For years I've wanted to take a helicopter tour in Hawaii. Specifically, I've wanted to take a helicopter tour on Kauaʻi, since so much of the island can only be seen from the air.
On a prior trip to Kauaʻi, my wife and I had scheduled a 90-minute "photographer's dream" tour with Jack Harter Helicopters, but our tour was canceled due to poor weather conditions. I was, therefore, delighted when I was finally able to tour Kauaʻi with Jack Harter Helicopters.
Why Jack Harter Helicopters? With 14 helicopter companies operating on Kauaʻi, I had done my research checking into such areas as safety record, customer satisfaction, company experience, and tour offerings. Jack Harter Helicopters was near the top of the list in each area that I examined.
What You'll See
Most of the helicopter tour companies on Kauaʻi fly the same basic one hour island tour. They take off from the Lihue heliport and fly counter-clockwise around the island. The stay inland across southern Kauai and pass over the Hanapepe Valley where you'll get to see Manawaiopuna Falls (Jurassic Park Falls) and flying through the Waimea Canyon, the Grand Canyon of the Pacific.
From Waimea Canyon, you fly out to the Nā Pali Coast where you'll see the most famous sea cliffs in the world. From Nā Pali, the tour flies along the North Shore to Hanalei Bay where the tour moves inland along the Hanalei Valley to the crater of Mt. Waiʻaleʻale, the wettest spot on earth.
From Mt. Waiʻaleʻale the tour proceeds east over the Wailua River Valley to Wailua Falls and then back to the heliport. The hour passes much too quickly.
Attention to the Small Details
What makes the difference between an excellent tour and just a good tour is the small details.
Jack Harter gives an extensive pre-flight briefing providing an overview of the flight, safety instructions and boarding and de-boarding rules.
They make sure that you are comfortable with what is to come during your flight.
Groups are boarded and seated in a specific order and in specific seats within the helicopter to ensure proper weight distribution. Our group was flying in a Eurocopter AStar which seats five passengers, one in the front next to the pilot and four across in the back seats.
Before the helicopter takes off, the ground crew makes sure that everyone is seated and belted in property and that headsets are available and working.
Setting the Mood for a Great Flight
Jack Harter Helicopters use an excellent noise reduction headphone. You won't hear the engine or the whirling of the blades. What you will hear is the pilot's narration and background music specifically chosen for each part of the tour.
The music really sets the mood whether it's the theme from Jurassic Park as you fly over Manawaiopuna Falls or the soaring themes of the soundtrack to Everest as you fly over Waimea Canyon.
A small microphone is available to each passenger so that you can speak with the pilot and ask questions. Our pilot, Brian (Chris) Christensen, was superb. He was extremely knowledgeable of Kauai and was an integral part of making the flight enjoyable.
I wasn't sure what to expect in terms of turbulence. The reality was that the flight was smoother than any airplane I've ever been on. Not once did I have any feeling of altitude change or speed change. If it were not for the constantly changing scenery and the fact that I knew I was in a helicopter, I could have been sitting in a movie theater seat watching an IMAX film.
How Important is Where You Sit?
Some say that there are no poor seats in the AStar. I tend to disagree, especially if your intent is photography. The two inside seats in the back simply would not work if your goal is to take photos. On the other hand, the two rear window seats are excellent for photography. We'll talk a bit more about this in our tips section at the end of this review.
Our pilot was very careful to make sure that for most sites he did a 360 degree turn so that the same views were available to all.
For example, I was seated next to the left rear window and even though we flew north along the Nā Pali Coast, Chris made enough turns that I was able to see the sea cliffs and coastline just as well as the person to my far right.
The Bottom Line
Needless to say, I was thoroughly delighted with my helicopter tour with Jack Harter Helicopters. It surpassed all of my high expectations and really made me eager to view the other Hawaiian Islands from the air. My primary goal, other than to enjoy the tour was to take photos. I took almost 300 of them and I've put 84 of my favorites in a Gallery of Aerial Photos of Kauai.
Photography from am AStar offers some challenges. If photography is your primary goal, you might want to consider a tour in Jack's four-passenger Hughes 500 which is flown with the doors off. Here, however, are some tips for your helicopter tour and for taking photos from a helicopter.
Our Ethics Policy
As is common in the travel industry, the writer was provided with a complimentary tour for the purpose of reviewing Jack Harter Helicopters. While it has not influenced this review, About.com believes in full disclosure of all potential conflicts of interest. For more information, see our ethics policy.