Hawaii helicopter tours

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A Kauai helicopter tour above Kalalau Valley

Though we were terrified to take our first Hawaii helicopter tour when we visited Kauai for the first time in 2003, we ended up having a thrilling experience that far exceeded our expectations. Since then, we’ve taken three more helicopter tours in Hawaii and they’ve all been spectacular.

We were recently asked for our advice on the best island and tour operator for helicopter tours in Hawaii. Unfortunately, that question isn’t as easily answered as it may appear.As for the best island to take a helicopter tour. We’d love to experience a tour around every island. If you have a choice of islands, we’d rank them as follows:

1. Kauai — the bird’s eye view of Waimea Canyon and the Na Pali Coast are absolutely stunning.

2. Hawaii, the Big Island — if lava is active, a helicopter tour over Kilauea volcano can be an incredible sight. Depending on where the lava is active, a helicopter tour may be the only way for you to see the lava.

3. Maui and/or Molokai — from Maui you can take helicopter tours over to see some of the tallest sea cliffs in the world on Molokai. Of course, Maui is a beautiful island, worthy of touring by helicopter, too.

4. Oahu

Several variables factor into your Hawaii helicopter tour experience. These three factors can make a difference


  • The seating arrangement makes a big difference. You can make requests, but please be aware that you don’t have a choice. Most Hawaii helicopters seat six passengers with two passengers in front and four in the back. When you check in for your tour, you’ll be weighed. After weighing all the passengers, the staff will seat you based on balancing the weight on the helicopter. If you are touring with your partner or friend, the tour companies usually seat you together.
  • Weather conditions are often unpredictable. What you may see on your tour, someone else may not get to see on a different tour. Waialeale crater on Kauai is a good example. If the pilot has good visibility, s/he will fly into the crater for an amazing scene of pencil thin waterfalls rushing down the crater walls. If the conditions are cloudy or foggy, the pilot will skip the crater to take you somewhere with better visibility and safety.
  • The pilot’s experience and personality makes a difference. Though that being said, we’ve always had a great pilot.

For more information, check out our advice for choosing and taking a helicopter tour in Hawaii which has recently been updated.

Have you been on a helicopter tour in Hawaii? Where did you go? How was your experience?

  1. Our one hour heli-tour of Kauai with Jack Harter was the highlight of our visit. We had to do the doors on tour because we were 5 people and we purchased the 6th seat so our group would have the “bird” to ourselves. At all times, we felt perfectly safe. Our pilot, Ben, was a terrific navigator and narrator and the music he had choreographed was perfect — and humorous. I booked on line and received a discount. At the time we were there, tours had been cancelled for the previous few days due to high winds. The office personnel was very busy trying to accommodate all the people whose tours had been cancelled but that fact did not in any way compromise our tour. From start to finish, we were delighted with our choice of Jack Harter.

  2. Did the one hour tour of Kauai on Safari.

    We picked Safari based on customer reviewes and safety record. My first time in a helicopter and I was terrified.

    The seating was a count off method and the assistant instructed us in the loading. hint: #5 & 6 got the front seats. #2 & 3 were in the middle back.
    I guess if you wanted to call dibs on the front seats you could, but speak up. Nobody on our tour seemed to mind where they sat.
    Our pilot Patrick was friendly and gave some informative narration and answered questions.
    To be honest I was trying to take photos and hold on, due to being terrified. We opted to get a copy video of our tour (had a coupon) was nice to have because I didn’t remember seeing 1/2 the sights in the video and the ones I do remember were much nicer than I remember. Maybe it was due to the side of the copter I was on. The video also included all the commetary between us and the pilot, so that was nice too.

    If your considering doing a heli tour I would put it as one of the first to-do items on your schedule. Our first tour got cancelled due to wind/weather and we ended up re-scheduling the tour for the morning we were departing Kauai.
    All in all, high praise to the Safari staff – from the office staff doing the bookings to the pilot for a magnificent experience, one I hope to do again.

  3. I noticed on your previous entry form 2011 that you did the ecotour with Safari. Would you recommend doing that over the standard tour? We are on a budget and it is about 100$ more than their other tour but… If it’s worth it, it’s worth it. What are your thoughts?

    1. If your budget is limited, I’d recommend going with the less expensive tour. The Safari Eco tour was interesting, but it’s really the view of Kauai that you can only see from a helicopter that makes any helicopter tour worth it.

    1. In August, it probably doesn’t matter too much. In general, mornings tend to be less rainy, but August isn’t a very rainy month. The Na Pali Coast tends to be more “lit up” in the afternoon.

  4. Hi Sheila,

    Great site! We are visting the Big Island (Kona) in mid-February. I looked at Blue Hawaii and Safari that you recommend (Inter-Island has suspended ops) that you make reference to- both make reference to the volcano, and that would be spectacular in and of itself. I was also hoping for something that would show us the waterfalls north of Hilo, the volcano, and departing and arriving back at KOA. Any recommendations? The 4 pax bird sounds good but I understand that this can’t be guarenteed. Also safety is a priority- I’m a (fixed wing) pilot and know the enhanced standards of a Part 135 operator.

    Thanks, Bruce.

    1. Bruce – I am not aware of a tour that covers the volcano and the waterfalls that leaves from KOA. There may be one, but I’m not aware of one. The distance for a tour like that is considerable and would most likely require a stop for refueling.

      Blue Hawaiian offers waterfalls and volcano helicopter tour that depart from Waikoloa, which is only about 20 or 30 minutes north of KOA.

      Besides Blue Hawaiian and Safari, Paradise and Sunshine are two other major helicopter tour operators on the Big Island to consider as you’re shopping for a tour.

  5. Another question if I may, Sheila… whatt happens if the weather is is bad and the tour cannot take place- is there a refund or is there a re-schedule?

    Thanks, Bruce.

    1. I’m not sure what each tour company’s policy is. So, check directly with them. I would imagine their websites may have cancellation information.

      Our only experience with this was on Maui. We were due to take a helicopter tour on the same day we were leaving, however the weather was very rainy. We weren’t charged for the tour, obviously. We couldn’t reschedule because we were leaving that. day.

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