Compared to other visitor activities, a helicopter tour carries one
of the highest ticket prices on Kauai, but that doesn’t deter
tourists from signing up.
“Visitors consider a helicopter ride a must-do on Kauai,” said
Grace Myers, Safari Helicopters spokeswoman. “Our guests often
comment that Kauai is the most beautiful and spiritual place they
have ever seen.”
Kauai currently lists 10 helicopter companies whose combined
offerings total dozens of tours per day, with rates from $109 to
$269 per person.
John Power of Heli USA Airways described the allure of a
helicopter tour, saying: “Many of Kauai’s most beautiful sites and
scenery are not accessible by foot or car,” he said. “Helicopters
have the flexibility to take you to spectacular waterfalls, hidden
beaches, extinct volcanoes and lush tropical forests. Helicopters
show guests various eco-climates and the diversity of Kauai.”
Operating out of Princeville Airport on Kauai’s North Shore,
Heli USA flies three A-star jet helicopters over the island. After
check-in, guests watch a surround-sound presentation about the
making of the Hawaiian islands.
“The presentation really puts guests in the frame of mind to
experience the island from a historical, cultural and sightseeing
point of view,” said Power.
Safari Helicopters has been in business since 1987, when a
retired Naval commander named Preston Myers began the business.
Myers continues to run the company, which operates out of Lihue
“Our company is small for a reason,” said Myers. “We want to
make our guests feel special and not rushed. For many, this is the
experience of a lifetime.”
Safari was the first company on Kauai to feature an
air-conditioned craft with high-visibility windows, said Myers, and
it is the only helicopter tour on the island with a multiple camera
system to record videos of the passenger’s actual experience.
One of the names synonymous with Kauai helicopters is Jack
Harter, who came to Kauai in 1962 and started the first helicopter
tour business on the island in 1975.
“Jack wanted to provide very personalized tours,” said Casey
Riemer, Harter general manager, “so we’re still a relatively small
company, owned entirely by Jack and his wife, Bev. I am their
son-in-law, so we really are a family business.”
During a Jack Harter tour, pilots provide narration about
Kauai’s natural history, geology, geography and ecosystems.
Passengers wear noise-canceling headsets that are connected to a
two-way intercom system.
“Our pilots converse with their passengers during the flight,
and they discuss the significant features of the island as they
explore the inaccessible interior and remote coastlines of Kauai,”
said Riemer. “We make the helicopter like a smooth magic carpet
ride, and we make the island, not the helicopter, the focus of the
With a staff of 25 people, Ohana Helicopters holds a large share
of the island’s chopper-tour business. Bogart Kealoha has owned and
operated the company since 1986. Raised on Kauai, the Hawaii native
got his helicopter training during his work with the Honolulu Fire
Department and Hawaii National Guard.
“I was 28 years old when I first flew around Kauai, and I was
shocked,” said Kealoha. “It’s really sad that people born and
raised over here have no idea what the island looks like.”
Despite a busy schedule, Kealoha still manages to pilot some
tours, and he handpicks and trains all of his pilots.
Most Kauai helicopter tours fly over the dramatic valleys and
sea cliffs of Kauai’s North Shore, called the Na Pali Coast. Other
popular sights include Waimea Canyon, nicknamed the Grand Canyon of
the Pacific. The highlight for many flights is Waialeale Crater,
frequently referred to as the wettest spot on Earth, where dozens
of waterfalls cascade amid lush, tropical greenery.
“From a helicopter, visitors can see the sculpted canyons,
valleys and shorelines that Mother Nature has carved with years of
wind, rain and pounding surf,” said Riemer. “We hope that our
clients come back from our tours with the feeling that they just
took the most incredible trip of their lives.”