The Valleys and Volcanoes of Hawaii’s Big Island by Helicopter
When I visited Hawaii’s Big Island last month, I was lucky enough to go on a helicopter ride. First, let me admit: I get motion sick on Amtrak’s Acela, claustrophobic in line for the bathroom at a rest stop along Interstate 95, and queasy when I lean too close to the edge at the top of the lighthouse in Cape May, New Jersey. At first blush, spinning and hovering over the Big Island’s rugged and diverse terrain for two-plus hours didn’t seem like the best idea for me but I’ve come away from the experience a) in one piece, b) proud I didn’t throw up, and c) to see it as truly the best way to get to know an island that contains 11 of the world’s 13 ecosystems (it just lacks the Arctic and Saharan).
One of several helicopter tour operators on the island, Paradise Helicopters (which also offers trips over Oahu), promises a full-island experience in about two hours. The six-passenger craft takes you within 500 feet of Kilauea’s crimson lava, to both black- and white-sand beaches, and past the 2,000-foot waterfalls along the Hamakua Coast. You can even opt to fly with the doors off the helicopter to literally feel the tumbling waterfalls’ spray and sniff the sulfur and sense the heat of the erupting volcano. And, for those jocks out there, on race day of the Ironman World Championship (October 9th this year), you can follow the participants from above as they swim 2.4 miles, bike 112 miles, and run a full marathon on the island’s leeward side.
After the jump, check out two videos I shot while aboard (Tip: Turn down your computer’s volume, as the sound is just that of the engine). While on an actual tour, though, the pilot offers insightful commentary about the island’s geology, history, and ecology that you hear through a two-way headset. Our pilot, highly skilled and extremely knowledgeable, identified the dates of the myriad lava flows and eased two of us through short altitude-induced headaches with his calm demeanor and some ginger chews.
Photo: A flower stall at the monthly flea market and street fair in Kailua Village, Kona.
Videos and photo by Meg Weaver.
- Nat Geo Expeditions