The best way to see the big island -helicopter!
Many of the pictures you see of Hawaii in advertisements and on tv programs show towering waterfalls, tropical rainforests, whales frolicking in the sea and smoking volcanoes. For sure, all these images represent the magical and dramatic beauty of the islands. As a tourist, though, it’s not always easy to get a glimpse of all this awesomeness. On the Big Island, you might have to drive and/or hike a long way for a chance to see a waterfall or a volcano.
Not to worry – you can see it ALL when you take a helicopter tour!
My husband and I really wanted to experience the “wow” factor that comes from seeing the island of Hawaii from the air. So, we booked a helicopter tour with Blue Hawaiian, whose base is located just north of the airport. We were told that visibility is generally better in the morning, before the build-up of clouds that occurs every afternoon.
We were asked to arrive 45 minutes prior to our scheduled tour since passengers must receive some safety instructions before take-off. There are tour options that range from a 50 minute to a 2 ¼ hour tour, the latter of which makes a landing by a remote waterfall! We took the hour and forty-five-minute tour because we wanted to see the active volcano, Kilauea!
The helicopter we were on could seat six passengers plus the pilot; we were lucky and besides the pilot and us, there was only one other couple. The staff assists you in boarding, getting on the seat belts and headphones, then the doors are shut and you’re off!
The take-off is pretty cool: the helicopter hovers and turns in place, then moves forward, following a straight runway below, all the while slowly ascending. I was impressed at how smooth the ride was, and even more amazed at how relaxed I felt!
Grasslands on the Interior of the Big Island
Our tour began by going east, crossing the island. The dormant volcano Mauna Kea loomed large as our pilot navigated over its lower slopes.Below us appeared to be acres and acres of green pastures and grazing cattle.Apparently, a huge part of the island’s interior is ranch or farmland. There are a lot of trees, too, in large forest reserves.Heading south the forests got thicker and it started to drizzle. Looking down I saw my first waterfall, then there was another and another… Sometimes they were at the base of what looked to be a river and other times you couldn’t make out the origin of all the flowing water! Our pilot explained that it rains an average of 126 inches per year on the Hilo side of the island!
Proceeding south, the view starts to change from lush rain forests to a darker topography and thinning trees. Then you see it – plumes of smoke and ground that resembles spilled molasses, frozen in time. Under the surface is flowing molten lava in some places. Since 2012 the island has grown by about 500 acres due to Kilauea’s eruptions and lava flows.
Our pilot circled the crater from which white steam/smoke was rising. It was an awesome sight! Mother nature in action! Flying over the field of lava we saw rivers of red, moving undetectably as they glow. For some reason, our pilot said it wasn’t possible to fly out to coast where lava meets ocean in a dramatic clash. It’s a barren landscape from the air; like a charcoal version of the moon. As we swung around on our last pass over the crater, I couldn’t believe my eyes! There were two people, presumably scientists, standing on a ledge, smoke billowing up around them!
As we headed north, it was fascinating to see where the lava was inching its way into the trees, smoldering roots, trunks and branches on a path of destruction.
Hilo and the Coastline
The landscape gradually changed back to green and the drizzle started up as we approached the town of Hilo. It was refreshing to see water after so much scorched Earth!
After our brief aerial view of Hilo we headed out over the coastline going north. We watched as the cliffs grew taller and marveled at the green, green grass that came right over the cliff edges. Somewhere down there, I thought, is my favorite botanical garden (there will be a different blog post on that!). The waterfalls started to appear again, but this time they spilled over the cliffs into the ocean. Spectacular sight!
Waterfall Awesomeness on the Hamakua Coast
The cliffs continued to grow taller until the scenery started to resemble the northwest shore of Kauai that we’d seen once from a cruise ship (Napali Coast). On the Big Island, this area in the northeast is known as the Hamakua Coast. Although the views are truly spectacular all along this coastline, it’s particularly breathtaking once you reach the Waipio Valley. The cliffs are 2,000 feet tall, the valley between is a mile wide and five miles deep! This area was once the home of King Kamehameha I who ruled Hawaii in the late 18th Century. As our pilot flew deep into the valley he silently switched on the musical track from the movie “Jurassic Park” to set the mood. The scenery became more impressive as the music intensified, with towering cliffs on either side and in front of us. Then we saw them: waterfalls! Cascading some 1,300 feet, this was exactly the kind of awesomeness I had anticipated. Some of the falls were intercepted by outcroppings in the cliffs, which created pools of water that, in turn, flowed over the edges, continuing the downward shower of massive amounts of water. For those of you who are old enough to remember, this was my “Fantasy Island” moment! All I can say is that it was make-you-cry-gorgeous!
I guess they left the best for last. After all, what could possibly top that?
About Kona Beach Condo
Kona Beach Condo is across the street from Kahalu’u Beach Park where visitors can swim with colorful reef fish and admire green sea turtles. The condo has 2 bedrooms and 2 bathrooms and can sleep a total of 6 people. We provide free WiFi, cable and internet access for those who can’t do without. There’s a big screen tv in the great room and smaller tv’s in the bedrooms. The kitchen has granite countertops and all the modern appliances. Air conditioning is available, but most everyone prefers the warm ocean breezes that drift through open doors and windows. Look around – you’ll like what you see!