It’s funny, when I was telling everyone back home about my plans for my birthday trip everyone had the same reaction to Hawaii. “Oh you’re not staying on the island with the volcano are you? I hope not!”
This trip had been booked a year in advance so at the time of booking I had no idea that the volcano on the Big Island would erupt in May 2018. My hotel had sent several emails saying they were over 100 miles away from the volcano so I decided not to cancel this part of the trip. As it turned out, this was the best time to visit Hawaii’s Big Island!
For the first few days on the island I was staying in Kona at the Sheraton Resort & Spa. After breakfast one morning I got chatting to a member of staff who mentioned that they had recently taken a helicopter tour over the active volcano. As soon as I heard this I just had to speak to the woman at the tours desk. I had always wanted to take a helicopter tour one day, I could just never decide which would be the best. Taking one over an active volcano sounded like an amazing once in a lifetime experience I couldn’t pass up!
After a brief chat with her I discovered the best helicopter tours in Hawaii were with a company called Blue Hawaiian who had two types of helicopter tours available on Hawaii’s Big Island. The cheapest tour would have been an hour long leaving from Hilo. On this tour you would have to make your own way to Hilo.
This option would have required renting a car to get to Hilo so it made sense to spend a little more and get the tour that included the hotel pick up. Plus this tour left from Waikoloa Heliport which means you get to spend longer in a helicopter. As this was my first time I wanted the experience to last as long as possible.
Also, by booking the longer tour it meant flying in one of Blue Hawaiian’s Eco Star helicopters. These helicopters were designed specifically for tourists. They have wrap around glass in the cockpit and raised seats in the back for improved visibility from all seats.
I was grateful for my hotel for organising this tour. Because they offered a chance to get close to an active volcano many people had been booking a place on this tour. I was lucky they were able to get me a spot when I was only in town for a few days.
It was an early start but after getting picked up from my hotel along with a few others we travelled along the coast stopping at a couple more hotels. Once everyone had been picked up it was off to Waikoloa Heliport. Even with the pick up stops the journey only took about an hour.
Once we arrived it was time to sign in and watch the safety video. We were instructed as to what was allowed to be taken on the helicopter and what had to be left behind in the lockers provided. I was allowed to take my camera but had to leave the mini tripod behind. Phones are also permitted so there is plenty of chances to take photos and videos.
Unfortunately you do not get the helicopter to yourself or get to pick where you sit. This is done by the staff who’s job it is to ensure the helicopter is balanced by the weight of the passengers. Yes girls and guys that does mean you will get weighed before your tour. Please note the staff do their best to make sure families and couples sit together.
Everyone sits in the waiting area and one by one gets called upon by the staff to take their seat into the helicopter. They have multiple helicopters flying off during each time slot but there is a delay between take off so you’re not getting in each others way.
I sat there watching everyone get called up and excitement was starting to grow. I couldn’t believe I was finally about to take a helicopter tour! Unfortunately for me I didn’t get the front seat of the helicopter but I still did get a window seat and the views from it were spectacular.
I was sitting in that helicopter completely amazed at what I was doing and what I was seeing. And to be honest, the views at the start of the ride weren’t that impressive (when compared to the rest!) but I was so overwhelmed with excitement for finally doing something I had wanted to do for so long.
Once we got to the coast line the views got a lot better. The water looked so beautiful from up in the helicopter. It was simply breathtaking. I just couldn’t get over how beautiful and blue the ocean was.
After flying around the coast for a bit we were informed by our pilate that we were now making our way to the volcano. Sadly this is something they can’t guarantee on every flight due to weather and safety reasons but on that day they had the green light to fly over and I’m so glad about that.
As we flew over the active volcano and I was sat in that helicopter unable to believe what I was experiencing. Right there below me was the volcano that everyone had been talking about. The volcano that had my friends and family wishing I wasn’t on this particular island. Suddenly that volcano was below me and it didn’t feel real.
I can’t even remember how long we flew around the volcano for. It was such an incredible moment that time almost didn’t exist. I could see the lava flowing down the volcano. I could actually see it moving! I guess I never believed we would get that close to it. But there it was.
And then just as easily as it had appeared in front of us, it left us. With other helicopters circling the area we had to leave. We followed the lava stream as it made it’s way to the coast. Here we were able to watch as the molten hot lava reached the cool water of the ocean and created steam right in front of us.
The whole experience of flying over the volcano was truly incredible but that wasn’t the end of our helicopter tour. We still had the waterfalls to check out. But could they live up to what was turning into the greatest tour of my life?
We flew into the meandering valleys of the Kohala Mountains to witness the cascading waterfalls. They were small but they seemed to be everywhere. And the scenery was so lush and green.
I was so focused on my beautiful surroundings that I didn’t notice the helicopter was landing. I was happily staring out the window and before I knew it I could see the grass below me moving from the wind of the helicopter blades. We were landing? Was that supposed to be part of the tour?
As it turns out there is an optional extra to have the helicopter land at the remote and isolated Punalulu Falls. This extra will obviously cost you but if you’re lucky like I was, someone on your helicopter will have paid for this upgrade.
It was a lovely surprise being able to walk around in this remote area of Hawaii’s Big Island. If you have the budget for it I highly recommend getting this extra. Yes, you may get lucky like I did but if this is something you really want to do you may not want to risk missing out. We had about 6 helicopters leaving during our time slot and we were the only one’s who landed (we asked afterwards).
After our 15 minutes were up we returned to the helicopter to head back. I wished we had longer but our an hour and 45 minutes were up.
Once we landed back at Waikoloa Heliport it was hard to process all that had just happened. I remember stepping off the helicopter not believing I had seen all I had just seen. I wanted to take the tour again just to prove to myself that I really had been flying around an active volcano. Even now writing this months later I still can’t believe I experienced this. It will always be one of my most treasured travel memories.
- Blue Hawaiian Helicopters have tours on all the islands of Hawaii
- It’s best to book online in advance so not to be disappointed
- Wear dark coloured clothes to minimise window reflection
- A Star helicopter tours are cheaper than Eco Star helicopter tours but you will not get individual seating
- It’s down to luck of the day as to where you’ll be seated due to having to balance the weight of each of the passengers
- Lockers are on site to keep valuables not permitted on the helicopters safe
- Recordings are made of each flight and are available to purchase for $25 for the DVD or $40 for a usb stick
- Prices vary based on how long you fly and with which helicopter but cost around $229 to $599 per person
- There are cheaper prices available by booking directly online
- The additional waterfall landing costs an extra $150
*All information correct as of February 2019
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