Aerial Tours in Kauai
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If you only drive around Kauai in your rental car, you will not see all of Kauai. There is truly only one way to see it all, and that's by air. Helicopter tours are the favorite way to get a bird's-eye view of Kauai—they fly at lower altitudes, hover above waterfalls, and wiggle their way into areas that a fixed-wing aircraft cannot. That said, if you've already tried the helitour, how about flying in the open cockpit of a biplane—à la the Red Baron?
Air Tour Kauai. This company, which is operated by the same group that runs Skydive Kauai, can hold up to six people in its Cessna 207 plane. The flights take off from the less-crowded Port Allen Airport and will last 65 to 70 minutes. Port Allen Airport, 3441 Kuiloko Rd., Hanapepe, HI, 96716. 808/639-3446. www.airtourkauai.com. $120 per person.
Blue Hawaiian Helicopters. This multi-island operator flies the latest in helicopter technology, the Eco-Star, costing $1.8 million. It has 23% more interior space for its six passengers, has unparalleled viewing, and offers a few extra safety features. As the name implies, the helicopter is also a bit more environmentally friendly, with a 50% noise-reduction rate. Even though flights run a tad shorter than others (50 to 55 minutes instead of the 55 to 65 minutes that other companies tout), they feel complete. A DVD of your tour is available for an additional $25. 3651 Ahukini Rd., Heliport 8, Lihue, HI, 96766. 808/245–5800 or 800/745–2583. www.bluehawaiian.com. $247, includes taxes and fuel surcharge.
Inter-Island Helicopters. This company flies Robinson 4 helicopters with 3 passenger seats guaranteeing an unobstructed window seat for each passenger. It can get chilly at higher elevations, so bring a sweater and wear long pants. Tours depart from Hanapepe's Port Allen Airport, so if you're staying on the West Side, this is a good bet. Special group rates available. Port Allen Airport, 3441 Kuiloko Rd., Hanapepe, HI, 96716. 808/335–5009 or 800/656–5009. www.interislandhelicopters.com. From $249 per person.
Jack Harter Helicopters. Jack Harter was the first company to offer helicopter tours on Kauai. The company flies the six-passenger ASTAR helicopter with floor-to-ceiling windows, and the four-person Hughes 500, which is flown with no doors. The doorless ride can get windy, but it's the best bet for taking reflection-free photos. Pilots provide information on the Garden Island's history and geography through two-way intercoms. The company flies out of Lihue and has a second office at the Kauai Marriott. Tours are 60 to 65 minutes and 90 to 95 minutes. 4231 Ahukini Rd., HI, 96766. 808/245–3774 or 888/245–2001. www.helicopters-kauai.com. From $269.
Safari Helicopters. This company flies the "Super" ASTAR helicopter, which offers floor-to-ceiling windows on its doors, four roof windows, and Bose X-Generation headphones. Two-way microphones allow passengers to converse with the pilot. A major perk Safari offers is its 90-minute "eco-tour," which adds a landing in Olokele Canyon. Passengers are then met by Keith Robinson of the Robinson family, who provides a brief tour of the Kauai Wildlife Refuge, with endangered, endemic plants. The once daily tour goes out Monday through Friday at 3:30 p.m. A DVD is available for $40. 3225 Akahi St., Lihue, HI, 96766. 808/246–0136 or 800/326–3356. www.safarihelicopters.com. From $224.
Sunshine Helicopter Tours. If the name of this company sounds familiar, it may be because its pilots fly on all the main Hawaiian Islands except Oahu. On Kauai, Sunshine Helicopters departs out of two different locations: Lihue and Princeville. They fly the six-passenger FX STAR from Lihue and super roomy six-passenger WhisperSTAR birds from Princeville. Discounts can be substantial by booking online and taking advantage of the "early-bird" seating during off hours. 3416 Rice St., Ste 203, Lihue, HI, 96766. 808/240–2577 or 888/245–4354. www.sunshinehelicopters.com. From $244 for Lihue flights; from $289 for Princeville flights. Princeville Airport, Princeville, 96722.
Tropical Biplanes. This company flies both a bright-red Waco biplane, built in 2002 and based on a 1936 design, and a Cessna 182 Skylane. The biplane can carry two passengers, the Cessna holds three. If a couple takes two seats in the Cessna, they will not sell the third seat, as to keep it a personal experience. An open cockpit and staggered wing design mean there's nothing between you and the sights. You'll see the sights at an altitude of 1,500 feet at about 85 mph. Lihue Airport Commuter Terminal, 3901 Mokulele Loop, Lihue, HI, 96766. 808/246–9123 or 888/280–9123. www.tropicalbiplanes.com. $410 per couple for biplane tours; $149 per person for Cessna tours.
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