Tour Hawaii Big Island By Helicopter

Explore The Hamakua Coast

Tour Hawaii Big Island By Helicopter

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. 

Kohala Coast Weather

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.  

Route Flown Kohala to Hamakua Coast
Flight Path On The Kohala and Hamakua Coast

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.  

Sunshine Helicopters Heliport
Sunshine Helicopters Heliport - Tour Hawaii Big Island By Helicopter

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.

Sunshine Helicopters Marie

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.

View To Mauna Loa Volcano
Clear View To Sea

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.  

Gully Rift In Earth

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.

Rolling Hills - Tour Hawaii Big Island By Helicopter
Kahua Ranch

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.

Hamakua Coast Waipio Valley
Hamakua Coast Waipio Valley - Tour Hawaii Big Island By Helicopter
Hamakua Coast Waipio Valley

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.  

Hamakua Coast Hike Waiipio Valley To Waimanu Valley
Image From
Hamakua Coast Waimanu Valley - Tour Hawaii Big Island By Helicopter

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.

Hamakua Coast Valley - Tour Hawaii Big Island By Helicopter
Hamakua Coast Poll Valley

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.

Terrain Warning Panel

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.

Hamakua Coast Waihilau Waterfalls - Tour Hawaii Big Island By Helicopter
Hamakua Coast Waimanu Waterfalls
Hamakua Coast Waihilau Waterfalls

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.

Hamakua Coast Rainforest - Tour Hawaii Big Island By Helicopter

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.

Hamakua Coast Paokalani Mokupuku Pa'Alalea islands - Tour Hawaii Big Island By Helicopter
Hamakua Coast Paokalani Mokupuku Pa'Alalea islands - Tour Hawaii Big Island By Helicopter
Hamakua Coast Paokalani Mokupuku Pa'Alalea islands

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.

Hamakua Coast Waterfalls - Tour Hawaii Big Island By Helicopter
Hamakua Coast Waterfalls

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.

Blue Waters
Blue Waters - Tour Hawaii Big Island By Helicopter

Marie took the helicopter over the Westin Hapuna Resort where we stayed.  It was fun to see it from the sky.

Westin Hapuna Resort - Tour Hawaii Big Island By Helicopter

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.

Puukohola Heiau National Historic Site - Tour Hawaii Big Island By Helicopter
Puukohola Heiau National Historic Site

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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  1. A copter ride is definitely on my bucket list, although it will probably be in the continental U.S., as I’m not sure if I will get back to Hawaii. The pictures are amazing. You can’t beat a view from the air, as I learned during a hot air balloon ride across the desert in Arizona one trip.

  2. Wow! I’ve never been on a helicopter and it would one amazing, once in a lifetime thing to do. I guess it would be wise to wait & choose a perfect location like the islands of Hawaii. Indeed like skydiving or hot air ballooning, weather can seriously impact this too. My hot air balloon was postponed twice due to weather. 1:45hrs is a long time! The tours I find here are just 20-30 mins long… Good to know there’s a shuttle bus that picks you up. The views are totally worth it! Mesmerizing.

    • The tour we wanted to do was an extra long one to see all of the island. But sadly the weather did not cooperate! But the views from the helicopter were still stunning.

  3. Wow – you had great views from the helicopter. Some of these waterfalls look like they are going to suck you into a deep hole straight into middle earth! I have never been in a helicopter, but I imagine that the straight up and down movements as well as the small turning circle make an interesting flight experience.

  4. Woah! This is amazing. I have always wanted to do a helicopter tour in Hawaii. Thank you for sharing your experience. First Class seating is the best.

  5. This sounds exciting, flying through valleys and the coasts, looking at waterfalls although the water weren’t abundant. It’s unfortunate you couldn’t fly above Mauna Loa volcano, but now you have a reason to go back to Hawaii. 🙂 I don’t understand though why is the short tour cost more than the longer one. But I think it makes sense to book a tour that is closer to places that you want to see.

    • The short tour was not more than the long tour. But very expensive for how much shorter it was. That might have changed our mind if we knew in advance. But we were glad we did see some of the island from above. Even if every time I see a view of Mauna Loa erupting I am again reminded of my disappointment.

  6. What a lovely tour you had by helicopter! Nothing like viewing landscapes, mountains, valleys, and other scenes from up above. I have flown in small planes that flew manually without the autopilot (in Nepal) and also seaplanes. I am impressed you have a pilot’s license for small private planes! Wow, Linda! Those images look awesome. Must add a helicopter ride to my bucket list now. 🙂

  7. Weather is such an important factor for helicopter ride. We had once planned a helicopter ride in Nepal, but it was cancelled due to patchy weather. Imagine my disappointment!
    Big Island in Hawaii looks gorgeous from the copter. The sea, coasts, waterfalls and valley look out of the world. It is always great to have a different perspective and I am sure a helicopter ride would give you that. And I am sure you got that from your seat beside your pilot!
    I would definitely keep in mind the tips you shared while choosing my next helicopter ride, whenever and wherever that may be. It was good to read about your experience.

    • I was happy to share some tips about helicopter tours after our experience in Hawaii. We loved the views we got – even if it was not the tour we expected. But the views from a helicopter are always worth taking a little risk for.

