Above It All
It would be a mistake to rely on words to describe a flying tour of Hawai‘i Island. One could say it’s like a mythical ride on a magic carpet, or a scene from a James Bond thriller, with a chopper skirting a live volcano and lava oozing down the mountain slopes. But really, it’s one of those fabulous things that can’t be analyzed, digitized or translated into anything more complicated than “Wow!”
The aerial view of the Hamakua Coast from Hilo to Waipi‘o Valley is truly magical. Expect to see roaring waterfalls, vertical forests and tiny villages during a Hamakua flight. And when you reach Waipi‘o Valley, expect to see the island’s version of Eden.
Kilauea Volcano is by far the most popular destination— the sight of a lava flow is spectacular. One company, Big Island Air, conducts night flights over the volcano. Paradise Helicopters also offers doors-off flights over Kilauea.
Whether you buy a ticket on a helicopter or a fixed-wing airplane, the view from above will give you a new appreciation for the island’s natural wonders.
• Blue Hawaiian Helicopters (808) 961-5600 • Safari Helicopters (808) 969-1259 • Paradise Helicopters (808) 969-7392 • Big Island Air (808) 329-4868
Take a Night Flight Over a Volcano
A night flight over a scorching volcano is an eerie and spectacular sight. Big Island Air is the only tour operator in Hawai‘i that conducts volcano night flights. From a seat in the company’s jet prop CE-208 Cessna Caravan, surface lava takes on higher definition. And from the sky, you’re likely to see the fireworks when liquefied rock, heated to 2,100 degrees Fahrenheit, steams out of a lava tube and hits the ocean.
For a safe ride, the aircraft is equipped with a sophisticated ground proximity warning system, global positioning and traffic collision avoidance systems including onboard weather and terrain mapping radar.
Weather permitting, the tours are offered daily and depart from Kona International Airport.
• Big Island Air (808) 329-4868
Take off from Waikoloa
Most Hawai‘i Island helicopter tours originate from Kailua-Kona or Hilo. But there is one company that flies out of Waikoloa on the Kohala Coast. Blue Hawaiian Helicopters maintains a private heliport in the high-end tourist area, making it convenient for Kohala Coast visitors to book a tour.
Blue Hawaiian Helicopters, which conducts tours throughout the islands, is a well-respected company with 25 years of experience. One tour flies over an active volcano and lava flows in Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park, then turns to explore the magnificent rain forests and waterfalls of the Hamakua Coast. Another tour takes you to the Kohala Coast, where more waterfalls, towering sea cliffs and ancient Hawaiian settlements blend into deep valleys and acres of rainforest.
• Blue Hawaiian Helicopters (808) 961-5600
Tour in a Fixed-Wing Aircraft
Helicopters aren’t the only birds that tour the island. Try a fixed-wing flight for a longer tour. Unlike most helicopter tours that cut across the saddle of the island to get to the volcano, a fixed-wing plane has enough fuel to cover all 266 miles of coastline, including the often- ignored southern end of the island.
Tours are conducted in planes with various seating capacities, but all seats have a window, including the seat next to the pilot. Kilauea Volcano is a popular destination, but there are other tours to choose from.
In addition to their regular air tours, charter plane companies also offer additional services including custom air tours.
A Chopper Ride Made for Adventure
There are helicopter tours and helicopter adventures. Sightseers will want to book a tour. Adventurers will go for the doors-off, multiple-landing option. Paradise Helicopters can accommodate either mood.
Along with views of an active volcano, lava flows, waterfalls and gorgeous terrain, Paradise has designed tours that touch down in intriguing spots. Fly to a remote valley, land at a zipline course, hike the rim of the exquisite Waipi‘o Valley, or say hello to a legendary lava field resident.
Tours can run from 1 to 5 hours, depending on what’s going on when you touch down.
• Paradise Helicopters (808) 969-7392
An air tour of the Big Island is likely to bring into view the island’s intriguing assortment of volcanoes. Here’s a short, pre-flight briefing on some of them:
KILAUEA: One of the Earth’s most active volcanoes, located in Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park on the southeastern flank of Mauna Loa. This volcano has been pumping molten lava over the landscape since 1983, simultaneously developing new real estate and leaving destruction in its wake. In March 2008, the volcano caused a commotion when, for the first time since 1924, it let loose an explosive eruption. It’s still spewing an ash-laden plume from a crater at the summit and sending molten lava over the landscape.
MAUNA LOA: A massive volcano that spreads over half of the Big Island’s 4,034 square miles, Mauna Loa rises 13,680 feet from sea level. Measured from its flanks on the ocean floor, the mountain reaches 30,080 feet at its summit. Sixty miles long and 30 miles wide, Mauna Loa is the largest volcanic mountain in the world and the third largest shield volcano in the solar system, smaller only than volcanoes on Venus and Mars. It has erupted 39 times since 1832, the most recent being in 1984.
MAUNA KEA: The tallest island-mountain in the world, Mauna Kea stands 13,796 feet above sea level and rises 32,000 feet from the ocean floor. At its summit, where snow sometimes falls, the world’s largest astronomical observatory houses telescopes operated by astronomers from all over the world.
LO‘IHI: Fifteen miles off the southeast coast of the island, Lo‘ihi thunders 3,000 feet beneath the Pacific Ocean. Someday, thousands of years from now, the submarine volcano will emerge to form a new island.
Know Your Volcanoes
Spread Your Wings and Fly
If floating above the surface in a two-person flying machine sparks your imagination, take to the sky in a powered hang glider.
During your flight, you learn the basics of weight-shift control, aerodynamics and safety, as well as a bit about weather and its affects on aviation.
Once you’ve reached a relaxed flying altitude, an interesting phenomenon sometimes takes hold. There’s a tendency to forget that a pilot is navigating your course, that an engine is powering the way and that you’re strapped into a two-seater flying machine, attached only to a wing. All that fades into a new feeling, one that resembles wingless flight.
Anyone who’s seen the Big Island from above knows its magic. But if you want to get caught in its spell, take a lesson in a powered hang glider. Check out Island Ultralight for more information.