In my opinion, a helicopter tour is much more thrilling than any amusement park ride I’ve ridden. The views are beyond description and there is so much to see. A helicopter tour in Hawaii is an ideal way to see the islands’ cliffs, forests, volcanic shape, beaches and craters. One of the reasons I love Hawaii is the diversity of terrain and by taking a helicopter tour, you can really see that. Before you take a helicopter tour, you should spend some time researching your options online. Here are tips to help you choose the best tour and enjoy it.
1. Make a Safe Choice - Choose a tour that advertises that they are certified as a FAA Part 135 Air Carrier, which means that the operator is subject to higher standards than general aviation operators.
It might also be helpful to look up accidents from the National Transportation Safety Board. You can use this query form to search the accidents database. To get Hawaii results, be sure to select Hawaii as the state and Helicopter as the category of aircraft. When the results open, make sure to open each list to determine which tour company was involved in the accident. I hope this doesn’t scare you off, but it is important to know that there are risks in riding a helicopter.
2. Know the Seating Arrangement - Most helicopters used for touring have six passengers with a seating arrangement of two passengers in front and four in the back. That means that two people are going to be stuck in the middle seats in the back and with limited view. A-Star and Eco-Star type helicopters carry six passengers. The Eco-Stars are nicer than the A-Stars because they offer a little more room, less noise, and more window space.
One helicopter that I particularly liked is the Hughes 500 which seats two passengers in the back and two in the front. I flew with Inter-Island Helicopters on Kauai in a Hughes 500 and it was tremendous. The Inter-Island tour is not for everyone and does come with an added risk in that the doors are off. With the doors off, you’ll get much better photographs, but there’s a bit more of a safety concern.
Other helicopter tour companies that we have used with great results are Safari Helicopters and Blue Hawaiian. We took a unique eco-tour with Safari Helicopters and a standard tour with Blue Hawaiian.
When booking, request the front seats as they are the best, but bear in mind that seating will be based on the weight of you and your friend/partner. If you are taking a helicopter tour in Kauai, request the right side because most tours circle the island clockwise and you will be able to get the best view of the Na Pali Coast from the right side.
3. Shop online for pricing. Most companies offer a nice discount for booking directly with them.
4. Timing your Tour. If possible, try to book your tour on the first or second day of your trip so that you will gain a better orientation of the island. In my opinion, late morning or early afternoon flights are best for limiting shadows and making the island’s colors more brilliant. For seeing the Na Pali Coast on Kauai, the afternoon light is best because the Na Pali is on the west side.
5. Do’s and don’ts on the day of your tour.
- Pay close attention to the safety instructions provided and don’t hesitate to ask questions about them.
- Wear dark clothing without pattens to minimize the glare on the windows.
- If you are prone to motion sickness, take medication in advance.
- Use high speed film/settings for your camera.
- Wear earrings because they could get in the way of your headphones.
- Spend too much time looking at the scenery through tiny viewfinder of your camera.
6. Know which islands are the best for helicopter tours. I’m sure helicopter tours of all the islands are quite nice, but if you have a choice go with Kauai or the Big Island. Kauai is my top pick because of the views of Waimea Canyon, the Na Pali Coast, and seeing the remote waterfalls at the Waialeale Crater. The Big Island would be my second pick because of seeing the volcano activity at Kilauea. I have been fortunate enough to enjoy helicopter tours of Kauai, the Big Island, and the Great Barrier Reef. My favorite was the Kauai tour.
I’ll close these tips for finding the best helicopter tours in Hawaii with a few photos from tours helicopter tours I’ve taken in Hawaii.
This photo is of the Na Pali Coast of Kauai. Notice the rainbow:
This photo of liquid rock in action was taken at Pu’u O’o. At the time, a helicopter tour was the only way to see any active lava flow.
Please feel free to add your helicopter tour tips in the comments.