to see so you waste less of your flight getting to the spots. This may mean you have to drive further to get to the helicopter. But driving is much cheaper than paying for the helicopter to fly the route.
3) Plan Around The Weather Forecast
Weather is critical for helicopters to both fly and to be able to go to some sights. Check out the weather forecasts in advance. And understand how the weather changes through the day.
4) Book Your Helicopter Trip Early In Your Trip
If possible, plan your helicopter tour for early in your visit so there may be other dates if you need to re-schedule. This may mean booking before you arrive. Even if you are not sure about weather.
5) Understand Cancellation and Refund Policies
Make sure you know about timing and conditions for cancellation by you and the tour operator. Refund policies vary depending on who you book with and how you book. Third party booking sites may not refund all costs.
6) Pick The Helicopter That Meets Your Needs
Helicopters vary in size. When we did a great helicopter tour over the Sedona Valley, it was a small helicopter and we had the helicopter to ourselves. We both had window seats.
On this helicopter tour in Hawaii, we had a much bigger helicopter. We paid extra for seats in the front. But there were 4 people in the back and only two had window seats. We would never take a helicopter ride without a window seat!
The last helicopter choice is whether to fly with doors on or off. Flying with doors off is a bit more exciting but is cold, windy and noisy. Not all helicopter operators or routes are offered with doors off.
When we planned our helicopter tour to meet our needs, we had an amazing adventure.
Plan To Explore The Hawaii Big Island By Helicopter
On our stay on the Big Island in Hawaii, we wanted to splurge on a helicopter tour. To get a good overview of the island we chose the extensive tour around the Hawaii Big Island by helicopter.
We really wanted to see the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park and the Mauna Loa volcano. So when the weather eliminated the volcano from our flight plan, we were hugely disappointed. Little did we know that the disappointment would soon be greater. Shortly after we returned home we saw the images as Mauna Loa erupted. It would have been interesting to see the volcano before the whole landscape changed.
Seeing the Hamakua Coast from the air was a unique opportunity. And we saw a part of the Big Island we would not have otherwise seen. The scenery was dramatic. But it was a very expensive 45 minutes! We might explore options to see this coast by boat next time.
We would certainly plan to do a helicopter tour on the Big Island on a return visit. But we will pick a tour that focuses on the volcanos. And maybe even book an open door adventure. All for another visit!
Check out the video if you want to experience our flight over the Big Island of Hawai’i.
Did you explore the Hawaii Big Island by helicopter? Did you get to see the Mauna Loa volcano?
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