Kauai was pretty much made to be seen from the air. Only 20% of the island is developed which means that most visitors only see a tiny fraction of its splendors. And boy does it have splendors. I personally think that Kauai is the most beautiful of the Hawaiian Islands. Sadly, many of its most beautiful sites are so remote and difficult to reach that they remain unseen by all but the most intrepid hikers.
Kauai Helicopter Tours
There are a TON of companies that offer helicopter tours of Kauai, so how do you know which one to pick? First of all, I don’t believe this is something you shop around the find the best deal. Helicopter and small airplane crashes aren’t unheard of in Hawaii and it’s usually a result of inexperienced pilots or ill maintained equipment. This is a time when paying more to go with a reputable company is a necessity. While I’m not going to do a rundown on every helicopter company in this post, I’m going to let you know my top three and you can pick based on what you’re looking for.
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Blue Hawaiian: Blue Hawaiian is the granddaddy of all the tour operators. They fly on every major island, and their fleet is modern and impressive. I think they offer the most comfortable flight conditions available. They only fly doors ON flights. Their flights start at $269/person. Read reviews and search for discounts here.
On my last trip to Kauai, I flew on an 8:30AM departure with Blue Hawaiian on their 50 minute circle island flight. Their flights leave out of the Lihue Heliport, which is right next to the airport. Blue Hawaiian’s headquarters are in a nice building with a check-in desk, gift shop, restrooms, and safety briefing area. When you check in, they take your weight really discretely (I didn’t even know that’s what they were doing!) and this is how they determine seating assignments. About a half hour before our flight, we watched a safety video and got our personal flotation devices (a small pouch you wear strapped around your waist). This is also where we got our pilot’s name and seat assignments (there were three helicopters leaving at our departure time).
Next we went outside and waited on the lanai and watched the helicopters land from the previous tour, unload, and get refueled before we were loaded on. This flight was on an ecostar, which is known for being one of the more “comfortable” aircrafts you can fly on. It had four seats in the back and three in the front (including the pilot). I was seat #1 which is front middle right next to the pilot so I was the first one loaded. The flight crew led us out to the helipad one by one, buckled us in, and handed us our headsets. Once I was loaded, I could talk to the pilot through my headset.
Although I was a little nervous beforehand, I got a little psyched out once I was buckled in, but as soon as we were in the air I was completely fine. I’m not crazy about heights and was worried I might have some anxiety/panic being up that high, but it didn’t bother me AT ALL.
RELATED: Not very familiar with Kauai? Read up on the lay of the is(land) and where to stay plus my favorite beach resorts, budget hotels, condos, honeymoon resorts, family friendly resorts, luxury resorts, and boutique hotels.
Once we were airborne, we flew over Nawiliwili Harbor and along the south side of the island. Our pilot (Bryan from Tennessee!) was great about pointing out places of interest and filling us in on the island’s geography and other interesting facts. We got some good views of Poipu before flying over Hanapepe Valley and on to the first major site of the flight: Waimea Canyon.
Waimea Canyon is a stunner form the roadside overlooks but from the air it was just spectacular. We flew down into the canyon, and up close to a waterfall but it was the rainbow(s) that stole the show here. It was a pretty special sight.
We flew over the edge of the canyon and came down over the Napali Coast (one of the big selling points of a helicopter ride over Kauai) and it was…raining! A lot. But it was still so amazing. Even in the rain, I was still blown away. We flew up the coast, oohing and awing, until we got of Ke’e beach and then followed the north shore into Hanalei Bay (we got a great view of Tunnels).
From here we flew into Hanalei Valley and then into Wai’ale’ale Crater (the birthplace of Kauai). This part of the flight was the real highlight for me. Hanalei Valley is so lush and green and getting to go into the crater (Bryan said only about 40% of flights get the right conditions to go in) was an otherworldly experience. The pictures just don’t do this place justice. The clouds were hanging low, it was raining lightly, and it was still gorgeous. Our pilot told us that many people have an emotional reaction to seeing the crater and it’s easy to see why. Our otherwise chatty flight grew silent as we flew through.
The crater was our last major site on the trip and from there we flew back across the island to Lihue. We had an uneventful landing (always a good thing!) and disembarked. On our way in, each group got to have their picture snapped in front of the helicopter.
Jack Harter Helicopters: Jack Harter is the original Kauai helicopter company and they offer some pretty amazing options. They have a 60-65 minute tour in an AStar (the same configuration that Blue Hawaiian flies…three in the front including the pilot and four in the back), which gets you a slightly longer flight time. And let me tell you, 5 extra minutes in the air in Kauai is a big deal. This flight starts at $289. But they also offer the same flight in a Hughes 500 (which seats three in the front including the pilot and only two in the back) with the doors OFF. This flight starts at $309. In addition to feeling more adventurous, booking this flight also insures that you will have a window seat. I would consider the front middle to still be a window seat since the window stretches out to your feet right in front of you. There’s something about feeling the wind in your face as you’re hovering over a waterfall, but if you’re a nervous flyer, I would probably stick to doors on. Also keep in mind that anything you have with you on the doors off flight (including cameras/phones) has to be strapped to you. Jack Harter also offers a 90 minute tour (doors on) that’s geared towards photographers. It doesn’t fly anywhere the 60 minute flight doesn’t go, but it just gives you a lot more time (flies slower and makes more loops). This flight starts at $434. Read reviews and search for discounts here.
RELATED: How to See the Napali Coast
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Island Helicopters: Island Helicopters is the only company to offer a landing during their flight. If you’re a fan of Jurassic Park, you’ll love this tour. In addition to the traditional circle island tour, it includes a stop at Manawaiopuna Falls (well known from the opening scene in Jurassic Park). If you’re not doing the tour that includes the Jurassic Falls landing then I would choose to fly with either Blue Hawaiian or Jack Harter. Keep in mind that this tour is not offered on Sundays and most Thursdays. This tour is $385, but they do offer a cash discount. Read reviews and search for discounts here.
Things You Should Know Before Your Flight
- Wear dark clothing. This cuts down on the glare in your photos if photographing through windows.
- Afternoon is when you’ll get the best lighting on the Napali Coast, however the weather is usually better on morning flights.
- If you’re prone to motion sickness, take medication before your flight.
- Helicopter tours are VERY popular on Kauai (more so than the other Hawaiian Islands) so book in advance. I also recommend booking it early on in your trip so if you have bad weather there’s time to reschedule.
I really just can’t say enough good things about a helicopter flight on Kauai, and there aren’t words to adequately describe the things I saw. All I can say is, if you’re on the fence about doing a helicopter tour on your trip to Kauai, do it!!! I’ve done a lot of tours, excursions, and activities on Kauai, but this is one of the few that I would repeat (others were amazing, but once was enough). And I would recommend flying with any of these companies.