  8. We did a helicopter tour of Kauai, getting views of sides of the island not accessible by land like you have. However, on the Big Island I would also want to see the volcanic side! Did you?

  9. Amazing views! I have been to Big Island twice and I had no idea they have such a beautiful waterfalls (obviously because we didn’t do a helicopter tour). I’m sorry to hear you didn’t get the tour you wanted. For me too, seeing the volcano erupt would be the only tour I would want to do. But we can’t predict the mother nature.

  10. What an experience even with the shorter flight. Your photos are absolutely stunning. It’s good to know that you can easily end up in the middle seat not seeing too much, so I would also book the front one!

  11. It’s frustrating when the weather doesn’t cooperate, but it looks like you still enjoyed some amazing views. I would have been worried about the terrain warning, but I imagine with a pilot license you might have been a bit more comfortable. I would love to do this someday 🙂

    • We loved how close we got to the sights on our helicopter tour of the Big Island. The terrain warning did not bother me at all. But a helicopter ride might not be comfortable for everyone.

  12. I’m happy you still decided to go on the short tour, the views are incredible. The row of waterfalls cascading down is stunning! Your tips are extremely helpful as I’d love to go on a helicopter tour whenever we visit. The first-class seating sounds like a good option, and fun to learn you have your pilot’s license.

  13. Damn – what a fancy way to explore! You guys live life to the fullest. Doesn’t one get travel sick on a heli? I’ve been on some of those small planes in Central America and first, I was amazed flying so low over the jungle until my stomach let me know that this was not the way he – or is it a she? – likes to travel….

    • I must admit that flying in a helicopter is not for everyone. It is noisy and bumpy. So it you have any fears of flying, you may be a bit freaked out. We loved being able to get right up close to the scenery.

  14. The Hawaii Big Island by helicopter is on our bucket list as we want to return to Hawaii. I think it is a great idea to go sightseeing from this perspective. You had a great adventure, especially as the weather was fantastic, so the views were stunning. Your pilot Marie showed you the best of the island, especially the green walls with a background of turquoise water, looking stunning on Hamakua Coast or Pololu Valley. I would love to take a picture of Hi’ilawe Falls in Waipi’o Valley from the fly perspective the most. It’s great that you can also admire the Westin Hapuna Resort where you stayed from a helicopter!

    • A helicopter tour in Hawaii was definitely on our wish list. Even though we did not see all we wanted to, it was still an amazing view of the Big Island by helicopter. Hope you get this experience one day.

  15. The views are something else. I did a helicopter ride with my mom and sister in Maui a few years ago and it was beautiful! We even got to go over Molokai.

  16. Wow! What an incredible experience! I’m sorry your original flight was canceled due to the weather, but glad you were able to take this one instead. It makes a good case for scheduling the flight early in the trip so if you have to, you can reschedule. This helicopter ride looks like it gave you views to some of the most beautiful scenery of Hawaii! I am in awe of the deep valleys and waterfalls of this beautiful island. Perfect that you were able to fly First Class and get the best perspective (I would not want to be in the back seats, especially in the middle…) I hope I can do this myself someday!

  17. I haven’t had the chance to take a helicopter ride…anywhere. Seems like it is about time. I bet the photography lovers in the group were entranced with the view and all of the waterfalls. Lovely.

  18. Your pictures are absolutely amazing! I can’t believe how blue the water looks. We were on the Big Island when we visited, we had a helicopter tour scheduled but when we got there they said it was cancelled 🙁 I hope you had all the fun!

    • I am sure you were really disappointed to have your helicopter tour of the Big Island cancelled. We were sure sad to miss seeing the volcano. But glad we got some amazing views on our trip.

  19. Wow! Your photos are awesome. I have been in a helicopter twice, years ago, but have avoided doing this in Hawaii due to my sever motion sickness problem. I loved reading this though. I’m saving because I sometimes get questions from people about doing this in Hawaii. I will share your post when I do.

  20. What a wonderful way to see the Big island. I climbed Mauna Loa many years ago and so got to see the summit cauldara from the top. It would be wonderful to see it from a helicopter so I’m sorry you didn’t get to see it.

    • I am sure it was stunning to see the caldera from the top of Mauna Loa. The volcano was rumbling when we were there so we knew something was coming – so it made seeing it that much more important. But we do know that weather can trump can plans!

  21. Wow!! The valleys, waterfalls and coastline shots are amazing! I will refer back to this when I visit. Great post!

  22. I love helicopter tours. They get you to inaccessible places and give you a great view point. What a great way to see the Hamakua coast.

  23. The waterfalls on the Hamakua coast completely blew my mind – incredible force of nature. It must have been incredible to see the flourishing volcanic landscape from above. Looks like you saw a lot even though you had issues with the weather 😛

  24. Wow what a dream! I’ve flown in a helicopter in the Grand Canyon and it was amazing! Looks like a flights in Hawaii also needs to be added to my bucket list!

  25. A helicopter ride around Hawaii is on my bucket list. It’s a shame the weather prevented you from seeing the volcanoes. The scenery that you flew over and those waterfalls were so beautiful though! I’d agree with you about the window seat on a helicopter ride. Hardly seems worth it if you can’t see anything.

  26. I’ve always wanted to go on a helicopter ride! Hawaii looks like a great place to do it with those amazing views.

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