Big Island, Hawaii- Helicopter Tour Of Mt. Kilauea

Hawaii, Hilo Airport

One of the most beautiful memories of my life was the trip to Big Island, Hawaii in April 2015.  The beauty of the mountains and valleys are always a eye candy for nature lovers. But the fierce, erupting, smoke clad face of mother nature in the form of ”volcano” is infinitely more impressive if witnessed from a safe distance.

The Big Island is the youngest and the largest amongst the Hawaiian Islands and owing to Mt. Kilauea’s constant eruption over the last 20 years, it is still expanding! The Big Island is made up of five connected volcanoes, two of which are extinct, one is dormant and the other two are very active – Mauna Loa and Kilauea. Mount Kilauea is the most active volcano out of the rest.
Most resorts in Big Island are near Kona International Airport with the most exclusive resorts built at Waikoloa and Kohala. Hilo has a few hotels, but is the more “local” side of the island. Kona and Hilo both have international airports. Drive time from Kona to Hilo takes about 3 hours.

We flew from Seattle to reach Hawaii  and landed in Kona international airport. It was our 4th day in Hawaii and we were already mesmerized by its natural beauty.  In the past three days we have witnessed Black Sandy Beaches, Cascading Waterfalls, Dense Tropical rain forests, miles of Macadamia nuts trees, Volcano Observatory/Museum, walked through Lava Tubes and what not! It was like living in the Jurassic park! However, some of the most amazing places on the Big Island are very difficult to reach over land. Using a helicopter makes it possible to see many of these wonders in a very short span of time. Helicopter tours depart from Kona, Hilo, and Waikoloa and can last between 1 hour and 1 day.

A helicopter tour is a very expensive affair. But making a trip to Hawaii is again not a regular thing. The flight expenses and stay are enormous, especially for an Indian traveller. However it really does not make much sense to come to this heaven on earth and miss the Volcano Helicopter tour experience. After doing some research on the tour packages over the internet, we stuck to book ”Blue Hawaiian Helicopters” for ”Circle of Fire and waterfalls” package. The trip costed us $480 for me and my husband together.  Its actual price per person was $250 and $300 respectively for the two variants of choppers- A-Star and Ecostar, the latter one being the more sophisticated model. We got a very good discount and managed to book the Ecostar Helicopters at a steal deal! The helicopter  tour operated by Blue Hawaiian Helicopters is hosted from Hilo airport. For more information about this tour, you may check the below link:

 We were holidaying in Hilton Waikoloa, located 70 miles away from Hilo International Airport. We started at 9:00 am from our hotel and had rented a car from the hotel for this trip. A one and a half hour drive is what it took to reach Hilo from Waikoloa. The road was good with spectacular views of either tropical greenery or lava clad barren soil.

On the way to Hilo


 The Hilo airport is comparatively bigger than Kona and had a separate section for Blue Hawaiian helicopters service. Even for this trip we had to undergo all airport security checks.
Not knowing what to expect when flying in a helicopter over a volcano, I was super excited to go on this excursion. The ground personnel were friendly and  provided a complete safety briefing beforehand. There is very limited space in the chopper so they advise to bring just cameras (no cases) and sunglasses. All personal belongings were stored in safety lockers in the airport. Seating is assigned on the helicopters based upon body weights and the best balance of  the aircraft.


At Blue Hawaiian Helicopters Lobby


The Ecostar


Loading went quickly. I was lucky to sit in the front seat beside the Pilot. The seats were comfortable and even the centre back seats had a pretty good view. They provide very high end BOSE noise cancelling headsets to each passenger and microphone is provisioned to talk with the pilot. Our pilot was a Phillipino, named Ethan who was outstanding both as a pilot and as a guide. Ethan shared with us stories of Hawaii and fascinating facts about the volcanic landscape. Ethan’s in-depth humour enriched commentary calmed my nerves and I started enjoying the spectacular views.
I had to pinch myself ”This was actually happening”.

Inside the Chopper


View Just as we landed


Approaching the Volcano

The scene below transitioned from sea water, plantations, forests and then to barren black soil. About 20 minutes after the take-off we arrived over the volcano, covered with thick white smoke clouds. 

Near the Crator


View of the crator


Silver Gray Lava

No aircraft is permitted to fly over the crater of the active volcano (and hasn’t been since 1987 when a chopper fell into it). The flight takes you over the active lava flow which is coming from a ‘vent’, with safe distance from the crater. The lava cools as soon as it reaches the air, and then it turns silver. So what is seen majorly is large areas of silver/grey lava. Occasionally there are ‘breaks’ in the surface and the bright orange lava can be seen beneath. We saw two very small areas of this resembling small orange snakes. 

Two Snake like orange lava streaks

The pilot said that from the flight in the morning, there were more red areas visible compared to our flight (12:30 pm). The photos of red bubbling lava are obviously taken at rare times in the history of the volcanic activity.
After circling over Mt Kilauea from both sides of the chopper, we headed to the ocean where we saw where the new land had been created by the magma. Then we headed over to the northeast side of the island and saw a few waterfalls. They don’t bring you all the way down in front of the waterfalls, but you get a decent view. I think they have another trip just for the waterfalls.


Then we descended back to the airport for landing. They also video record the whole trip, along with all conversation that happened in the chopper. You can buy the recording for $40 and we did end up buying it. The recording came in a pen drive with the logo of Blue Hawaiian helicopters engraved on it:)


View of Hilo Airport from a distance


Us, post the tour!

Since the morning the only line that was circling in my mind was ”Journey to the centre of the earth” If  Jules Verne were alive and would have taken this tour, he would write many more masterpieces!

The whole experience cannot be explained in words- a feeling something like meditation. The purpose of life is a little more understood after taking this trip- there is a lot to see and experience in this world and this is just the beginning!

TIPS for Helicopter Tour at Hawaii:

  • There is always scope of negotiation while booking this trip. So, do not book your tickets on a hurry.
  • Carry some food in your car as there are no good restaurants near by the airport and you might feel hungry after a long ride.
  • Buying the recorded trip is worth paying $40 as the capture is beautifully filmed.

11 thoughts on “Big Island, Hawaii- Helicopter Tour Of Mt. Kilauea”

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