One of the best ways to see the Hawaiian Islands is by air, and a helicopter ride from Kauai to the Na Pali Coast is an epic aerial photography experience!
If you don’t know by now, I love helicopters. I actually wanted to be a helicopter pilot when I was a kid (ok, maybe i still do).
Thus, during our recent trip to discover the Hawaiian island of Kauai, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to fly over the famous Na Pali coast of the island by helicopter!
Hovering in the sky, hovering over landscapes, and able to take off and land almost anywhere, helicopters are super cool.
We decided to take a helicopter tour of Kauai with the doors closed for an extra adrenaline rush!
Kauai helicopter tour guide
Best helicopter tours in Kauai
Anna and I decided to book a 60 minute open door helicopter tour with Jack Harter helicopters. There are only 2 companies that offer this in Kauai, the other is Mauna Loa helicopters. This is great for photographers because there is no glass to interfere with your shots. But you are exposed to the elements!
Doors on tour
Most people choose to fly with the doors closed, the normal way. It’s a bit more relaxing and not as windy / cold. There is a great helicopter tour of Waimea Canyon and the Na Pali Coast that covers all the highlights. BOOK IT HERE
If you’re traveling to Kauai on a budget, but still want to fly over the Na Pali coastline, a cheaper option is to book a sightseeing flight by plane from Na Pali, which costs less than $ 200 (about half the price of a helicopter). BOOK IT HERE
There is so much to see in Kauai that I would definitely recommend the 60 minute option over the shorter flights.
An hour may seem like a lot, but it goes very quickly when you’re having fun!
Magnificent Waimea Canyon
After leaving Lihue Airport, our Kauai helicopter adventure began with a flight into Waimea Canyon, aka “The Grand Canyon” of the Pacific (thanks Mark Twain!).
At 14 miles long and one mile wide, Waimea Canyon was one of my favorite destinations on Kauai. While you can drive and hike along the canyon walls, the helicopter ride over it was extra special!
It is made up of steep cliffs in contrasting colors of orange, red and green. The canyon essentially covers the entire west side of the island – with 45 miles of hiking trails as well.
The highlight is Waipo’o waterfall, a massive 800 foot water tower. Most helicopter tours in Kauai will do two passes so that everyone has a chance to photograph it.
The best waterfalls in Kauai from above!
There are SO MANY waterfalls on Kauai! From the ground, you will only be able to discover a few. But from the sky … that’s when you can really appreciate the best waterfalls on the island.
Our helicopter flight in Kauai got the better of us Hanapepe Valley, home of the famous Jurassic Park waterfall.
Her Hawaiian name is Manawaiopuna Falls, the same 400-foot waterfall that was featured multiple times in the original 1993 Jurassic Park movie.
It seemed like there was some sort of massive waterfall (or 10) cascading down into every valley we flew over!
The beautiful coastline of Na Pali
The most epic section of our helicopter flight came next. Kauai is beautiful Na Pali Coast State Park at the northern end of the island.
Often considered the most beautiful part of the Hawaiian Islands, Na Pali (meaning “the cliffs”) is a 17-mile expanse of lush emerald green cliffs and jagged mountain peaks.
Pristine white sand beaches dot the border between land and ocean. The water is a deep turquoise blue.
Keep an eye out for the “cathedrals,” a dramatic wall of knife-edge ridges.
This is also where the Kalalau trail is located, a 2-3 day rugged (and sketchy) hiking and camping trek along the Kauai coast.
“Weeping Wall” of Mount Waialeale
Finally, we flew into the rainy Hanalei Valley towards the Mount Wai’ale’ale volcano, one of the wettest places on the planet.
It’s here that over 20 different waterfalls descend the steep slopes of the long-dormant volcano, into a river far below.
The weather here is often bad, and today was no exception. The summit of Waialeale is only visible about 20 days a year.
We flew under the clouds, in the rain and right next to the “weeping wall” itself. With the doors closed, it was extremely cold, windy and humid!
If you are looking for a tough hike in Kauai, you can walk to this wall of water, sometimes referred to as the Blue hole hike. It’s a tough (and wet) day hike.
Kauai helicopter photography tips
While I love my Mavic 2 Pro Drone, aerial photography of landscapes from a helicopter with the doors closed is so much fun! But it can also be tricky.
Use speed priority mode
I am a huge fan of taking pictures in manual mode. But in some situations, things move too quickly to be adjusted manually. Helicopter photography is like that. I generally recommend keeping your shutter speed at 1/1200 (or higher) so your images don’t get blurry. Automatic ISO is also handy!
Take as many pictures as possible, in rapid fire mode. Helicopter tours can go by quickly and there is often not much time to compose your photo. You have to work fast and take TONS of photos. Make sure you take a spare battery and a large (faster) memory card that can handle all images.
Polarizer and Sunshade
If you are flying in a helicopter with the doors open, you will have to shoot through the windows. This glass can cause unwanted reflections and reflections. Using a polarizing filter and a lens hood can help reduce this.
If you have two camera bodies, I recommend that you bring them both. Or rent a second on LensRentals.com (it’s actually super affordable).
Keep a camera with a wide angle lens (like 16-35mm) and one with a telephoto zoom (like 70-200mm). If you can only bring one camera / lens, choose something that is in the middle, like a 24-70mm.
More Hawaii Helicopter Tips
In recent years, there have been tourist helicopter crashes, some of them with the doors closed. However, I consider them to be very rare occurrences, just like plane crashes.
That said, many helicopter tour companies have started to ban hands and feet out of open doors. Although I was allowed to do this in NYC, we were unable to do it on our helicopter trip to Kauai. Always listen to your pilot!
How much does it cost?
Helicopter tours over Kauai can cost between $ 250 and $ 400 per person, depending on the length of the trip, the type of helicopter used and the company.
Best time for a helicopter trip
Kauai isn’t called the Garden Island for no reason! Winters here can be very wet and stormy. Summer is therefore generally the best time of year to take a helicopter ride. You are more likely to have good weather.
As for the light, because the coast of Na Pali is on the northwest side of the island, the sun hits the mountain peaks in the early afternoon. Just before sunset is another good time to go. ??
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Hope you enjoyed my guide to helicopter tours in Kauai! Hope you found it useful. Here are a few other adventure-inspiring articles that I recommend you read next:
Have questions about helicopter tours on the island of Kauai? Have you ever been in a helicopter? Drop me a line in the comments below!