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© 2010 Sunshine Helicopters Inc.
Kilauea on Hawaii’s Big Island is one of the world’s most active volcanoes, having erupted almost continuously for a quarter of a century. Since January, the flow of lava has changed dramatically, gushing and oozing on a continuously changing path. Currently off-limits to the public by foot, Kilauea’s molten scenery is putting Big Island helicopter tour companies in high demand. The result: a wide range of competitive prices, flight amenities and itineraries to suit every client’s desires.
Here is just a sampling of the array of helicopter tour companies that clients can choose from when planning their Big Island volcano excursion.
Blue Hawaiian Helicopters
Blue Hawaiian is Hawaii’s largest helicopter tour company, serving all four major Hawaiian Islands. On the Big Island, Blue Hawaiian features four tours that range from 50 to 120 minutes in duration.
One of Blue Hawaiian’s most popular tours, the Big Island Spectacular, departs from Waikoloa for a two-hour tour above the island’s volcanic badlands, the lush rainforests of the Hamakua Coast and the valleys of the Kohala Mountains.
Blue Hawaiian passengers fly on ultra-quiet, smooth and fuel-efficient helicopters, equipped with 60 square feet of panoramic glass, roomy seats and Bose aviation-grade noise-canceling headsets.
“We’re very sensitive to the effect that helicopter noise has on Hawaii’s citizens, visitors, hikers and, of course, the islands’ delicate ecologies,” said Blue Hawaiian chief executive officer David Chevalier. “Knowing that the Eco-Star produces 50 percent less noise impact on the ground makes our pilots and guests feel especially good.”
Safari Helicopters, regarded as Hawaii’s first helicopter company, offers flights from Hilo on the Big Island and also out of Kauai. The tour operator boasts a fleet of six-passenger A-Star helicopters, offering a blend of comfort and technology.
“We are proud to state that our company, both on the Big Island and Kauai, holds the best safety record of any existing company statewide as it concerns air tours,” said Safari president Preston Myers. “We are dedicated to customer comfort and satisfaction and proud of our impeccable safety record.”
All flights operate with doors closed for safety and feature forward-facing seats and panoramic viewing windows.
Clients flying with Safari can choose from two tours. The Volcano Safari Tour flies directly to the most active and remote volcanic areas of Kilauea crater. Clouds permitting, the 40- to 45-minute flight allows for breathtaking views of Mauna Loa and Mauna Kea. With Safari’s Deluxe Volcano Coastline and Safari Tour, clients can spend an additional 10 to 15 minutes in flight touring the cascading waterfalls of the upper Wailuku River and Hilo coastline.
Aboard its sleek “Black Beauty” helicopters, family-owned Sunshine Helicopters provides 40- to 110-minute tours of Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, roaring waterfalls and coastal scenery.
“We want to share the incredible experience of flying over the most awesome terrain and features in the world,” said Sunshine Helicopters owner Ross Scott.
What makes Sunshine unique are its options for its combination tours, 50-minute flights followed by either a snorkeling excursion or submarine adventure. Combination tours offer savings of as much as $50 per person. Clients can also save with Sunshine’s Early Bird flights.
“Sunshine also offers group and special events services that can accommodate clients’ needs for custom charters,” said Steven Hodges, media director at Sunshine. “Our unique adventure packages feature remote landings, interisland transfers and opportunities for filming and photo shoots.”
Most tours offer pilot-narrated videos and/or aerial photos of the flights on disc for purchase.
Operating out of Hilo and Kona is Tropical Helicopters, specializing in personalized and budget-conscious tours of Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.
Clients have the option of flying on a high-performance helicopter with sports car-like handling or a more personalized four-passenger helicopter with the option of flying with the doors off.
Tropical offers three tours out of Hilo that range in duration from 35 to 45 minutes: a basic tour of Kilauea; a tour of Kilauea and the 80-foot Rainbow Falls in the Wailuku River; and a Feel the Heat with Waterfalls tour, an exhilarating open-cabin flight.
Volcano voyeurs looking for an extensive look at Kilauea should consider Tropical’s Hawaii Experience tour, a two-hour flight that departs from the Kailua-Kona International Airport. On the way to Kilauea, passengers see recent lava flows, rainforests, macadamia nut orchards and spectacular views of Mauna Loa and Mauna Kea. After a bird’s-eye view of Kilauea, the flight hovers over waterfalls along the Hamakua coastline and continues through the canyon walls of the Waipio and Waimanu valleys. Passengers head back to Kailua-Kona along the Kohala Coast, where, from December through April, humpback whales are often spotted migrating from Alaska.