The best way to see all of 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 seen from the air. Only one helicopter company offers guests the chance to land at what is commonly known as "Jurassic Falls," but properly called Manawaiopuna 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 secure permission, obtain permits and environmental studies, allowing them to land at the base of the falls. Once everything was cleared, Island Helicopters began to offer their "Exclusive Jurassic Falls Helicopter Landing Adventure" which includes everything from their "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 Island Helicopter's office at the heliport. Plenty of free parking is available. We were greeted in the office, offered a cup of coffee and some cookies. We were given our pre-flight safety briefing and then escorted across the road to the helipad. We were introduced to our pilot, Isaac Oshita, who had previously flown tours at the Grand Canyon. We boarded the helicopter into our predetermined seats. The ground crew helped us belt ourselves in and put on our noise reducing headsets and microphones, through which we could not only hear Isaac, but ask him questions during the flight.
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 which you can see off the coast of Kauai. The view of Manawaiopuna Falls came into view. We all remembered the opening scene from Jurassic Park where the helicopter landed at the foot of the falls, just as we were about to do.
We landed 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 flow 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's most famous beaches, Tunnels Beach, Wainiha Bay and Beach, and Lumaha'i Beach, also used in the filming of South Pacific as "Nurses 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. The views in the crater were somewhat disappointing on this day. Few of the waterfalls were flowing even with the normal heavy cloud cover hiding the top of the mountain. It's a rare and special day on Kauai, where there are no clouds over Mt. Waialeale and I've been lucky to have been on the island just once to see this.
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. While we may have been in a helicopter, we all 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. Our tour had lasted just short of 90 minutes. On average the tour lasts anywhere from 75-85 minutes, mostly determined by weather conditions.
I've taken several helicopter 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 experience I'll treasure forever.
About Island Helicopters
Island Helicopters is one of the oldest helicopter companies in Hawaii, started in 1980. The company is family owned and locally operated. They specialize in very personal tours for the independent traveler, families or groups of any size. They are the only company where the owner, Curt Lofstedt, continues to fly tours.
Island Helicopters flies exclusively from the helipad at the Lihue Airport. Their fleet consists of 6-passanger Eurocopter A-Star helicopters which offer ceiling to floor glass windows and doors, live pilot narration to choreographed music, 2-way communication with the pilot using Bose "X" noise cancelling stereo headsets.
Island Helicopter offers two tours on Kauai. Their exclusive "Jurassic Falls Helicopter Landing Adventure" is available online for $269 plus airport surcharge. Their "Kauai Grand Deluxe Circle Island Tour" is available online for as low as $153 plus airport surcharge. These prices are as of January 2015 and are subject to change at any time.
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.