Tip: A refuge filled with permanent and migrating seabirds on Kauai.

 Currently: Big Island Things to Do Helicopter Tours

Helicopter Tours on the Big Island

It would be a mistake to rely on words to describe a flightseeing tour of the Big Island. Call it a mythical ride on a magic carpet floating just above a mystical kingdom that burst from the sea thousands of years ago. Call it a scene from a thriller with

a chopper racing over a live volcano and lava oozing down the mountain slopes. Call it one of those fabulous things that can't be analyzed, digitized or translated into words much more complicated than "Wow!"

Air tours have become one of the island's signature attractions partly because so much of the Big Island's rugged interior is inaccessible to vehicular traffic. By far the most popular destination is the volcano where Kilauea has been erupting since 1983. Madame Pele is a fickle volcano goddess, and one never knows when she will spit, sputter, or shout, so there's no guarantee you'll see a lava fountain on your air tour, but you will get a tremendous bird's eye view of barren lava fields, smoldering vents and rivers of red hot lava pouring into the ocean.

The aerial view of the Hamakua Coast from Hilo to Waipi'o Valley is truly magical. You'll fly above historic Hilo town. In the background, two huge volcanoes dominate the landscape. Expect to see roaring waterfalls and tiny villages in the flight above the Hamakua Coast. And when you reach Waipi'o Valley, expect to see Eden, if not paradise.

Whether you buy a ticket on a helicopter or a fixed-wing airplane, the view from above will give you giant waterfalls, green sand beaches, oozing volcanoes and massive mountains.

Helicopters come equipped with noise-canceling headphones that wipe out the roar of the rotors. Music, like the soundtrack from a movie, sets the mood. And the narrator, who is your pilot, guides you skillfully over the landscape. Tours vary in destination, length and cost with airtime fluctuating from 30 to 90 minutes. The seating configuration in most tour helicopters is similar with two passengers seated up front with the pilot and four more in the seats behind. Because tour helicopters resemble airborne glass bubbles, the view is generally excellent no matter where you sit.

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