Paradise Helicopters' circle-island tour provides views of Oahu landmarks such as the Arizona Memorial. // © 2016 Samantha Davis-Friedman
Feature image (above): Guests can enhance their Paradise Helicopters circle-island tour with an exclusive mountaintop landing. // © 2016 Samantha Davis-Friedman
- Paradise Helicopters’ Oahu Circle Island Experience is $419 per person.
- The exclusive landing experience is an additional $100 per person.
Many people dream of flying in a helicopter, but the chance to circle the entire island of Oahu — and land on a mountaintop — is an experience that should be on everyone’s bucket list.
Paradise Helicopters is now making that dream a reality. Its approximately 75-minute Oahu Circle Island Experience is the only full circle tour of the island by helicopter, and also the only helicopter tour that departs from Kalaeloa Airport on the island’s southwest coast.
On the day I experienced the full-circle tour, Chad Comunale was at the controls of the Bell 407 helicopter, and five out of six seats had a window. I felt perfectly safe in the hands of the retired Marine Corps lieutenant colonel, who served on Marine Helicopter Squadron One flying former President George W. Bush. But no matter who is at the controls, all Paradise pilots are highly experienced, and many are former military pilots.
Not long after takeoff, we had an amazing aerial view of historic Pearl Harbor. Particularly haunting was seeing the entire length of the submerged USS Arizona battleship beneath its memorial. Next, the helicopter passed over the iconic Honolulu landmarks of Waikiki and Diamond Head. From above, we could see inside Diamond Head’s enormous crater and spot hikers in the lookout bunkers at the summit.
As the circle tour continued around the island past scenic coastal highways where “Magnum, P.I.” and the detectives of “Hawaii Five-0” chase all those bad guys on television, we could see the sand bars of Kaneohe Bay as well as Coco Island — made famous by “Gilligan’s Island” —and Mokolii, an islet also known as Chinaman’s Hat.
The helicopter soon approached Kualoa Ranch on the windward coast of Oahu. It’s clear why so many movies and TV shows — including “Lost” and “Jurassic Park” — have been filmed here. In fact, on the day we flew over the ranch, we could see the Gyrosphere station and massive dinosaur cages from the 2015 blockbuster “Jurassic World.”
The beauty of the 4,000-acre ranch was spectacular from the air, but then Comunale casually asked if he could put the helicopter down for a bit. Within minutes, we were perched on a grassy mountaintop overlooking the spectacular valley below. Comunale explained that Paradise Helicopters is the only company that offers this exclusive landing experience. After spending a little time on the ground — and enjoying some champagne and chocolate-covered strawberries — we were back in the helicopter, flying over the breathtaking 1,000-foot Kaliuwaa waterfall, which is only accessible by air.
Completing the circle back to Kalaeloa Airport, the helicopter passed over the world-famous surfing beaches of the North Shore: Sunset, Pipeline and Waimea Bay. Comunale said the surf here is relatively quiet in the summer, but during winter months, waves can reach up to 20 feet high — something that must be impressive to see from the air.
Because of the proximity of the airport to Ko Olina, this tour is a great activity for guests staying at any of its resorts, including Four Seasons Resort Oahu at Ko Olina; Aulani, a Disney Resort & Spa; and Marriott’s Ko Olina Beach Club. It will also be convenient for guests who stay at Hampton Inn & Suites Oahu/Kapolei, opening this fall in nearby Kapolei.