EPIC DOORS OFF HELICOPTER TOUR OF KAUAI, HAWAII
It had been my dream for over 4 years to visit Kauai. I lived on Oahu for two years and never had the chance to hop over to Kauai. This time I was not only heading over from Oahu but I was so stoked to have booked a doors off helicopter tour of Kauai with Mauna Loa Helicopter Tours.
I’d seen so many photos of the Na Pali coastline and it had captured my imagination. It had enthralled me to the point that I had based an entire month of my life around Kauai and this flight was intended to be the highlight of that month. It didn’t disappoint in the slightest.
I organized the photography-specific open door helicopter tour of Kauai with Mauna Loa Helicopter Tours. They are one of the few tour operators on the island who allow doors off and run specialty photography flights. This means your pilot will happily double back or fly to the exact position you need for your composition. On a general flight you will cruise past locations once and if you don’t get the shot it’s tough luck and the tour moves on.
I was a little nervous as we stepped up into the helicopter at Lihue Airport on the island of Kauai. I hate building things up too much in my head. It’s so easy for it to be a letdown. I was hoping this flight was going to live up to my dreams throughout the last four years.
The flight began quite slowly. We were looking out over nice scenery but nothing amazing, mostly farmland. There were lots of fields and a surprising amount of forested mountains. The sheer volume of trees on Kauai is really only observable from the air.
We were just warming up! Our first real action was in Waimea Canyon, known as the Grand Canyon of the Pacific. It was here that our pilot gave us our first opportunity to throw our legs out the side of the doors off helicopter as we looked down over massive waterfalls. The red rocks of the canyon contrasted magnificently against the immense flow from the falls as it cascaded into the pools below.
The doors off helicopter tour on Kauai warms you up. The doors off helicopter tour on Oahu shoots you straight out into Waikiki followed by Diamond Head crater and from there the trip just rolls on. Whereas on Kauai, you begin across farmland, then cruise through Waimea Canyon, all the time knowing you are heading towards one of the most epic sections of coastline in the world.
Our pilot shot us out at Awaawapuhi valley, which sits below the ridge trail I had hiked earlier on my trip. Our chopper felt like a toy compared to the immense, towering ridges. We were surrounded on all sides and it seemed the only way out was up. These narrow ridges seem to swallow the helicopter whole and then all of a sudden the pilot finds the gap out.
The gap he found out gave us our first look at the Na Pali coast. What a damn sight. My dreams were immediately right there before me. The scene I had imagined a million times, right there before me. Sharply cut ridges beaming golden under the sun while the Pacific Ocean stung me with its trademark, deep vibrant blue.
Our pilot spent almost 20 minutes making passes up and down the coast making sure both sides of our doors off helicopter had good looks of the coast. He even set us up for some classic ‘feet shots’ over ‘Cathedrals’. I was happy just to take it all in but I had one shot in mind. It’s the type of shot you click and then check your camera to make sure its real life. The lighting wasn’t perfect but for me, this shot is a perfect moment in my life.
After the Napali Coast, we cruised back past Ke’e Beach and got lost in the land of a million waterfalls. Honestly, when I described the flight to people the next day, I told them we saw 200 waterfalls and that was probably an under-exaggeration.
When our doors off helicopter tour of Kauai, Hawaii steered back into Lihue Airport, I was lost for words. I felt overwhelmed. There was far too much epicness in an hour for one mind to handle. I don’t think there are many better places to do a doors off helicopter tour. It’s just so diverse. Hundreds of waterfalls, one of if not the best coastline in the world, canyons, and ridges that seemingly engulf you… all within an hour.
Kauai open door helicopter Tour Prices
Mauna Loa offer tours for $307 per person. Doors off helicopter tours aren’t offered by all companies and make the trip so much better. Mauna Loa also do their best to make sure if you are a photographer you get the shots you have in mind. They create specialty tours not just set routes so that they can give you the experience you have dreamt of!
Best time for open door helicopter tours of Kauai
The best time of year for the tour is in the summer. You are more likely to avoid the storms, which can often delay or cancel the flights. In the winter the weather wreaks havoc on Kauai and storms pass through very quickly. I did my flight in winter so it is definitely possible to have a great sunny flight.
The best time of day for a doors off helicopter tour of Kauai is either sunset, sunrise or the early afternoon. The lighting on the Na Pali coast is really tricky. The light can be very harsh and there are so many shadows and ridges to think about. I found that obviously the soft lighting of sunrise and sunset are great but 1 pm was beautiful! I did my tour just before sunset and am pretty stoked with the lighting we had as we cruised along the Na Pali coastline! If you are deciding to whether to do your doors off helicopter tour of Kauai in the morning or afternoon you will be solid either way for lighting just check the weather!
I hope you get the opportunity to get yourself inside a chopper, preferably with the doors off for that full experience of Kauai.