Aerial Tours in Big Island

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Aerial Tours

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There's nothing quite like the aerial view of a waterfall that drops a couple thousand feet into natural pools, or seeing lava flow to the ocean, where clouds of steam billow into the air. You can get this bird's-eye view from a helicopter or a small fixed-wing aircraft. Although there have been a few cases of pilots violating flight paths and altitudes over resident communities in recent years, most operators are reputable and fly with strict adherence to FAA safety rules. How to get the best experience for your money? Before you hire a company, be a savvy traveler and ask the right questions. What kind of aircraft do they fly? Do they have two-way headsets so you can talk with the pilot? What is their safety record?

Iolani Air. These two- to six-passenger Gippsland and Cessna aircraft depart from both the Hilo and Kona airports, following the coastline all the way around for an aerial tour of the entire Big Island. You'll get a good view of fascinating geographic and historical points of interest. Four air tours are available, from a 60-minute tour of volcanoes and waterfalls (Hilo only) at $175 per person to a 2½-hour full-circle tour starting at $299. Highlights include the volcano, Waipio Valley, and the Kona Coast. 808/329–0018 or 800/538–7590. www.iolaniair.com.

Paradise Helicopters. This friendly company offers great options no one else does. On three landing tours, departing from Kona's airport, you can either touch down for a hike in a remote Kohala valley, experience a Hilo zipline, or spend a few hours exploring downtown Hilo. After flying over active lava flows, aircraft easily maneuver near the sheer valley walls of the east side. In a "doors off" adventure, four-passenger MD 500 helicopters (Hilo only) get so close, you can feel heat from the lava. Flights start at $200 for a 50 minutes to $495 for three-hour landing tours. Pilots, many of whom have military backgrounds, are fun and knowledgeable. Free hotel shuttles run to and from the Kona and Hilo airports, where tours are based. 808/969–7392 or 866/876–7422. www.paradisecopters.com.

Blue Hawaiian Helicopters. Hawaii's most comfortable ride is on the roomy, $3-million Eco-Star helicopter—so quiet you hardly realize you're taking off and with great views from every seat. Pilots are knowledgeable about the island but not overly chatty. In the Waimanu Valley, the craft hovers next to 2,500-foot cliffs and dramatic, cascading waterfalls. The two-hour Big Island Spectacular also takes in Kilauea Volcano lava flows. Prices range from $196.02 to $495 per person, depending on type of craft. Most flights leave from a private helipad in Waikoloa, but the 50-minute Circle of Fire tour departs Hilo for the volcano's wonders. Waikoloa Heliport, Hwy. 19, Waikoloa, HI, 96738. 808/961–5600. www.bluehawaiian.com.

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