You’ve heard me say before that when you travel you should try to get outside of your comfort zone. It’s so easy to lose sight of that, especially when you’re sitting in your lounge chair with a drink in hand soaking up the sunshine. However, I decided to truly take this to heart on a trip to the Big Island of Hawaii. I’ve previously written about my stays at the Four Seasons Resort Hualalai, one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever stayed. I was back again and decided to mix up my trip a bit this time as I was itching to catch a glimpse of Kilauea, the active volcano.
Being the biggest and newest island in the Hawaiian Islands, the Big Island is extremely spread out and has a very small population compared to its neighbors. With that being said, there is a lot of ground to cover and relatively few roads to do so. So what’s the best way to see all that this spectacular island has to offer? You guessed it – by helicopter.
I had never been in a helicopter before, nor did I have a burning desire to do so. Feelings of claustrophobia ran through my mind, but I decided to go for it with Blue Hawaiian Helicopters and their Big Island Spectacular tour which is a one hour and 45 minute tour in an aircraft that is really meant for touring with large windows that go down to the floors in the front allowing for maximum viewing. This tour included a fly over Kilauea, a quick landing at the airport in Hilo for some refueling, and then a trip up the Kohala coast. I figured if I was actually going to do this, this was the tour to take as it's the most comprehensive. The price tag, however, may scare people away as it's just under $600, but don't let it stop you! Hawaii has so many climates that it's crazy to see from the air. Sometimes you feel like you're on the moon and other times you feel like you're in Ireland.
Blue Hawaiian picked us up at the resort for the 15 minute drive to the helipads in Waikoloa. Their facility was clean and the staff were welcoming. One thing to note if you're looking to do a helicopter tour on any island: you will not be able to take anything with you aside from just about a cell phone unless you have pockets. Handbags are not allowed and they will gladly store them for you in a secured locker until you return.
After a full safety briefing, all five of us passengers boarded the helicopter and I was seated directly behind our pilot, Greg. Putting on the Bose noise cancellation headphones they provided, my ears were filled with the sound of Frank Sinatra singing “Come Fly With Me.” Fear of the unknown and a boatload of Kona coffee earlier in the day had my stomach fluttering! As we took off, the James Bond theme song switched on (nice touch!) and we were off.
Rising high above the ground, the dry, arid ranchland stretched out before us. Within no time, we were approaching Kilauea. Directly over the crater, I peered down and saw molten hot electric orange magma spewing and bubbling away. There truly are no words that can describe this feeling. If I had to use a word, it would be majestic. To witness something so wild and unique absolutely took my breath away. I was completely in awe to see the Earth’s natural activity happen before my eyes. We circled around the opening for quite a bit so we could all get an incredible sight looking down. This was the one and only time that I could see someone who suffers from motion sickness having a tough time. Between the circling and the smell coming off of the lava, it could get to some people. Take a dramamine to be safe. Other than that, the ride is as smooth as can be.
Just a short distance away from the volcano, the air of the cabin filled with the smell of smoke as the rainforest below burned from the slow spreading lava while homes and towns lie within just a few hundred feet of its flow.
After a quick refueling stop and deplaning in Hilo (I was thankful for the bathroom break!), we were flying up the Kohala Coast. Imagine being inside the set of Jurassic Park – massive green cliffs and some of the highest waterfalls in the world. Halfway up the coast, the pilot told us to look down and we spotted a pod of three wales swimming in the deep blue waters. When we entered Waimanu Valley, I could not shut my jaw! As I mentioned earlier, the population on the island is not very dense, so there was not another soul in sight, making it feel like we were the first people to discover this valley. As the pilot dipped and turned, I got the sense that he was having the time of his life just free flying throughout the immense canyons.
Landing a short time later, I could not take the smile off my face. I’ve done many things during my travels, but this by far was one of the most amazing things I have ever done. My only wish is that we had seen more lava, but still, I took a chance and it paid off. In simple terms, get out there, get uncomfortable, and soak up every second.
(out of 5)
I put together this little clip from the four cameras on the helicopter. For $40, you can buy a USB of your tour which includes the narration from the pilot and the music from your headphones. A DVD is available, instead, for $25. It's worth the memories!
Portions of this article first appeared in The Showcase where Ash is a contributing writer.