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. I don’t think I’ve ever been that excited as I was before getting into that helicopter.
BOOKING A DOORS OFF HELICOPTER TOUR ON KAUAI
There are a few things to consider when you book a helicopter tour on Kauai.
- Doors on or off: Doors-off means you have a clearer view and less glass in the way for your camera but no other huge advantages. The disadvantage is that the wind can be freezing even on a warm day, the wind can be very strong and you are exposed to the elements such as light rain etc.
- Which company?: There are multiple companies on Kauai that offer tours but only Mauna Loa Helicopters and Jack Harter offer the doors-off option on Kauai as of 2019.
- Duration: You can do a 25-minute tour or an hour tour. It goes very fast so unless you are on a crazy budget probably take the hour tour. By the time you take off and land you need the 60 minutes to see the whole island. The shorter tour often doesn’t get all the way up to the Na Pali coast, which is the highlight of the tour in my opinion.
- A plane!?: One final option to throw in the mix is a tour by a light plane. They are actually pretty popular because they are half the price of the helicopter tour and you get to see the Na Pali coastline and more from the air. It’s something to consider.
Doors off: I would suggest booking your doors off tour with Mauna Loa Helicopters or Jack Harter Helicopters. I personally went with Mauna Loa but both have good reviews for the doors off tour.
Doors on: The most popular helicopter tour on Kauai is the 60-minute Waimea Canyon to Napali Coast helicopter tour. With this helicopter tour you will see the beautiful Na Pali coastline and also the waterfalls within Waimea Canyon. It is the best of both worlds.
Book your tour: Waimea Canyon to Napali Coast helicopter tour
Sightseeing Plane: Na Pali Coast and Waimea Canyon Scenic Flight via plane is under $200, which is more than half the cost of the same trip via helicopter. If you aren’t keen to take photos with a big camera and just want to see the sights for yourself, this flight may just before you as it is very similar to the helicopter flight.
Book your tour: Na Pali Coast and Waimea Canyon Scenic Flight via plane
My Kauai doorless helicopter experience
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 so that I could capture the photos of the Kauai Coastline I had been dreaming about. On a photography specific flight, 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 came out of 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
Doors off helicopter tours aren’t offered by all companies and make the trip so much better. The prices range from $250-$400 per person.
Best time for a doors-off helicopter tour on 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.
Where to stay on Kauai
I’m going to recommend five places to stay on Kauai. All five of these spots are in great locations but each one is a little different. Two are is a luxury pick, one is a family choice, the other is a value selection and the last recommendation I have for you is where I recommend for the budget backpackers.
Kauai Shores Hotel – Luxury (but value also): Okay so Kauai is expensive that is just a fact. So luxury on Kauai is REALLY expensive. We are talking $700+ a night at many hotels. Kauai Shores Hotel has the luxury feel with the resort style property, palm trees, and a beautiful pool area. However, it is less than $300 a night. The best part about this hotel is that it is right on the beach. The restaurant literally looks out to the waves, which is an awesome spot to start your day with breakfast. This is a great choice if you do want a high-end hotel for your stay in Kauai but you still want to keep things reasonable and not blow thousands and thousands on your getaway. Remember you will want to do lots of activities and get a rental car as well maybe so saving a couple of hundred a night by staying at the Kauai Shores Hotel compared to the Marriot will give you the resort vibe but not be extravagant on your budget.
Koloa Landing Resort – Luxury (high-end): I was lucky enough to spend three nights reviewing Koloa Landing Resort and honestly the place is just phenomenal. It is part of the Wyndham Autograph collection and has the LARGEST pool on all of Kauai with beautiful, natural-style landscaping throughout the pool areas. Palm trees surround the pool and restaurant areas on what is one of the most luxurious properties on the island. The rooms had all of the trimmings and it was definitely an amazing experience to spend a few nights at Koloa Landing Resort.
The Grand Hyatt Resort – Best Family Resort: With the best kids’ club on the island, wildlife talks in the lobby, and a five-acre pool complex that includes an enormous lazy-river pool, a waterslide, and a saltwater lagoon big enough for kayaking, the Grand Hyatt is unbeatable for keeping kids busy and parents happy. Plus, five of the resort’s 11 restaurants have children’s menus at The Grand Hyatt Resort.
Hilton Garden Inn – Value Pick: The Hilton Garden Inn is your number one choice if you are on a budget but still need comfort. Don’t get me wrong, it isn’t cheap it is still over $200 USD but this is Kauai. $200 USD is a bargain. The Hilton has a beautiful pool, has private beach access and hot tubs so you are still getting awesome value and the resort experience. The Hilton Garden Inn is where you go when you want to enjoy the hot tub, pool and beach access but don’t necessarily care about all of the trimmings at the resorts that are 4 figures or more per night. If I was on a honeymoon or with a family, this is where I would stay and spend the saved money and helicopter tours, rental cars and experiences!
More Kauai Blog Posts
I spent an entire month exploring the island of Kauai. In particular, I was hiking all of the trails and made several guides for the best hikes and easiest hikes so you can enjoy the trails of the island.
North Shore Hiking Guide: 4 AWESOME HIKES ON THE NORTH SHORE OF KAUAI
Kauai Hiking Guide: 15 BEST HIKES ON KAUAI
Easy Hikes on Kauai: 8 EASY HIKES ON KAUAI WITH GREAT VIEWS
Cliff Jumping Guide to Kauai: BEST CLIFF JUMPING SPOTS ON KAUAI
Open Door Helicopter Flight Kauai: EPIC DOORS OFF HELICOPTER TOUR OF KAUAI