There are certain activities that are associated with particular
destinations. When a client visits New York City, they really
should take in a play. In Hong Kong, the view from the top of
Victoria Peak is unforgettable. What is Paris without the Eiffel
Tower? (Or is it the Louvre?)
Kauai has its own signature activity or it should. A helicopter
ride on Kauai is one of those activities clients will remember
forever. At the very least, it is hard to imagine any client coming
away disappointed (as long as they aren’t prone to motion
sickness), making this commissionable activity a no-brainer add-on
for the agent.
Going With the Original
With the enormous variety of terrain, and breathtaking natural
beauty on the island, the best overview of Kauai really is by air.
Even veteran travelers to Kauai can appreciate it.
“We’ve been to Kauai a bunch of times and have never done a
helicopter tour,” said Bill, a tourist from Orange County, Calif.,
who was on our flight with his teenage daughter. “Every time we
come people tell us we don’t know what we’re missing, so we finally
booked a tour.”
Our flight was with one of the oldest operations on the island,
Jack Harter Helicopters. In fact, the company claims that Harter
brought the first helicopter to the island in 1962. Although Jack
Harter has retired from the business, Casey Riemer, the company’s
general manager said the staff carries on in Harter’s
“Jack’s philosophy states that safety comes first. Also that
business decisions are made based upon providing customers with a
quality experience that they will want to tell their friends
about,” Riemer said. “Keep the operation as simple as possible.
Provide value for the dollars the customers spend.”
It was with this in mind that my 4-year-old son Henry and I took to
the air with Harter last June.
Because of Henry’s age we booked one of the company’s AStar
choppers, rather than the Hughes 500 model that comes without doors
(children must be over 10 for that). While some hardcore
photographers might find doors a slight disadvantage, the majority
of clients will find doors make for a more comfortable flight.
Henry and I signed in at the company’s office in Lihue and received
a safety briefing before getting into a van for the short drive to
Once there, the six of us on the tour donned safety vests (Henry’s
practically went down to his shoes) and climbed onboard our
chopper. The next thing we knew, we were airborne.
“Whoa,” Henry said with a big grin as we lifted off the tarmac.
A View to Remember
From the air, Kauai’s natural beauty is staggering. Mere seconds
after liftoff we found ourselves over green sugarcane fields cut by
dusty red trails without a person or car in sight. Moments later we
were dipping in and out of Waimea Canyon dubbed the Grand Canyon of
the Pacific with its narrow red-rock cliffs hundreds of feet
Then it was back to the coast where a long empty beach stretched
“That beach is my personal favorite,” our pilot told us, as we
stared open-mouthed at this hidden gem, without a swimmer to be
seen. “But don’t even think I’m telling you how to get there,” he
Riemer feels another advantage the company has over its competition
is its knowledgeable and entertaining pilots.
“Each pilot has their own style and presentation during their
flights, which means no two flights are exactly alike,” he said.
“The personality of each of our pilots is something our customers
often comment on after their flights.”
Riemer said one of the secrets of their success is that they work
hard to keep their pilots fresh.
“Our pilots fly up to six tours per day, which is well below the
limits set by the FAA,” he said.
On our tour, the pilot was indeed very adept at straddling the fine
line between providing us with enough facts and light-hearted
banter to keep the flight interesting, and knowing when to keep
quiet and let the island’s beauty speak for itself.
And there is plenty of beauty to be found. One of the highlights of
the tour is the incredible Na Pali Coast. There are a handful of
popular ways to visit this remote coast by catamaran or by kayak,
for instance however, a helicopter has the advantage of being able
to get up close to the strange folds of the canyon walls until you
feel like you can reach out and touch them. Then the next minute
you are back over the water, hovering over a hidden cove with the
bluest water imaginable.
While this part of the tour was spectacular, it was also the only
time that I felt slightly airsick. As the helicopter hovered and
rotated to give passengers on both sides the same view, I felt a
bit queasy. It didn’t last long, however.
Next up was an aerial view of the island’s North Shore and the
famed Hanalei Valley, and then a visit to Mount Waialeale.
In Hawaiian, waialeale means rippling water, and early Hawaiians
felt the mountain, which is one of the rainiest places in the
world, was a sacred spot. When you are up near its peak, it is easy
to see why.
As the helicopter ascended Waialeale, wind and water whipped the
chopper’s windows, and from out of the mist at the top of the
mountain, multiple waterfalls rushed down the canyon walls for
hundreds of feet on all sides of us. It was truly an unforgettable
Finally the pilot flew past Wailua Falls back to the airstrip where
the tour began 60 minutes (and not a minute less) earlier.
“They were right,” I overheard Bill’s daughter tell her father on
the van ride back to the office. “That was amazing.”
And what about Henry, you might ask. After preparing him for weeks
so that he wouldn’t be scared of the flight, how did he take
He fell asleep somewhere over the Na Pali Coast.
“Well, I guess that’s a compliment,” our pilot said laughing.
Jack Harter Helicopters
4231 Ahukini Road
Lihue, HI 96766
Jack Harter offers two tours on Kauai.
60-65 Minute Tour: The company bills this as “the
longest one-hour tour of Kauai,” pointing out that most companies
are actually in the air for 55 minutes, not a full hour. This
is the company’s most popular tour. ($209 per person,
90-95 Minute Tour: The brochure calls this trip a
“photographers dream,” as the pilot flies lower and takes longer at
each sight. ($289 per person, plus tax)
Both tours include (depending on weather conditions): The Hanapepe
Valley (Manawaiopuna Falls), Olokele Canyon, Waimea Canyon, Na Pali
Coast, North Shore and Hanalei Valley, Mount Waialeale and Wailua
Jack Harter uses two types of helicopter.
The Eurocopter AStar seats six, has air conditioning, large
windows, a two-way stereo intercom system and noise-canceling
The Hughes 500 seats four, has no doors, has a two-way intercom
system and headsets with individual microphones. (Note: clients
that opt for the Hughes should be told not to bring any loose
items; to dress warmly; and to leave their eyeglasses behind.
Children under 10 are not allowed on the Hughes 500.)
For all helicopters there is a weight limit of 250 pounds per
person (check with company for other limitations).
Passengers should check in 45 minutes before flight. Cancellation
is permitted up to 24 hours before flight time.
Jack Harter offers travel agent commissions. Check with company for
Agents can arrange tours directly or through most