The best way to see what Kauai really looks like is on a helicopter tour. In about an hour you'll circle the entire island and see places that can only be experienced from the air. Only one helicopter company offers guests the chance to land at Manawaiopuna Falls, commonly known as "Jurassic Falls." That company is Island Helicopters.
For many years, the owners of the land where "Jurassic Falls" is located refused to allow any public access to the falls. It took Island Helicopters over five years to obtain the permits and environmental studies needed to secure permission to land at the base. Once everything was cleared, Island Helicopters began to offer their Exclusive Jurassic Falls Helicopter Landing Adventure which includes everything from their Signature Deluxe Island Tour plus the landing and short hike at the base of the falls.
On the morning of my flight our group gathered at the Island Helicopters office at the heliport in Lihue. Plenty of free parking is available. We were greeted by the staff and given our pre-flight safety briefing before being escorted across the road to the helipad. After meeting our pilot, Isaac Oshita, who had previously flown tours at the Grand Canyon, it was time to board the helicopter. The ground crew helped us find our predetermined seats, belt ourselves in and put on our noise-reducing headsets.
The headsets allowed us to hear Issac during the flight, and were equipped with microphones so we could ask him questions throughout the tour.
Within just a few minutes we were in the air. We had great views of the airport, the Kauai Marriott, Nawiliwili Harbor where the Norwegian Cruise Line's Pride of America was docked, and then the Menehune Fish Pond. Our flight took us along the southern coast over Hoary Head Mountain, Kipu Ranch, Kilohana Crater and the Tree Tunnel that leads to the Po'ipu Beach Resort area.
Manawaiopuna "Jurassic Park" Falls
Before long we were flying into the Hanapepe Valley, owned by the Robinson family who also own the small island of Ni'ihau off the coast of Kauai. As the sight of Manawaiopuna Falls came into view, we were all reminded of the legendary opening scene from Jurassic Park that inspired the fall's nickname.
We touched down at a small landing area where Isaac shut down the helicopter and invited us all to exit the aircraft. As we took a short walk along the trail and across a footbridge to the base of the falls, Isaac explained a bit about the history of the area and identified the wide varieties of flora and fauna along the trail. Within a few minutes we reached the foot of the massive falls towering above us and pounding water into the pool. We had about 10 minutes to chat and take photos before it was time to head back to the helicopter to continue on with the rest of the flight.
Kauai Grand Deluxe Circle Island Tour
Back securely in our seats, we took off. The remainder of the flight follows the standard flight path offered by most of the helicopter tours on Kauai. We flow over Olokele Canyon into Waimea Canyon, the "Grand Canyon of the Pacific" as dubbed by Mark Twain. After some fantastic views of the canyon it was on to the Na Pali Coast which features some of the highest sea cliffs in the world.
At the northern end of the Na Pali Coast we had great views of Ke'e Beach, where numerous hikers begin their trek along the Na Pali Coast Trail. To our right we flew past Mount Makana, known by movie fans as Bali Hai from the movie South Pacific. The weather was perfect and we had great views of some of Kauai's North Shore beaches, Tunnels Beach, Wainiha Bay and Lumaha'i Beach.
Our flight then took us past Hanalei Bay, Princeville and into the lush Hanalei Valley as we headed towards the crater of Mt. Waialeale, one of the wettest places on earth.
Mt. Waialeale to Wailua Falls
From Mt. Waialeale we crossed the interior of the eastern side of the island. We had great views of Wailua Falls, once again made famous by a television show, Fantasy Island. Everyone remembered Tattoo, played by Hervé Villechaize, running up the main bell tower to ring the bell and shout, "The plane! The plane!"
All too soon we found ourselves back at the heliport. While our tour lasted just short of 90 minutes, on average the tour lasts anywhere from 75-80 minutes depending on weather conditions.
I've taken several helicopter tours and one airplane tour of Kauai. While I've thoroughly enjoyed each one, I have to admit that the experience of landing at "Jurassic Falls" is one I'll treasure forever.
About Island Helicopters
Island Helicopters started in 1980, making it one of the oldest helicopter companies in Hawaii. The company is family-owned and locally-operated. They specialize in very personal tours for the independent traveler, families or groups of any size.
Island Helicopters flies exclusively from the helipad at the Lihue Airport. Their fleet consists of 6-passenger Airbus AStar helicopters which offer ceiling to floor glass windows and doors, live pilot narration to choreographed music and 2-way communication with the pilot using noise cancelling stereo headsets.
Island Helicopter offers two tours on Kauai. Their exclusive Jurassic Falls Helicopter Landing Adventure has a tour length of 75-80 minutes and is not available on Sundays or select Thursdays. Their Kauai Grand Deluxe Circle Island Tour is approximately 50-55 minutes and runs daily.
Rates and booking information can be found on the company's reservations page.
As is common in the travel industry, the writer was provided with complimentary services for review purposes. While it has not influenced this review, TripSavvy believes in full disclosure of all potential conflicts of interest. For more information, see our Ethics Policy.